Antonio León Ortega was born in Ayamonte, in the county of Huelva, on december 7th 1907.
When he was a teenager, almost a child, he showed a restless passion and an innate ability for sculpture, producing his first self-taught works. When, years later, they’ll be showed to the master Mariano Benlliure, he will define them as typical of a mature sculptor.
He carried on his studies in Madrid from 1927 to 1934. He attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he studied sculpture and design teaching under excellent teachers such as Mariano Benlliure, José Capuz, Manuel Benedito and Juan Adsuara, with whom he worked during a stage of his production.
In those years he approached to the castilian imagery: he studied it in Valladolid, where he found his privilegiate master in Gregorio Fernández.
Since 1938 he worked in his first workshop in San Cristobal Street in Huelva, sharing it with the painter Pedro Gómez. Soon the workshop became not only an informal school of artists, but also an atheneum of arts and humanities, frequented by all the artists who lived or passed by Huelva such as poets, journalists, doctors and writers. The workshop will be known in the artistical world as the “San Cristobal’s Academy”.
In the same years, he studied the sevillana imagery through the works of the master Martínez Mountañés.
In 1964 he moved to a new workshop in Medico Luís Buendía Street and he worked there until 1985, year in which the illness moved him away from all the activities.
In these 50 years of hard work, he produced more than four hundred works, including small and great size works, made by different materials such as wood, mud, stone, brass and others. He elaborated the religious works from a previous sketch drawn on mud and he sculpted them directly on the wood with the help of the gouge and the mallet. In this way, he followed the traditional spanish imagery way learned in Madrid from José Capuz and Juan Adsuara.
He produced great part of the images for the Holy Week of Huelva and Ayamonte and of many other towns in the counties of Huelva and Badajoz. He created other important religious and civil works in Sevilla, Cadiz, Malaga, Caceres, Salamanca, Pontevedra, Madrid, Belgium, United States, etc. as well as many others in smaller sizes, belonging to private collections in America and in Spain.
He created a modernist style of sculpture in Madrid, according to the twenties’ style: we can easily find it in works like the Retrato de Luna, in Manuel Bendito Museum, and the Retrato de Trinidad Navarro in Ayamonte.
Descendimiento of Huelva
Descendimiento of Huelva
León Ortega is the author of one of the most serious, rigorous and personal sculptures in Spain in the 20th century, creating an easily distinguible personal style. He got the best of his production in the sculptural groups, preferring the sculpture to the imagery, — The Descendimiento of Huelva, in which he combined the expressive force of Berruguete with the andalusian sweetness of his style, — represents a real masterpiece. In the Crucificados, —the Cristo de la Sangre de los Estudiantes is rich of such a unique elegance and beauty —. He also produced many madonnas with faces full of suppressed pain (he didn’t like the candlestick images, he preferred the entire size). The Virgen del amor of Huelva represents its maximum example.
In his production stand out theYacente, the Cristo del Perdòn, the Angel de la oraciòn, the Cristo de la Borriquita, the Jesùs de las tres Caidas, the Cristo de la Victoria, the Cristo de la Conception, the San Cristobal, the Virgen de las Angustias and the Virgen de los Angeles in Huelva, the Pasión, the Yacente de las Angustias, the Cautivo, the Cristo de las Aguas and the Virgen de la paz in Ayamonte, the Nazareno of Beas and the Nazareno of Moguer.
At the same time he was educator; he gave drawing and modelling classes in his workshop, in the Diocesan seminary and where today there’s the León Ortega School of Arts.
As sculptor, he mostly gave himself up to creating images, not only because this artistic field had always attracted him, but also because he was motivated by intimate religious convinctions, that, connected to his social sensibility, place him into the area of the most involved Christianity.
His first religious works had a borroquean touch, but then he found a very personal style: he chose a lighter form of lines and decorations and he tried to find a fusion between the castellan and andaluz imagery to get the essence of the sculpture only in its minimalism.
In the last five year period — he worked until he was eighty — his production lost part of its sculptorical power. He created only small size works because they needed just a little phisical effort as, for example, his last masterpiece, the Busto de Madame Cazenave.
His images are characterized by the strenght, the beauty and the sweetness dues to his passion for the wooden sculpture and for the model.
León Ortega died on january 9th 1991 in his house in Huelva.