Ramón de Santillán González

Ramón de Santillán González

  • 1852
  • Oil on canvas
  • 185 x 113 cm
  • Cat. P_204
  • Commissioned from the artist by the Banco Español de San Fernando in 1852

Santillán (1791-1863) was educated in Lerma (Burgos), his birthplace. In 1809, he enlisted in the guerrilla brigade of ‘The Priest Merino’ as it was passing through the district, and remained with it until 1813. Afterwards, in 1814, he began an official military career in the cavalry with the rank of captain, finally leaving the army in 1825 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Beforehand, in 1821, he had married Juana Pinilla (1774-1846), whose uncle, José López, introduced him to the field of public finances and inculcated him with his reformist ideas. The year he left the army, he began a rising career as a civil servant in the Finance Ministry, and in 1838 he became the head of the Overseas Section in the Ministry’s Secretariat, turning down the position of Sub-Secretary that was offered to him by Alejandro Mon (1801-1882). He also became a member of parliament in 1838, taking part in specific missions for the Lower Chamber. That year he also rejected the ministerial portfolio, which he eventually accepted in 1840 for three months, demonstrating the reformist principles he had acquired. He held the office again, also for a short period, in 1847.

However, it was after his first spell as Minister that he made some of his most important contributions to the public revenue service, especially after 1843, as a member of the tax reform committee that prepared the fiscal reforms of 1845. From 1849 until his death on 19 October 1863, he held the post of governor of Banco Español de San Fernando, having orchestrated the merger of Banco de San Fernando with Banco de Isabel II. He was responsible for major overhauls to the institution, which became Banco de España in 1856 and thereafter entered an era of expansion and growth under his leadership. His important position allowed him to gain first-hand knowledge of the situation of the Treasury and the state of the Spanish economy. Opposed to Mon’s ideas, Santillán effectively defended the private interests of the bank’s shareholders, and his biographers, such as Vallejo Pousada, have generally praised his position of “relative independence from governments, which increased during his years at the head of the bank, during which he applied a rigorous policy of collaborating with them financially only if they offered sufficient guarantees.”

Santillán was also concerned with public education and the spread of knowledge, and this led him to write two historical surveys. One, Memoria Histórica sobre los Bancos (Historical Survey on the Banks), is a history of the formation of Banco de España from the foundation of Banco de San Carlos until 1863, while the other, Historia de la Hacienda pública (History of the Public Revenue), was concluded in 1854. He also authored a third volume with his own autobiography. The bound volume he holds in his hand in his portrait could refer to any of these books or many other writings.

Portrayed at the age of 61, he is shown full-length, seated next to a table on which his left arm rests elegantly, and wearing the uniform of a royal chamberlain. He also wears the two highest state decorations, the Grand Crosses and sashes of the Orders of Charles III and Isabella the Catholic, and in his right hand he holds a book, possibly an allusion to his own ample writings. It is without doubt one of the finest male portraits by Gutiérrez de la Vega, a Sevillian artist who settled in Madrid.

Composed at the peak of the artist’s maturity, the portrait is resolved with light and minutely applied touches of thin paint. With transparent glazes and the soft tints characteristic of local tradition, the painter constructs the rich textures of the fabrics and, above all, the flesh tones, conjuring up some sumptuous effects which he regarded as the heirs to the richly loose style of Murillo and the facility of Goya, his main formal referents. In seeking these complex effects, he perhaps gives the sitter a freshness inappropriate to his age. Gutiérrez must have understood that this commission was a golden opportunity for self-promotion in a public establishment of the first order, since he evidently executed the work with a painstaking care that is seldom appreciable in his more ordinary portraits, and which reveals itself especially in the tightly enamelled finish. Given its fine state of preservation, it must be regarded as one of his most dedicated works by contrast with the more careless finish of most of his male portraits. The painter meanwhile gave his sitter a serene distinction in his pose, ennobled by a scenic background that blends architecture and nature. Here, Gutiérrez’s usual blend of Murillo’s gentleness with English-style empathy is subordinated to a model that he had in fact taken from Goya’s portrait of General Ricardos (Madrid, Museo del Prado), with which this portrait shares not only the pose but also a certain stiffness in the sitter’s attitude.

Carlos González Navarro

When Gutiérrez de la Vega painted this portrait in 1852, his sitter, Ramón de Santillán, had been the governor of the Banco Español de San Fernando for three years. He had previously been the Minister of Finance and in that capacity had promoted the merger between the bank and the Banco de Isabel II. He remained in his post as governor until 1863, during which time, the institution acquired its current title of Banco de España. As discussed elsewhere in this catalogue, Santillán was one of the most outstanding personages in the Bank's history. The portrait reflects his importance, not only in the innate qualities of the picture, but also because it was to become the first in a series, the inspiration for an initiative to create a systematic gallery of portraits of the bank's governors. The project was discussed at a board meeting on 18 May 1881, at which the example set by the portrait of Santillán was mentioned.

