Knowing the temporal and geographical context is important to assimilate the work of any artist, but it is essential when talking about Antonio López Torres’ artwork because it is impossible to understand his paintings without approaching his conception of art, his close relationship with nature and his particular view of what painting is.
For the Tomelloso of the last century, López Torres could be one more citizen, discreet and introverted, someone who his neighbours used to see walking to the fields over and over again carrying his easel, materials and panel paintings, looking for a close scene to represent, an evasive light to capture.
However, as so often happens in the history of art, when the facts are seen with the perspective of time, we realise the greatness and peculiarity of people such as Antonio López Torres, not only because of his artwork itself, his technical skills or his purity, but also because of the influence he had on later artists of the area.
Antonio López Torres was born on 21 st July 1902 in Tomelloso and grew up in a wealthy farmer family with his parents, Antonio and Carmen, and his six siblings.
Since he was very young he felt the need to be in contact with nature, to draw everything around him. This early passion didn’t go unnoticed by his teacher Miguel Pareja Reyes, who encouraged this artistic vocation despite the negative opinion of his father, who considered it a waste of time and made him leave primary school to work in the family vineyards in 1915.
This experience working in the fields allowed him to perfectly understand the society of his time and inspired him to create his works later. As the artist said himself, “(...) I have known my era and I have always tried to interpret it in my own way, but with good knowledge of it.”
The young artist was increasingly painting with oil and combined this technique and drawings in the first stage of his artistic life, marked by observation, an autodidact character and the typical naivety of the first works where the main topic was the rural life.
One of his first and oldest remaining works is precisely The farmyard (1917), where he portrayed a scene at his aunt Alejandra’s and the details of his characteristic representation of light are already observed.
After recovering from typhoid fever in 1920, he continued painting iconic works such as Self-portrait (1920), where a young López Torres appears sat at his desk, and the first version of The cave (1923), the place where he used to paint.
In 1925 the second stage of Antonio López Torres’ artistic career began. It covered the period from academic training in Ciudad Real and Madrid to his later technical and formal maturity.
- Academic training (1925 - 1931): Ciudad Real and Madrid
López Torres started his studies in the School of Arts and Crafts of Ciudad Real where he received lessons from Ángel Andrade himself. The works painted during his stay in this city gained confidence and emphasised his compromise with his daily reality without being influenced by any other artistic trend.
He focused on improving his drawing technique and the study of human anatomy, as shown in Venus of Arles (1925) and Belvedere torso (1925); he studied in depth portraits such as Grandmother Alejandra knitting (1924); and started painting still lifes as Still life with fruit bowl, jug and glass of wine (1925), without abandoning the landscape genre.
In 1926 he moved to Madrid after passing his admission test to study in the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando. There he continued with his academic training with distinguished teachers such as Julio Romero de Torres, Moreno Carbonero, Manuel Benedito o Cecilio Pla y Gallardo.
These five years in the Spanish capital helped him to create more elaborate and precise works, based on colour harmony and a total control of chiaroscuro. He was probably influenced by his visits to the Prado Museum and his direct contact with the works of the great masters: Goya, Tiziano, Rubens, and especially Velázquez, who López Torres felt a great admiration for.
Among the artworks of this period, the most remarkable pieces are Venus de Milo (1926), which was his admission test to access to the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando, although oral sources stated it was painted during his first year there; and Still life with mask (1927), which made him win the Molina Higueras Award of the School of Fine Arts.
- Artistic maturity (1931 - 1948): technical and theme definition
After finishing his studies in 1931, López Torres came back to Tomelloso because, in the words of the artist himself, “(...) I need to live in Tomelloso. It is where I feel comfortable, where I can paint calmly.”
There he had the studio his friend and great defender of the culture Francisco Martínez Ramírez, known as “el Obrero”, provided him in his country house named “Mirasol”: a spacious and luminous tower with views of La Mancha countryside.
López Torres continued painting works using the same genres: the still life, such as Still life with silver tray (1931), where the colour harmony is masterful; the portrait, such as Portrait of an old man (1931) or Grandmother Juana (1934), where he successfully transmitted the psychological baggage of their characters; and the landscape, such as La Mancha plains (also known as The donkeys) in 1932 or Children's game (also known as Plain with children) in 1935, which was the winner of the 2nd Painting and Drawing, Sculpture and Decorative Arts Contest celebrated in Ciudad Real that year.
Precisely, in these last two works of art, an evolution is observed when adding new elements as pack animals and children to give movement to the quiet landscapes. In general, all his works gained in maturity, the brushstroke was more spontaneous, and he discovered other fundamental values as light, perspective, aerial space and temperature, so he needed a total control of his palette.
In addition, during these years he combined his artistic production and his job as a teacher in the grammar school of Tomelloso, allowing him to live off teaching instead of selling his paintings, a fact he didn’t agree with because the artworks would lose their authenticity.
The year 1935 also marked López Torres’ artistic career with his first solo exhibition held at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid from December to January 1936.
The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War some months later had consequences both in his personal life, when his brother Santiago passed away, and his artistic life, when Mirasol was requisitioned and he lost his studio, his artistic production decreased.
