Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Saenz de Tejada: an assessment

Sáenz de Tejada: an Assessment

As most Spaniards drew more into the works of the classical Goya, the experimental Dali, and the rebellious Picasso, some would rather look at the works of one of Spain's familiar painters such as during Franco's Period, and one of them was those of Carlos Sáenz de Tejada.

Known for being a staunch Francoist during the Spanish Civil War, Sáenz de Tejada was a known painter, poster designer, costume designer, decorator and illustrator. His style was eclectic, ranging from mannerism, epic naturalism, to those fascist aestheticism he was identified with, and occasionally involved in avant-garde experiments such as those of neocubism.

That somehow this writer had find it interesting to see some of his works regardless of his political sympathies. This page had once featured Franco's Cultural policy as obviously rural, reactionary, and at the same time trying to appear modern just to appease its neighbours; like Sáenz de Tejada would say that it was eclectic just to show the Spanish spirit in regards to its culture and the arts.

His Early life and Works

Being a son of the diplomat Carlos Sáenz de Tejada y Groizard and María de Lezama González del Campillo, his family comes from the old aristocracy that was strongly rooted in Rioja Alavesa; however, since the crisis of the Old Regime in the late nineteenth century had lost the preeminence of their social status as aristocrats, his father was forced to take up foreign service as his profession, and his family stayed in various countries until eventually found themselves in Madrid after a series of diplomatic travails.
Carlos began his art training early under Daniel Cortes in 1908 in Oran, Morroco, and then José María López Mezquita in 1911 (later directed by Fernando Alvarez de Sotomayor), and in 1916 joining the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando–under Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. Soon Tejada was producing tons of illustrations for many famous publications, including La Libertad, Neuvo Mundo, Robe, Revista de Occidente, Alfar, and Aspas. He was also selected for the Salon d'Automne of 1924 (which also featured José Gutiérrez Solana and Pablo Picasso) and for the Iberian Artists Exhibition 1925 at Parque del Retiro in Madrid.

The Board for Advanced Studies sent him to Paris to study mural painting. There he worked intermittently in the period 1926-1935, illustrating for foreign magazines Robe, Femina, Jardin des Modes, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue; besides designing posters like the dance show "La Argentinita" as well as decorating mounts for the scenes such as "Carmen" and "Bolero". He worked at several publishers like The Pleiades, Chiffrin, or Draegger, and collaborated with publications in London, Berlin and New York. His figurines and fashion drawings spread the own stylized and sports feminine image of modernity in the thirties; similar to those of Rafael de Penagos.

In 1935 he returned to Madrid, where he illustrates for ABC, Blanco y Negro, and designed a poster for the Círculo de Bellas Artes; and spent summer holidays at his family home in Laguardia (Álava), where he had been appointed as "adopted" son in 1938 (some biographies give as born there).

Sympathizing with the "Right" as its Artist
(And revisiting views on Spanish visual "Propaganda" during Franco's period)

Initially sympathised with the Carlists prior and during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Sáenz de Tejada became one of the artists whom supporting the dictator Franco. For the "Nationalists", he achieved great artistic prominence (as the Republicans admire works of Pablo Picasso) from the time General Jordana found drawings featuring war for the English magazine Sphere, as well as sent drawings for the French magazine L'Illustration. Incorporated into service of Press and Propaganda of the Army in Salamanca, as well as in graphic arts publications illustrating the Delegations of Press and Propaganda (Vertice Revista de San Sebastián, 1937-1943), his work became an iconographic reference of the Franquists; and were used to illustrate books of prime importance: the Poem of the beast and the angel of José María Pemán (1938) and History of the Spanish Crusade by Joaquín Arrarás (1940-1944).

Besides illustrating for magazines and making paintings, he restores artworks for the Provincial Council of Álava, and develops an extensive program of murals in various public buildings in Vitoria, in the Valley of the Fallen and the Agricultural Research Institute of the Complutense University of Madrid. Between 1939 and 1950, he illustrates for the calendar of the Central Bank. He worked as artistic director of La Moda in Spain (1943-1947), and the Editorial Fournier in 1948.

Most of his artworks bear obvious propaganda similar to those of Hitler's Germany, Leon Degrelle's Wallonia, and other Fascist art that was given emphasis on rural living and of the past particularly those of war. Given the cultural policy of Franco as emphasised on classicism and romanticism, Saenz de Tejada expressed it as such. One example was "Cara al Sol" which was based from the Anthem sung by the Francoists.

Besides that, he features the Carlists as a defender of faith and tradition, like the Falange, the Carlists were allies of the Franco regime amidst its ideological differences. Again, it features the folksy setting, the rugged, peasant-like appearance trying to keep firm Spain's cherished tradition and order. Falange under Franco became like any other reactionary entity like the Carlists and the Legitimists, hence far from its supposed futurist, republican, syndicalist roots.

Yet the other hand, he also showed fairness and balance on some paintings featuring those of his enemies during the civil war, featuring the Republican banner and of the Red Flag. Again, same style as those of the paintings supported by the state. How come the setting was more of rejoice despite sympathizing with the Carlists prior to the civil war? The title of the painting speaks for itself: Republica.

Quite strange for a member of the nobility to create artworks that were deemed "radical" in its message yet carries a classical if not a romanticised twist. 

Spaniards during Franco's period would say that his works was all but a continuation of a "glorious past" not just a propaganda material. Artists like Teodoro and Álvaro Delgado, José Caballero, Juan Acha, Jesus Olasagasti, as well as Sáenz de Tejada himself exalt tradition, rural life, anything that was folksy as contrary to the modern works of the Republican's Pablo Picasso. Salvador Dali was an exception since he's also stayed in Spain during Franco and at the same time creating the same artwork he familiarised with.

But come to think of this, since Sáenz de Tejada was known in art circles as an illustrator for both Spanish and Foreign papers, how come during Franco's period people around the world looked at the works of Picasso and Dali?


Admittingly speaking, his artwork is rarely seen as an example of Spanish art. Given the popularity of Goya, Picasso, and fellow Francoist Dali, Sáenz de Tejada's work was limited to certain sites online related to Spanish art and culture, sorry to say if only Francoists, Falangists, or Fascists in general had seen his works, even praising him and heckle those of Picasso and even Dali; but for fairness' sake, his work tries to be both classical and modernist given the era that was made, but being associated with Franco would mean countless scrutiny the way German, Italian, or even Soviet, Chinese, or Korean artists being sought.

Ironically, as early as 1968, Franco had expressed an interest in having Picasso's Guernica be returned to Spain. The latter turned down his offer, and expressed that it will be returned if the Spanish people again enjoyed a republic. He later added other conditions, such as the restoration of "public liberties and democratic institutions" once enjoyed prior to the war. Perhaps, for Franco he sought it as a part of Spanish culture the way he preserved the ruins of a Spanish town ravaged by the conflict he had led; again, it shows eclecticism, or even contrary to his policy that mimics those of the rulers he himself look as his inspiration. Prior to the Torre de Madrid, the architecture of his period mimics those of Escorial and the Alcazar, so were the artworks, trying to continue what El Greco or Goya did only to found out Dali's and the subversive Picasso's were much known in his time. 

Anyways, be it Heroic Realism, Futurism, Folk-inspired, or Agitprop. This writer sought and understand both the beauty of its work, and the painter as a propagandist.