In painting the portrait, Gutiérrez de la Vega probably drew on two of the works in the bank's collection: Goya's portrait of the Count of Altamira, and Vicente López's portrait of Ferdinand VII of Spain. In each of these, the models are depicted full-length, seated on a chair, with one arm resting on a desk. The main difference is that whereas both Altamira and the king are depicted in an interior, the setting of this portrait is more ambiguous. The large column and the blue curtain suggest a large, grand room and the table with the bright red cloth and matching chair are typical of an interior. However, a balustrade on the left of the painting looks out over a mass of trees, in a formula that was to become common in other portraits from the Spanish Romantic period.

Santillán is depicted in his official uniform, which was to reappear in the portraits of many of his successors. The gold braid adorning the edges of his jacket is decorated with eyes, an allusion to the hundred eyes of Argos and the vigilance required of those in positions of responsibility in public administration. It was a key feature on the uniforms of senior officials in Spain. Another item of note is the white and blue sash of the order of King Charles III. Beneath it, the sash of Queen Isabella the Catholic is just visible, while on his chest, he wears the two large crosses pertaining to the same orders. At his left, there is a cane, attesting to his position as the bank's governor. It also features in some of Goya's portraits of the early directors. Santillán's relaxed pose reflects contemporary fashion in portraiture, not only in Spain, but on the international scene as well. In his right hand he holds a book, with one finger placed between two of the pages, as if to suggest that he has interrupted his reading to attend to the portraitist. The binding is typical of the Romantic period, with a supralibros bearing the Spanish coat of arms, suggesting that it is an official publication that the governor is consulting as part of the duties of his office. Thus, Gutiérrez de la Vega creates an image that is at once official — with references to honours and obligations — and at the same time relaxed, an aspect to which the landscape in the background also contributes.

During the late 1840s and the early 1850s, the quality of Gutiérrez de la Vega's portraits improved, with the use of compositional formulas and a pictorial technique that shows close links to that used by some of his Spanish contemporaries, such as Antonio María Esquivel, Carlos Luis de Ribera and the Madrazos and their circle. All of these artists offered a level of descriptive precision, seeking formulas that would ennoble their sitters and enhance their elegance. The portrait of Santillán is one of Gutiérrez de la Vega's most accomplished works, and is the best example of his contribution to the portraiture of his time. Drawing on his careful study of the techniques of Murillo, he used fluid brushstrokes and softened the contrasts in colour and form to build an atmosphere that integrates all the elements into a single whole. He took great care over the composition, as evidenced by a detail in the foreground. In the area where one might expect to see the tail of the red tablecloth, we see instead one of the legs of the table; to achieve this effect, the cloth is unnaturally bunched up under the sitter's hand. Gutiérrez de la Vega thus avoided an excessive concentration of red in that section of the painting, which would have obstructed the transition between the tablecloth and the upholstery on the chair and created a considerable confusion of colour and forms.

Javier Portús

Javier Portús
José Gutiérrez de la Vega y Bocanegra
Sevilla 1791 - Madrid 1865

His beginning as an artist is tied to the Real Escuela de Tres Nobles Artes in Seville, where he first appears on the student roster in 1802, and to the workshop in that same city where his uncle Salvador Gutiérrez, an outstanding copyist of Murillo, fostered his interest in that artist. In fact, Murillo had a fundamental influence on Guitérrez’s style and part of his subject matter. In 1825, after years of study, he obtained the post of assistant painter and began an important career, painting portraits and religious scenes that not only made him extremely popular with Seville’s bourgeoisie and clergy, but also allowed him to travel to other cities on the Iberian Peninsula. On a trip to Cádiz in 1829, for example, he became friends with the British consul, John Brackenbury, and portrayed his family.

After returning to Seville, he attempted to establish closer contact with Madrid’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. After presenting them with a painting on a Murillo-like subject, he visited the city with Esquivel in 1831 to compete for the First Class Prize at that institution. Neither artust succeeded, but they were both named academicians of merit the following year, and settled in Madrid. Gutiérrez’s post and his gift for portraiture helped him gain access to the court’s important families and to the royal palace itself, and in fact, his works constitute a veritable gallery of the leading figures in Madrid’s official and social circles during the second third of the nineteenth century. His models include members of the royal family, including Isabella II, whom he portrays at different ages, as well as Maria Christina and the Duchess of Montpensier, who were enchanted with Gutiérrez’s smooth, skilful and flattering likenesses. Nevertheless, his aspirations to the post of court painter were never fulfilled.

