My father, Manuel Ruiz, was born in Madrid in 1920. When he was a young boy of 10 years old, he would often take delight in visiting the Prado Museum not only to admire the works of the greats such as El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Goya, and Sorolla, but would later spend hours at home reproducing their works.
His younger sister Maria, who accompanied him, often recounts how crowds would gather at the Prado to watch her brother sketch their works of art. My father often told me, as he fondly remembered, how he rushed home after his museum visits with great anticipation and spent hours mixing the colors and playing with lights until he would produce the exact same shade or hue as his idols.
When he was 12, he displayed his collection of 24 paintings at a public exhibition in Madrid that earned him Honorable Mention. Of that collection, here is the actual reproduction of the painting by Velázquez known as The Surrender of Breda, aka The Lances, that he painted in 1932. This artwork is part of a private collection in Spain.
As a result of his first public exhibition, he became one of the youngest artists ever to gain a scholarship entrance into the prestigious Escuela de Artes y Oficios de Madrid, (Madrid Academy of Fine Arts) where he was awarded a diploma at the age of 14. A few years later, when he and his family relocated to Seville, he continued his passion and enrolled at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios de Sevilla.
Manuel was awarded a travelling bursary to study art in Italy for a year during his late teens, however he was called to perform compulsory military duty for the Spanish Civil War. As a result, he lost this precious time and opportunity. During those days in the military, his fellow soldiers nicknamed him ‘pinceles’ (paintbrush) for his artistic talent and for his slimness.
Curiously, my father married the daughter of a muse who frequently posed for Joaquín Sorolla García. García was the son of the famous Valencian painter, Joaquin Sorolla known as the “Master of Light.” Sorolla’s works are displayed at his home in Madrid that has been converted to the Museo Sorolla; the only museum in the city entirely devoted one artist.
It was in the mid 40′s when my grandmother Isabel Marin Serrano posed for García who inherited his father’s talent. My mother recalls playing for hours as a child at the very house while her mother modeled for the younger Sorolla. In 2009, I visited the museum and the curator was kind enough to show me these sketches of my grandmother that were meticulously stored in vaults of the basement. These artworks are displayed online in the catalog of the Sorolla museum.
Through the decades, Manuel took delight in painting dramatic scenes of Spain; from the hanging houses of Cuenca to the Moorish walls of Avila; from the Alcázar of Jaén to the majestic Alhambra in Granada.
In 1961, Manuel came to Canada with his family and established his home. Here, he shifted from oils to watercolors and from Moorish and Spanish Mediterranean scenes to experimenting with contrasting Canadian autumn and winter scenes.
Manuel continued to exhibit his paintings at art galleries and shows throughout the country, winning awards, and opening his own art school in the 80′s. Just prior to retiring during the late 80′s, the boy who copied the Prado greats was honored in Canadian art publications as the “best watercolorist in Canada during the 1970′s and 1980′s.”
Today, the granddaughter of my aunt Maria carries the artistic torch in the family as she has become an artist in her own right. Visit her website and you will also see my aunt’s oil portrait dressed as a bullfighter from an actual photo taken by my father long ago.
Echoing Sorolla’s title of “Master of Light”, Manuel Ruiz was known as a “Master of Color.” Sadly he passed away on New Years Day in 2010. He will forever be greatly missed by his family and friends and continues to bring us joy each day through his art. Please visit his web page