The painter was posted to the engineering headquarters in Almadén to draw cartographic planes in 1938, but that year he suffered a car accident which sent him to the hospital in Almadén for few days and back to Tomelloso after that. There he spent more time than permitted and was nearly declared a deserter.
The end of the war provided him a new opportunity in 1940 with the Conde de Cartagena scholarship from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando to study in Italy. On that occasion, another international war event impeded his travel abroad, so he enjoyed his scholarship in Mallorca.
During those months he discovered a landscape completely different from La Mancha, the brightness captivated the artist, his palette became violet and the vaporous landscape was translated into his paintings with a brilliant interpretation and colour fidelity, as shown in View of Palma de Mallorca (1941).
After his return to Tomelloso in 1942, he continued working as a teacher in Santo Tomás de Aquino School where his nephew Antonio López García was one of his students; López Torres encouraged him to develop his artistic vocation when he discovered the talent of the young artist. However, he didn’t abandon his great passion and painted works such as Woman harvesting grapes (1946), Nap in the era (1946), or Boy drinking water from a bucket (1946), oil paintings which have become an excellent anthropological testimony of the past.
Since 1948 his artwork evolved and the previous characteristics of his paintings were refined, it became soft, atmospheric and fluid, and stopped painting specific and representative aspects to focus on the most lyric and intimate landscape.
During those years he worked as a teacher at the secondary and professional school in Daimiel (Ciudad Real) first, and at the Labour Institute of Santoña in Santander the following year. He stayed in this city from Cantabria until the end of the fifties and his artistic production decreased. However, Santoña (1956) is one of the most remarkable works of this decade.
Later on, his teaching career was developed in both School of Arts and Crafts in Ciudad Real and in Madrid, the city where he spent his last days teaching until his retirement in 1972.
From 1967 to 1972 there is some preference for drawings over oil paintings. The artist demonstrated his desire of experimenting with this technique, so his works became more pictorial, the lines were disappearing and grey masses were used to capture the landscape’s atmospheric value and light gradation, as shown in Grape harvest landscape in La Garza (1969). However, not only his landscapes were important but also one of the most known and tender pencil portrays was from these years, Sleeping child (1970).
His retirement in July 1972 meant his return home, to the land and people which had been the main characters in so many artworks. He devoted all these years to look for the purity and sensitivity in the landscapes where people and rural scenes were disappearing because, according to the artist, the modernisation of the agricultural works broke the relationship between man and landscape.
The size of the works from this stage was decreasing as López Torres didn’t create them for the public exhibition purpose, and when he was criticised about it he used to say, “the key hole of the door is smaller and the fields are seen through!”
Despite their size, his works were featured in several exhibitions during his artistic career and during this third stage, in particular. In April 1957 he participated in the collective exhibition “Exhibition of La Mancha artists today” organised by the Ciudad Real Regional Council at the Museum of Spanish Contemporary Art in Madrid; and in June 1959 his second retrospective exhibition was celebrated in the Goya Exhibition Hall of Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid; his works were also shown at the beginning of 1973 at the National Library in Madrid, among others.
These exhibitions enjoyed a great critic and audience success. The art specialist Enrique Lafuente Ferrari, for example, described him as “a lyric and delicate artist, sensitive and introverted, unfairly unknown outside his region” and underlined that his work was “poetry” and the audience would be fascinated.
López Torres’ talent travelled abroad to Germany where two exhibitions were celebrated in 1970: first, in the Frankfurter Kunstkabinett Hanna Bekker vom Rath of Frankfurt, together with other realism painters such as his nephew Antonio López García; and then, in the collective touring
exhibition “Magischer Realismus in Spanien heute” (“Magic Realism in Spain today”), featured at the Galerie Buchholz in Munich.
In October 1978 the artist decided to donate his artwork to Tomelloso, so its neighbours and visitors could enjoy the most realistic and the purest essence of his vision of art. This donation was completed in October 1983 and his pieces of art were displayed at the López Torres Museum, inaugurated on 19 th April 1986.
The city of Tomelloso had always expressed its gratitude for the painter’s work and, besides naming him “Hijo Predilecto” in 1948 and dedicating him a street in 1962, the City Gold Medal was awarded to him in 1979. He also received the title “Castellano-Manchego de Honor” from the House of Castilla-La Mancha in Madrid in recognition for his artistic career and was nominated for the Prince of Asturias Prize of the Arts in 1984.
Antonio López Torres spent the last years of his life living with his sisters Carmen and Eulalia in the house where they moved at the end of 1982, located on the street named Pintor López Torres, just in front of the museum inaugurated years later.
In 1985 he suffered a cerebral thrombosis and remained at Clínica Coreysa in Ciudad Real until he recovered. Although he didn’t lose his lucidity, he couldn’t move and his painting Panorámica urbana de Tomelloso (1984) was his last and unfinished work.
In October 1987 he relapsed and finally passed away on 15th November in Tomelloso. The funeral chapel was established in the museum where family and friends bade him farewell surrounded by his artwork, his life.
As the words of the philosopher Rodríguez Huéscar remind, “Antonio López Torres has passed away. An exemplary and unique figure, his extreme and subtle originality and one of the most perfect historical versions of a pure painter disappears from our current art scene.”