Despite living in Madrid, he maintained contact with Seville, which he visited in 1843 to assume the post of Director of the Real Escuela de Tres Nobles Artes. In 1847, however, he resigned as he found it impossible to meet his responsibilities there while living in Madrid. From then on, he worked mostly in Madrid and continued to teach at the Academia de San Fernando. He was active in the city’s artistic and literary life at a time when writers and painters had many shared interests. In fact, Gutiérrez was an important member of the Liceo Artístico y Literario, one of the fundamental institutions of Spanish Romanticism.

While Gutiérrez was primarily a portrait painter, he also made an outstanding number of religious works, and his stylistic debt to Murillo was particularly useful in that area, as that painter’s work was then quite popular throughout Europe. While still living in Seville, Gutiérrez had also painted a group of costumbrista works that reflect the burgeoning taste for such subject matter in that city during the Romantic era.

Javier Portús

Elena Serrano García
Ramón Santillán González (Lerma, Burgos 1791 - Madrid 1863)
Governor of the Banco Español de San Fernando 1849 - 1854
Governor of the Banco de España 1856 - 1863

Governor of Banco de España 1849 – 1854 From a family of slender means, he enrolled in 1805 at the University of Valladolid, where he took a degree in law. He was in the army from 1808 to 1825, when he left the forces to join the General Accounting Office for Securities. This was the beginning of a rising career that continued at the Finance Ministry, where he became minister on two occasions, in 1840 and 1847. He collaborated with Alejandro Mon during the latter’s ministerial mandates, especially on the tax reform of 1845, where his influence was capital. Known as the ‘Mon-Santillán’ reform, it marked the creation of Spain’s first modern system of taxation.

In 1847, as finance minister, he proposed merging the banks of San Fernando and Isabel II, but a governmental crisis led to his replacement at the head of the ministry by José Salamanca. It was Salamanca, a shareholder and leading figure in Banco de Isabel II, who finally decreed the merger, ensuring that it favoured the interests of the Banco de Isabel II shareholders. The bank resulting from the merger retained the name of Banco Español de San Fernando.

The law of 23 April 1849 for the reorganisation of Banco de San Fernando created the figures of the ministerially appointed governor and vice-governor instead of a director and vice-director. The first such appointment fell to Ramón de Santillán. He remained in the post when Banco de San Fernando was transformed into Banco de España by the law of 28 January 1856, and he continued in it until his death. His mandate as governor – fourteen years, except for a few months in 1854 – is the longest in Banco de España’s history.

As governor of Banco Español de San Fernando, Santillán undertook a programme of internal reorganisation to put an end to the financial instability affecting the bank nearly three years after the merger. Taking the Bank of France as a model, he proceeded to a gradual reduction of the sum of dubious loans and accounts pending for bankruptcies and litigations. At the same time, he laid the foundations for the reform of the law of 1849, clearing the way for the restructuring of the bank under the law of 15 December 1851.

In gratitude for the reorganisation he was responsible for, the Board of the bank agreed in 1852 to commission his portrait from one of the most reputed court painters, to be paid for out of the pockets of the board members and vice-governors themselves, “so that it should always be displayed in the Boardroom”, where it still hangs today, “with the purpose of exemplifying the gratitude with which the Bank requites good services and indicates the path to be followed by governors who aspire to leave fond renown.” It was painted by José Gutiérrez de la Vega, and inaugurated the series of portraits of Governors of Banco de España.

Santillán was firmly convinced that a national bank should have exclusive rights to issue notes, and on several occasions he inveighed against the proliferation of issuing banks in the provinces, as established in the law of 28 January 1856 which changed the name of Banco de San Fernando to Banco de España. He could see the onset of the crisis of 1866, which he did not live to experience, a consequence in his opinion of the banking system created in 1856.

He wrote a history of Banco de España from its origins as Banco de San Carlos, Memoria histórica sobre los bancos (Historical memoir on the banks), making him the Bank’s first historian. In the words of Pedro Tedde, he adopted an objective, distanced and dispassionate point of view. Santillán was careful to make it clear in these pages which economic and financial doctrines had inspired his judgements on the banking institutions whose history he was relating. He also wrote his own Memorias (Memoirs, 1815-1856) and a historical survey of the reforms carried out in Spain’s general system of taxation and its administration from 1845 to 1854. This is one of the finest studies of the Spanish Internal Revenue published in the nineteenth century, with wide-ranging analyses of the tax reforms of 1845 and the evolution of the liberal fiscal system up to 1863.

Elena Serrano García

«El Banco de España. Dos siglos de historia (1782-1982)», Banco de España (Madrid, 1982). «Alejandro Mon: Treasury and Politics in the Spain of Queen Isabella II», Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias (Oviedo, 2003). «From Goya to our times. Perspectives of the Banco de España Collection», Musée Mohammed VI d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (Rabat, 2017-2018). «2328 reales de vellón. Goya and the Origins of the Banco de España Collection», Banco de España (Madrid, 2021-2022).
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