ARTETA ERRASTI, Aurelio
(Bilbao, Bizkaia, 1879 -  México, 1940)
Painting. Bilbao (Bizkaia), México


Aurelio Bibiano Arteta y Errasti was born in Bilbao on 2 December 1879, the son of Eusebio
Arteta Labrador from Barbastro (Huesca) and of Petra Errasti Zabala from Bilbao.
In 1893 he enrolled at the School of Arts and Crafts in Bilbao, but in 1894 his father was
transferred to Valladolid and the whole family moved there. Shortly afterwards he enrolled at
the School of Arts and Crafts in Valladolid, where he trained under José Martí y Monsó, who
taught him engraving techniques; at the same time he worked as a porter at the Miño publishing
house.
In 1898 he moved to Madrid and joined the San Fernando School of Fine Arts as a distance
student. During his first course he obtained the First Medal for drawing and was designated
Honorary Pupil of the Fine Arts Circle in Madrid. In order to earn a living and continue his
studies he carried out a variety of jobs that included painting and decorating, retouching
prints, producing lithographs and illustrations for newspapers and fashion magazines and
acting as an extra at the Royal Theatre.
Thanks to a grant awarded by the Provincial Biscayan Government for his work Accidente de
trabajo en una fábrica de Vizcaya, between 1902 and 1906 he settled in Paris. In 1903 he
exhibited the works he had produced thanks to the grant at the salons of Bilbao’s Philharmonic
Society and then donated them to the provincial government in acknowledgement for the grant.
Late in 1906, after travelling through Belgium and Italy he returned to Bilbao. His Parisian
and Italian experiences paved the way towards the development of his personal style and
Aurelio Arteta set up his first studio by Uribitarte quay in Bilbao, which he subsequently
moved to Calle Ibáñez. His first one-man show was held at Bilbao’s Delclaux Salon. Over the
next few years he worked intensely as a painter, lithographer, poster designer and illustrator
of books, newspapers and magazines. He soon began to receive commissions for portraying
illustrious Bilbao characters and genre scenes.
In 1911 Arteta was one of the founding partners of the Association of Basque Artists of Bilbao
with which he displayed works in several group shows held in Bilbao, Eibar (Gipuzcoa), Madrid,
Saragossa and Barcelona. That same year he took part for the first time in the ‘Exhibition of
Modern Art’ organised by the Association of Basque Artists at the Philharmonic Society in
Bilbao.
In 1913 he made the work Eva arratiana for the Bilbao Society. Two years later he married
Natividad Villarreal and his first son, Aurelio Arteta Villarreal, was born. His wife,
however, died in Madrid in 1921.
From 1916 onwards he would take part in a number of exhibitions, such as the one held in
Madrid’s Buen Retiro Palace organised by the Association of Basque Artists, at which he
presented the work Pescadores. In 1918 he submitted the works Marinero and Ondarroa to the
show held on occasion of the First Congress of Basque Studies at the University of Oñati.
In 1919 he sent two canvases to the Exhibition of Contemporary Spanish Art in Paris, Mirentxu
and Despedida de las lanchas, considered by Juan de la Encina to be ‘the two best works made
by Arteta’.
During the summer of that year the ‘First International Painting and Sculpture Exhibition’ was
held in the Albia Gardens in Bilbao, and Aurelio Arteta sent the same two works he had shown
in the Parisian exhibition. In both critical and social terms, the twenties marked his
recognition. At the Exhibition of Spanish Painting organised by the Royal Academy in London he
displayed the symbolic and expressive work Los náufragos. By then he had assimilated certain
aspects of Cubism and Arteta’s role in the Basque art scene was similar to the one played by
Vázquez Díaz in Madrid and Sunyer in Barcelona.
The architect Ricardo Bastida commissioned him to produce a mural for the rotunda in the Banco
de Bilbao head office in Madrid. The work, completed in 1923, focuses on the world of labour.
These wall paintings have recovered their splendour after being restored in May 2003.
In 1924 he was appointed Director of the Museo de Arte Moderno in Bilbao, a position from
which he would resign in 1927. In 1925 he took part in the first exhibition of works by the
Society of Iberian Artists held in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Palace.
1928 was the year he made his second mural for the apse of the Seminary in Logroño, designed
by Ricardo Bastida. On this occasion he had to accept the imposition of the subject matter as
well as other conditioning factors that would influence the execution of the work, which can
be described as a Symbolist and even classicistic frieze.
In 1929 Arteta married Amalia Barredo Ezquerra, one of his former models, with whom he had his
second son, Aurelio Arteta Barredo.
In 1932 his work Los náufragos won First Medal at the annual ‘National Fine Arts Exhibition’,
and two years later he submitted the same work to the 19th edition of the Venice Biennale. In
1936 he won First Prize in the ‘National Painting Competition’ with his work Los bañistas.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he was in Madrid teaching drawing at the Higher
School of Painting. From there he moved to Valencia to take part in several cultural
activities, and subsequently moved to Barcelona. Following a brief sojourn in Paris, Arteta
settled in Biarritz (France), where he would produce one of his best and most discerning
pictorial series on the disasters of the Spanish Civil War, Evacuación de un pueblo and
Tríptico de la guerra.
Finally, in 1939 he and his wife set out for Mexico, where he would continue to paint works in
which Basque themes were combined with ethnography and indigenous folklore.
On 10 November 1940 Arteta died in Mexico after being involved in a tram accident.