Details & Cataloguing

19th and 20th Century Sculpture Including Highlights from the MEAM Collection: Part I


Mariano Benlliure y Gil
1862 - 1947
signed and dated: M. Benlliure / Roma 89 and inscribed: 10 and the base entitled: BUZO DE PLAYA
white marble, on a white marble base
figure: 122.5cm., 48 1/4 in.
base: 86.5cm., 34in.
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purchased by Pedro Losada y Gutiérrez de los Rios, 10th Conde de Gavia la Grande y de Valdelagrana, Madrid, 1890;
presented to the inventor Isaac Peral, Cadiz, 1890;
private collection, Spain;
Sotheby’s London, 5 July 2000, lot 145;
private collection, the Netherlands


Madrid, Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes de 1890, 1890, no. 1064


A. Comas y Blanco, La Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes de Madrid, Madrid, 1890, p.102;
Edición oficial, Madrid, 1890, p. 214, no. 1064;
C. de Quevedo Pessanha, Vida Artistica de Mariano Benlliure, Madrid, 1947, pp. 94-95;
V. Montoliu Soler, Mariano Benlliure. 1862-1947, Valencia, 1997, no. 87

Catalogue Note

This tall, detailed statue represents an urchin who has just retrieved a coin from the bottom of the harbour. It is not only a seminal marble by Spain’s foremost 19th-century sculptor, Mariano Benlliure, but also has an important early provenance that ties the boy’s marine discovery together with Spain’s first forays into the conquest of the deep sea.

In 1888, Isaac Peral, an engineer and naval officer, launched his 71 foot long prototype craft and successfully completed a series of shallow depth trials in the Bay of Cadiz, giving the world its first practical submarine. The submarine came to be known as Peral’s Cigar and made Peral a national hero in Spain. Two years later, Mariano Benlliure, another giant of Spanish late 19th-century culture, presented his sensitively carved representation of an Italian urchin diving for coins in the local port at the Fine Arts Exhibition in Madrid. The Count of Valdelagrana recognised the parallel between the boy’s efforts and those of Peral, who by that time struggled to get further support for his submarine from the navy, and presented the inventor with this marble.

Mariano Benlliure, who was also active as a watercolourist and painter, was born into a family of painters in Valencia. He studied first in Paris and then in Rome, where he shared a studio with his brother José, having won a scholarship to Rome’s Spanish Academy in 1888. There he came under the influence of the painter Mariano Fortuny and the Neapolitan sculptor Vincenzo Gemito.

Benlliure’s style as a sculptor shows a closeness to Gemito and his Roman-Neapolitan circle, particularly the highly naturalistic and characterful treatment of the boy, his face puckered with cold from diving for the coin and his shorts slipping down his thin body. The effect is both endearing and imbued with a strong Spanish realism. The base with the ropes around the mooring bollard is handled with considerable dexterity to offset and contrast with the shivering boy. In the catalogue of the 1890 Fine Arts Exhibition, the commentary records that Benlliure decided to let the boy hold a coin of cinco centimos instead of the mere dos pesetas he originally held to give him more dignity. A bronze version is recorded in a Spanish private collection.

19th and 20th Century Sculpture Including Highlights from the MEAM Collection: Part I