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In memory of Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez

November 8, 2010

In the early days, Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez’s relationship with Seville was not properly appreciated, or even went unnoticed, masked by the blanket of discretion that was his hallmark. However, few figures in the world of art have had such a revitalising influence on the city of Seville as he did over the last few decades, thanks to the astuteness of his indisputable knowledge. Pérez Sánchez’s teaching left an indelible mark on those of us who were lucky enough to know him and work with him on art projects, partly because his captivating personality left nobody indifferent.

I had the good fortune to meet him in 1991. He arrived in Seville through Javier Benjumea Puigcerver, the founding president of the Focus-Abengoa Foundation, to work as art advisor to the Foundation following in the footsteps of its Sevillian maestro Diego Angulo, a member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees since it was established in 1982. It was Javier who wanted Alfonso to become involved with Focus-Abengoa’s work related to the history of art, focusing particularly on the art of Seville, at the end of his time at the helm of the Prado. He wanted him for two reasons, firstly because of his indisputable intellectual stature, recognised both in Spain and abroad, and also because of the strong moral and ethical convictions that made him a tireless defender of what he felt to be right in terms of his own artistic competencies and ability.

The Foundation made an enormous qualitative leap and grew hugely in terms of excellence as a result of the activities that were organised after Alfonso joined the team. There were a range of emotional and rational reasons that brought him to us. These included his love for the city of Seville, where he would later own a house. However, it was also due to the free rein he was given and the unconditional support he received from the Foundation to carry out initiatives to recover iconic artistic heritage connected with Seville. Examples of this, in terms of their unique value, were his efforts to rescue Velázquez’s Santa Rufina, and to carry out activities through memorable exhibitions, that made us look at Baroque art in a new way from the perspective of the earliest naturalism in Sevillian painting.

The first project that he proposed and which allowed me to work with him closely, was related to one of his greatest passions, drawing. The result was the exhibition entitled “Tres Siglos de Dibujo Sevillano” (Three Centuries of Sevillian Drawing), which brought together an important number of works that had never been shown in public before and that had been lent, thanks to the influence of his scientific endorsement, by prestigious museums such as the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Prado or the Spanish National Library. Later, his charisma and influence among the most prestigious collectors of Spanish painting who sought to recover Spain’s national heritage, made another exhibition possible – paintings recovered by private collectors. The exhibition proved to be a milestone in raising awareness of recovering Spanish paintings from outside of Spain and highlighted the importance of patronage and private collectors, whose beliefs have imbued our Foundation. The exhibition entitled “El Greco familiar and rediscovered” (El Greco conocido y redescubierto) also took place with a similar purpose. Both were exhibitions that undoubtedly put the Focus-Abengoa Foundation at the forefront among similar national foundations. Through his advice and encouragement, this central idea of rescuing and recovering our heritage was to become one of the driving forces that inspires our work today.

On a more personal level, over time his lessons and generosity meant that, through his advisory work, our friendship grew and the maestro became a friend. His invitation to accompany him to the Velázquez exhibition that he organised in Naples had a particular influence on me. It was there that I learnt of the immense respect and admiration that Italian teachers felt towards him and his research into the Italian baroque, which was recently expressed in a heartfelt obituary by Cesare de Seta in the magazine Stilos.

Pérez Sánchez’s dedication to the figure of Velázquez will undoubtedly be some of his most productive work, which began in Seville in 2005 with the exhibition “From Herrera to Velázquez”. The first naturalism in Seville – defined and devised with his loyal disciple Benito Navarrete. This marked the beginnings of what would later become the Diego Velázquez Research Centre, which stemmed from the Foundation’s acquisition of the Santa Rufina, an unparalleled piece of art for our city. It was also an outstanding reason to create a place for studying the background and the effects that Velázquez has had on Seville, something that would have been unthinkable in an earlier time, but which Seville needed and which today is a reality thanks to the synergies created through his dedication and advice and Abengoa’s patronage. This company, in which he invested his hopes and work, is today a beacon of excellence, deserving of recognition for its service to the city.

On 8 November, the Focus-Abengoa Foundation therefore has the honour of dedicating a ceremony and a concert-mass to the memory of Professor Pérez Sánchez, which will bring together his friends and the people of Seville to pay a last tribute to him.

Anabel Morillo León

General Manager for Focus-Abengoa Foundation.

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