Son of a wealthy family with Basque roots that was established in Jaén, Rafael Zabaleta (Quesada, Jaén, 1907 – 1960) studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando [Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando] in Madrid. In 1935, he traveled to Paris where he became acquainted with the works of contemporary artists. In 1937 he became a delegate for the Junta Superior del Tesoro Artístico Nacional [Board of Artistic Heritage ], and was in charge of the protection and recovery of heritage in Valencia, Guadix, and Baza. After the Spanish Civil War he was detained at the concentration camp of Higuera de Calatrava. He was set free 15 days later and when he returned to Madrid he was condemned for his work with the Tesoro Artístico Nacional and imprisoned in Jaén, where his drawings of war were seized.
Zabaleta played an active role in the renovation of the artistic landscape during Franco’s dictatorship. In 1951 he had an individual exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, which was the starting point of a new creative stage in his career. In Barcelona he participated in the III Bienal Hispanoamericana [III Hispanic-American Biennial] and at the May Salon, and collaborated with the Sociedad Anónima de Intelectuales y Artistas [Anonymous Society of Artists and Intellectuals] in order to promote a future contemporary art museum. In 1960, when several rooms in the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale had been dedicated to his work, he died of a brain hemorrhage.