José Benlliure y Gil (1858 – 1937) was a contemporary of Sorrolla, and the Sorrolla Musuem, which is curiously located in Madrid, has in fact a painting of Sorrolla by José Benlliure,
Benlliure was an artist with an amazing diversity and incredible technical brilliance, with paintings full of overwhelming detail, especially of the flowers that appear in so many of his paintings, reminding us that Valencia is, among other things, the city of the flowers.
Although some paintings show his recognition of more modern styles and there are even traces of impressionism in some works, nevertheless his strongest paintings are those showing ordinary people in taverns, farms, churches, festivals, markets and bullfights; or people hunting, drinking and singing, with occasional battle scenes or the occasional nude sketch.
He was one of a group of Spanish painters who received government help to go and study in Italy and was the leader of a group of artists who established themselves in Assisi, including Sorrolla. During his stay there he painted a series of 66 paintings about the life of Saint Francis.
In his lifetime he also exhibited in major European cities such as Berlin, Vienna and Budapest and during his two years in Italy met a British merchant Martin Colnaghi who bought his entire Italian production for 150,000 francs.
He tried his hand at various themes and showed an interest in fantasy, with witches, warlocks and spirits in Rembrantesque dark scenes with creatures reminiscent of Tolkien and accompanied by large numbers of Valencia’s typical bats.
In 1887 and 1897 he visited Tunis and Morocco respectively and his production from that period involves paintings focused more on the faces and gestures of people than on the pomp and ceremony of formal situations; children are still full of naughtiness and wonder wherever they are and whatever their nationality, and the old still stare back at the viewer with faces suffused with resignation and dignity.
Other members of his family were also artists, particularly his brother Mariano the sculptor and his son, who died tragically young, leaving his father without an heir.
The Benlliure family has its own museum in Valencia, the early 20th century house beside the river where they used to live.