Originally from central Europe, although resident in Bizkaia at least from the early 19th century, the Rochelts were a family of merchants and industrialists who also took a keen interest in the visual arts. At least a dozen family members had artistic leanings, and many contributed actively to cultural life in Bilbao in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rubbing shoulders with artists of the stature of Anselmo Guinea, Juan de Barroeta, Adolfo Guiard, Darío de Regoyos, Carlos de Haes and Jaime Morera.
Curated by historian Mikel Lertxundi Galiana, this exhibition seeks to recreate a bygone world through works by members of the family, together with paintings by some of the artists they knew, including Guinea, Barroeta, Guiard and Regoyos. In all the exhibition features 71 works, 64 of which belong to the Rochelt family, the other 7 coming from the Museum’s own collection. Alongside drawings, watercolours and oil paintings are documents on other creative outlets such as illustration and literature.
While works by nine members of the Rochelt family are showcased, four of them are given pride of place: Gustavo, Ricardo, Juan and Juan José Rochelt. The other five are Carlos, Mario, Rafael, Luis and Óscar Rochelt.
In the closing decades of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, the families of the haute bourgeoisie of Bilbao abounded with amateur painters who had sufficient time and money on their hands to pursue their interest in the arts. The phenomenon was particularly noticeable in a number of families of foreign origin who settled in the city in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, people like the Lund, Amann, Delmas and Zamacois families. Amongst the leading members of this group were the Rochelts, whose members painted, wrote and played music, kept company with local artists and contributed to cultural life in turn-of-the-century Bilbao at society celebrations, commemorative and charity events and art exhibitions, producing drawings for the press, books and posters, as well as their own artworks.
The family was always ready to help in the organisation of local society events, particularly royal visits, including the one made by Spanish King Alphonse XII to Bilbao in 1876 and the Queen Regent’s own visit in 1887. The Rochelt family was also involved in the popular theatre performances held on the river during the festival celebrations in August 1879, when the city’s river Nervión was transformed into the Adriatic Sea to receive the Dux of Venice, and again in August 1880 when the Nervión became the Nile in the age of the Pharaohs. In 1880 and 1900 the family also helped to organise the pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Virgin of Begoña.
Like other families of the haute bourgeoisie, the Rochelts were also involved in initiatives designed to aid the community. Luis and Ramón Rochelt, for instance, donated works in 1884 for a kermesse (a gala with musical and theatrical interludes)organised to raise funds for the new Lifeguard Station at the bar of the Nervión. They also contributed to work on the tower of the Santiago Basilica in Bilbao planned by Severino Achúcarro: Óscar Rochelt designed the poster for a fund-raising tombola and Gustavo Rochelt donated six watercolours for the draw.
In the closing decades of the 19th century, art exhibitions were thin on the ground in Bilbao, and the family had little to do with the artistic side of such events, the only exhibition they showed at being the 1882 Provincial Exhibition of Vizcaya. However, they did take an active part in their organisation. In the 20th century, Juan José Rochelt, a member from 1913 of the AAV association of Basque artists, began to show works at the AAV headquarters and in galleries in Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid.
Featured here are works Rafael Rochelt produced for La Ilustración Española y Americana, founded in 1869 in Madrid in imitation of the Paris-based L’Illustration. Commissioned by the magazine, Rafael made a series of drawings of places in Bilbao to accompany articles by local writer Antonio de Trueba. Later, Óscar Rochelt took part in the foundation of a weekly literary and art journal called El Boceto (1883), while also producing drawings for other publications of the time. Soon to follow in his footsteps were Alfredo and, in particular, Juan Rochelt. Also featured are Óscar’s poster designs.
The first members of the family to show much more than a passing interest in art were Ricardo and Gustavo Rochelt Palme, who transmitted their enthusiasm to Ricardo’s sons Óscar and Mario and to their nephews Juan, Carlos, Luis and Rafael. But the key factor was their close contact with the leading artists in Bizkaia in the final decades of the 19th century, such as Anselmo Guinea, Adolfo Guiard and Manuel Losada. They also had contact with other painters associated with the Basque art milieu, particularly Carlos de Haes, Jaime Morera and Darío de Regoyos. Guiard, a good friend of Juan’s, also taught Óscar.
Watercolours signed by Gustavo, Ricardo and Juan dating from the 1870s provide the first documented fruits of the artistic endeavours of the Rochelts. The first two show a traditional landscape from which all trace of industrialisation is absent. In line with the taste of local collectors of the time, they provide nostalgic vistas of Bilbao and its surroundings. The modern age eventually impinged on the Rochelts’ vision of art through their friendship with Guiard, who had a decisive influence on Juan. The latter knew and admired Regoyos, Spain’s leading Impressionist painter; this enthusiasm was inherited by his nephew Juan José, who produced landscapes that kept the spirit of Regoyos’ painting alive until the early 1950s.
In the image:
Juan José Rochelt
Barcelona, calle Pelayo n.º 257, c. 1942
Oil on canvas. 81 x 65 cm
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum