EventssliderTime Out

An  exhibition of more than 160 works

by Muriel Feiner
Photos: M Feiner


The Biblioteca Nacional inaugurated an impressive and comprehensive exhibition on Antonio Cánovas del Castillo Vallejo (Madrid, 1862-1933), a highly versatile intellectual who developed an intense cultural activity in a variety of areas, although his greatest passion was photography. He was also a painter, art critic, writer, businessman and politician. His career and experience as a photographer can be divided into two periods: the first, obviously, as an enthusiastic amateur, between 1890 and 1904, and the second as a recognized professional who became very famous under the pseudonym of Dalton Kâulak from 1905 until his death in 1933.

The versatile Cánovas del Castillo Vallejo a.k.a. Kâulak: his greatest passion was photography

This Exhibition includes more than 160 works (photographs, printed books, engravings, photographic instruments, oil paintings, etc.) belonging to the Spanish National Library, other Spanish institutions, and private collectors.

He had studied Law at the University of Madrid and received painting classes from noted landscape artist Carlos de Haes, at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in 1857. Before devoting himself entirely to photography, he was a government employee, art critic, journalist, writer, composer and politician (Congressman for the city of Cieza in the Parliament, 1891-1895, and Civil Governor of Malaga, 1895-1897).

One of his first passions was the art world and he published over a hundred articles between 1892 and 1903 in the Spanish newspapers La Época and La Correspondencia, mostly in relation to painting. He signed his own oil paintings and some of his literary works with the pseudonym “Vascano”, which was formed from the inverted syllables of his first surname.

His interest in literature was due to the influence of his great-uncle, Serafín Estébanez Calderón, and at the age of 18 he wrote “Milagro en Venecia”, a short novel later included in the book “Mocedades” (1891). Other titles of his were “Javier Malo” (1884), “El Mosén” (1887), “La Condesa está durmiendo” (1895) and “Pobres niños ricos!” (1918). He also published a biographical essay on famous Spanish navigator Juan de la Cosa (1892) and several works on Art, including “Diccionario sobre pintores malagueños del siglo XIX” (1908) and “Rosales” (1927), a brief biography of the painter.

As far as music was concerned, one of his lesser-known skills, he was the author of a dozen works (rigaudons, waltzes, pasodobles and polkas), most of them at the end of the 19th century. He composed “Kâulak, vals brillante para bailar” (1908) as a gift for the clients of his photographic gallery and whose score was illustrated by painter Adolfo Lozano Sidro.

Cánovas’ photographic activity was extraordinary. In the amateur, pictorial stage (1890-1904), he stood out for his originality and creativity. He was one of the founders of the Sociedad Fotográfica de Madrid, created the magazine La Fotografia in 1901, which he directed until 1913 and in which he published more than three hundred articles, and participated in numerous national and international competitions in which he won dozens of highly important awards. During that time, he also produced and published a great variety of postcards (landscapes, monuments, customs, artistic and, literary compositions, etc.), which enhanced his popularity.

“Kâulak photographed the royal family, the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, noteworthy intellectuals. . . ” Photo: Victoria Eugenie Battenberg, wife of King Alfonso XIII, therefore, Queen of Spain

As a professional, between 1904 and 1933, he founded what would become one of the most prestigious photo galleries in Madrid (and in all Spain for that matter). It was there that he photographed the royal family, the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and also the most noteworthy intellectuals, artists and politicians of the times. Due to the quality of his work, he was popularly nicknamed “The Portrait Artist of the Ladies”. His studio was considered an innovative model for Spain, because after studying other European galleries as a reference, Cánovas made sure that it was equipped with all the necessary elements, both technical (cameras, lenses, lighting) and decorative (backgrounds, furniture, accessories), In 1912, he published “Fotografía Moderna”, a manual in which he explained the basic principles of photography.

The Portrait Artist of the Ladies paints Piedad Iturbe, Princess of Hohenlohe

At the beginning of the 20th century, his work illustrated the most important magazines, including La Ilustración Española y Americana, Blanco y Negro, Mundo Gráfico, Nuevo Mundo, El Teatro and La Esfera, and he participated in the creation of Mundial in 1921. In 1918, he collaborated in the founding of the Unión Fotográfica, and in 1921, he wrote El retouche fotografie, a specialized work in which he revealed the characteristics and secrets to retouching photographs (a forerunner of Photoshop). He defined this technique as “The photographer’s efforts to modify and improve upon the plain, bare image automatically produced by the negative”.

Kâulak’s concern for preserving all of his originals in carefully organized files, creating a special iconography for the portraits of leading personalities (for example, the exceptional “Gallery of Illustrious Men”), his register of clients, the Golden Album, and his contributions to the National Iconography Board), together with the efforts over the years of the Biblioteca Nacional de España for its preservation and care, were essential for making this exhibition possible today.

Biblioteca Nacional de España. Paseo del Prado, 20. From March 11, 2022 to August 28, 2022. Monday to Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sundays and holidays, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.