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Portraits by José Moya del Pino

Moya del Pino painted portraits throghout his career, even when pursuing other paintings and styles on his own. He always strived to reflect in each portrait not just the appearance of the person portrayed, but the spirit, the intimacy: what is not seen with the eyes but with the heart. He also taught portrait painting for over a decade at the College of Marin in California.


Among Moya’s portraits from the first half of his life in Spain, are Doña Ana Teresa Suárez (1909), a glamorous image of a lady fully at ease with her wealth; and José de León Contreras, count of Cimera (1923), in which the contrast between the rigid military attire and the rather non-authoritarian character of the subject's gaze demonstrates the painter’s ability not to be trapped by the external appearance of the portrayed. 

Two notable portraits accompanied the painter to the United States as part of the Velázquez Exhibition: those of the Duke of Alba and the King of Spain. Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó, 17th Duke of Berwick and Alba de Tormes, was one of the most influential aristocrats of his time: a Spanish noble, diplomat, politician and enthusiastic art collector, who became one of Moya’s early patrons. He posed with the uniform of Master of the Real Maestranza de Sevilla—ostentatious enough to hide any hint of a personality.


Moya del Pino’s portrait of King Alfonso XIII, on the other hand, has the opposite effect: instead of military regalia, the King posed dressed in a jacket and tie. By 1924 Alfonso XIII had already been portrayed dozens of times; the portrait by Moya del Pino is probably the most human and understanding of all those that were made of him. The artist liked to tell this story: “When the portrait was finished, I presented it to the King for his approval. After contemplating his likeness for a while in silence, he smiled and said to me, joking: ‘Thank God, for once I do not feel like the picture on a deck of cards’.”

When Moya del Pino found himself stranded in California in 1925, he naturally turned to portaiture to make a living. He had the advantage that, upon his arrival in San Francisco with the Velázquez exhibition, he had been introduced to many patrons of the arts as an emissary of the king of Spain; he met other prominent figures through Mr. Cebrián, president of the National Honorary Hispanic Society, and José Gimeno, consul of Spain in San Francisco. He had been able to move among San Francisco’s society elites who supported him and appreciated him, and was therefore able to get portrait commissions. He painted architects, professors, socialites, and their families.

Dr. Ramón y Cajal

Examples are members of the Sutro and Pillsbury families, both very prominent San Francisco families; Dr. Emile Holman, a physician and surgeon at Stanford University, who is considered a legend in the field of hospital medicine in California; Dr. Ramon y Cajal, a Spanish neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner. Several of Moya's portraits were exhibited at Gump’s Gallery in 1932; the majority however are in private homes.

Aliki Diplarakou, Miss Europe 1930 (Miss Universe runner-up)


The Moya del Pino Library archives hold a wonderful portrait of the Cramer sisters from the 1930s.


We had a conversation with Ann T. Morrison, owner of a portrait by José Moya del Pino. Find out what is special about it in Meeting the Portrait and its Subject.

Landscapes, Still Lifes and Other Compositions

Moya del Pino painted landscapes, still lifes and other scenes throughout his time in California; the beauty of the Marin hills, the foothills of the Sierras, and the San Francisco Bay were always an inspiration for him. Most of these were not on commission, as opposed to the murals and portraits he painted.

Moya’s first exhibit of landscapes and still lifes was at the Gerber Lilienthal Gallery in 1931; it was followed over the years by shows at Gump’s, the Oakland Art Gallery, the Crocker Gallery in Sacramento, the Kingsley Art Club, and the San Francisco Art Center. He won first prize at the California State Fair in Sacramento in 1933 with his work View from Telegraph Hill; won the Anne Bremer Memorial Purchase Prize in the first Graphic Arts Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association in 1935 with Saints and Sinners; and won first prize and guest of honor at the Oakland Art Gallery in 1937 with Self Portrait.

After World War II he experimented for a while with abstract expressionism, which was becoming quite popular in San Francisco; the Moya library has in its collection a beautiful painting titled Saint John of the Cross, donated by a generous member. However he generally leaned toward what he described as “the interpretation of reality in a direct simple way.”

Also worth mentioning is a series of landscapes the artist painted in the late forties and early fifties, after visiting the Mojave Desert to paint a mural for the Lancaster post office. In this series Moya plays with the contorted and parched shapes of the joshua trees that live in the desert. The painting Joshua Tree Arabesque was prominently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Music and Art section (aug.15 1948).


Joshua Tree (one of several in the series)

Saints and Sinners

Saint John of the Cross

Water over Rocks

The Shepherd

Emancipation of Woman through Suffrage

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