Friday, October 13, 2006
Fine Art Friday: Julio de Diego
When I first saw, more than 25 years ago, the privately-owned watercolor shown above, all I was told about the artist was that he was Spanish and had once been married to Gypsy Rose Lee.
Thank goodness for the internet. Julio de Diego was quite an interesting character.
When Painter Julio de Diego was a boy of 15 in Madrid, he already knew that he wanted to be an artist, but his father, a wholesale and retail merchant, objected. Father insisted that Julio and Julio's brother should aim for business success. "He even removed the table from my bedroom to discourage me from drawing," recalls De Diego. "One day I found some of my drawings, and he had written all over them, destroying every one: 'You are a Bohemian and this will be the cause of your dying of hunger.' " So Julio stuffed a few clothes into a suitcase, left the house for good, and, true to the romantic pattern of art biographies, became a successful painter. His brother inherited the business, gambled it away, and killed himself. (Time Magazine)
By 1924 when de Diego landed in the United States as a political exile and grandly threw his remaining few cents into the wind from the top of the Woolworth Building, he had worked as a scenery designer, movie actor, ballet extra and army officer.
Starting from scratch, de Diego painted murals for kitchens and bathrooms, designed menus, provided fashion illustrations and children's book illustrations and magazine covers (scroll down slightly). He worked for the WPA, painting "street scenes, landscapes, and 'some very terrible murals.' " (Time Magazine)
His first major art show was in Chicago in 1932, and he retained a close relationship with the city throughout his career. His work is found in many museums.
At age 62, de Diego exhibited 38 paintings at Manhattan's Landry Gallery devoted to the Spanish Armada:
Who but Julio would exhibit 38 paintings devoted exclusively to the Armada? Actually, there are many reasons why he became intrigued by the Armada, from the fact that it set sail on May 9, his birthday, to the fact that it is in every Spaniard's blood. Most of the paintings are small, but their scale does not detract from their impact. The ships struggle against wind and fire in a kind of wild dance; they glow bright red, founder among emerald waves, finally surrender to the sloshing rhythm of the sea. There is always high drama in the fall of a great fleet, and Julio de Diego has caught it well. The Armada's disaster has provided at least this welcome triumph. (Time)