National Exhibition of Fine Arts (Spain)

The National Exhibition of Fine Arts (Spanish: Exposiciones Nacionales de Bellas Artes) was a regular event that took place in Spain from 1856 to 1968; usually in Madrid. These exhibitions were in the form of a competition, established by a Royal Decree from Queen Isabella II in 1853. It was the largest official exhibition of Spanish art.

It was initially divided into five categories: Painting, Sculpture, Engraving, Architecture, and Decorative Arts. Painting was always considered the most prestigious category, however, and Decorative Arts was only occasional. Although the decree specified that they were to be held biennially, this was not always strictly observed.

Origins and proposalsEdit

The process began when it was noted by many critics that Spain was underrepresented in most international exhibitions. There were also widespread feelings that Spanish art had become decadent since the old patronage system, supported by the Catholic church and the aristocracy, had disappeared; due in large part to the continuing Confiscation. Then, in 1851, the Parisian cultural journal, L'Illustration, ran an article on the International Exposition of Fine Arts in Brussels with the headline, "L'Espagne n'existe plus!" (Spain no longer exists).[1]

At that time, the recognized model for art exhibitions was the Paris Salon, with its regulations, juries, formal critiques, public exposure, established hierarchies of prize categories and opportunities for acquisition. In a proposal sent to the Congress of Deputies by the painter, José Galofré y Coma, the need for establishing such an exhibition was strongly argued. His proposition was accepted and forwarded to Agustín Esteban Collantes [es], the Minister of Development. After the questions of organization and funding had been settled, it was presented to the Royal Family for final approval.

The exhibition was maintained in largely the same form until the 1920s, although the frequency became erratic; sometimes every two years, sometimes every three. There were also longer intervals due to political and social disruptions; notably the Spanish Civil War.

The original concepts and criteria slowly became obsolete, and the last exhibition was held in 1968.

Prizes and winnersEdit

Christopher Columbus in the Convent of La Rábida, Eduardo Cano, 1856
View of the Surroundings of the Monasterio de Piedra, Carlos de Haes, 1858
The Last Moments of Fernando IV, the Summoned, José Casado del Alisal, 1860
The Comuneros, Padilla, Bravo and Maldonado on the Scaffold, Antonio Gisbert, 1860
The First Landing of Christopher Columbus in America, Dióscoro Puebla, 1862
Isabelle the Catholic Dictating her Will and Testament, Eduardo Rosales, 1864
The Fusillades of May Third on the Hill of Príncipe Pío, Vicente Palmaroli, 1871
The Education of Prince Don Juan, Salvador Martínez Cubells, 1878
Othello and Desdemona, Antonio Muñoz Degrain, 1881
Spoliarium, Juan Luna, 1884
Invasion of the Barbarians, Ulpiano Checa, 1887
A Misfortune, José Jiménez Aranda, 1890
Cisneros, Founder of the Hospital of Illescas, Alejandro Ferrant, 1892
And They Still Say that Fish is Expensive!, Joaquín Sorolla, 1895
The Charge, Ramon Casas, 1904
The Gypsy Muse, Julio Romero de Torres, 1908
Floreal, José Pinazo Martínez, 1915

The prizes awarded were "First Class", "Second Class", "Third Class" and "Honorable Mention". In the painting category, anywhere from 300 to 500 works might be entered. The other categories rarely exceeded 10% of that.

Winners of the First Class medal in the Painting category

After that time, the exhibitions became more sporadic and perfunctory, and information regarding the results is not readily available.


  1. ^ Jesús Gutiérrez Burón, Exposiciones nacionales de Bellas Artes, Historia 16, Cuadernos de arte español, 1992, ISBN 978-84-7679-199-8

Further readingEdit

  • Bernardino de Pantorba, Historia y crítica de las Exposiciones Nacionales de Bellas Artes celebradas en España, Alcor 1980 ISBN 978-84-300-2141-3 Online
  • Un siglo de arte español: (1856-1956), Ministerio de Educación Nacional, Dirección General de Bellas Artes, 1955
  • Gregorio Cruzada Villaamil, Juicio crítico de la Exposición de Bellas Artes de 1867

External linksEdit