Living Museums

Madrid’s golden age of commercial ceramic art

20 July 2020

Anyone who finds themselves in the lobby of the recently refurbished Sevilla metro is in for a treat. Finally exposed after being hidden for 50 years is the svelte figure of a sassy flapper from the 1920s. The ad dates back to when the metro was first constructed (1919 to 1936) when companies paid to have their brands immortalised in tile upon its walls. The artists who made them were part of a golden age of ceramic art that took the capital by storm, but in the 1970s, renovation works meant that all these beautiful old works of art were covered, sealed up and entombed for a future accidental renaissance which is happening now.

Enrique Guijo’s advertisement in Chamberí accidentally exposed during renovation works. Photo © Antonio Tajuelo

A brief history of the Arts and Crafts movement

The advert in metro Sevilla is the work of Alfonso Romero Mesa, one of the most famous ceramic artists working in the early 20th century and a former apprentice to Enrique Guijo whose work, even to this day, can be seen around Madrid.

Guijo was born in Cordoba in 1871, and when he first arrived in Madrid, he worked as a specialist in the restoration of ceramic art for the city’s Museum of Archaeology. However, a trip in 1907 Talavera de la Reina, a small city in the province of Toledo famed for its ornate tile art convinced him to revive ceramic art because, even in The City of Pottery, the number of ceramic workshops were dwindling in the face of a new era of industrialisation.

Studying what he could about production techniques, Guijo soon founded his own factory in Madrid alongside Andalusian ceramicist Juan Ruiz de Luna, whose grandson, Alfredo Ruiz de Luna González, incidentally, was the man responsible for making the tiled street signs all over Madrid.

The revival of Spanish pottery

The mission of Ruiz de Luna-Guijo and Co. was to revive the Talavera tradition. At first, things went splendidly; they scored work with prestigious clients such as the artist Joaquín Sorolla, who commissioned them to work on his garden in the centre of the city (check out my post on secret gardens for more information).

Ruiz de Luna and Enrique Guijo worked together on decorative tiles for the Sorolla garden

However, Guijo was frustrated, because Ruiz de Luna seemed happy simply to imitate the styles of the past and had little interest in modernity. And so, in 1917 the two split and Guijo recruited his nephew, daughter, and promising young apprentice Alfonso Romero Mesa.

From this point on, Guijo and Romero mainly dedicated themselves to commercial work, winning a contract to work on the advertisements for the metro and numerous shops and bars.

Guijo’s Vaqueria, from back when you got your fresh milk from stores that housed real cows out back

This former bookshop was founded in 1910, the tiles are the work of Enrique Guijo

The duo were even asked to produce the tiles for the Matadero (now an arts centre), but by far one of most impressive jobs the two ever did brought Guijo’s former partner, Ruiz de Luna back.

Los Gabrieles was a bar opened in 1908 and it’s here that Guijo, Romero and Ruiz de Luna came together to work on the interiors, which are absolutely stunning.

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Photo © David G. Folgueiras for El País

Sadly, this beautiful bar closed during the 2008 economic crisis and is currently shut to the public.

Guijo and Romero’s partnership came to an end in 1923 when Guijo lost the contract to work on Las Ventas bullring – the job going to his apprentice instead. It seems that a bitter row over who had actually drawn the sketches for the job was at the heart of this split, with Romero claiming Guijo had fraudulently signed his name to sketches he hadn’t done and Guijo – denying these charges – claimed the reverse was true: that Romero was trying to take credit for his work.

Romero’s career went from strength to strength after adorning the bullring, he was given the job of decorating the exterior of Villa Rosa, a flamenco bar that opened in 1911. This huge tiled facade can still be seen to this day on Plaza Santa Ana.

The Villa-Rosa opened in 1911 and was a favourite of Ava Gardner and Hemingway

You can also see Romero’s handiwork in the tiled advertisements that are still on display outside Bodegas Rosell.

The advertisements for Bodegas Rosell are the work of Alfonso Romero Mesa

Fading into obscurity

Meanwhile, in 1926, Guijo donated his ceramic collection to the Museum of the History of Madrid and was given a post as a curator and given 10 rooms on the second floor of the building. It’s believed that Guijo hid here in the museum the Civil War and remained at his post until he retired in 1944, blind, living out his final year on earth in obscurity, completely forgotten by a world that had moved on.

If you’d like to see Guijo’s work for yourself, take a look at the colourful advertisements he did for the Hueveria and Farmacia Juanse in Malasaña, right round the corner from where Guijo spent his final years.

This facade was covered up for a long time during Franco’s dictatorship, when any business with exterior advertising (even if it was for a long defunct product) had to pay extra taxes. The result was that many of Madrid’s gorgeous tiled facades were covered up in paint or plaster – some, of course, ruined for ever but others, like Farmacia Juanse, were lovingly restored for posterity.

Guijo’s tiles for Farmacia Juanse were covered up with paint during Franco’s dictatorship

Here are more stunning examples of works inspired by Angel Caballero, Enrique Guijo’s successor.

A liquor store shopfront by Angel Caballero, Enrique Guijo’s successor, in Puente de Vallecas

Hairdresser in Embajadores, tiles by Enrique Ginestal and Francisco de la Cruz Machuaca

Casa Macareno, Calle Vincente Ferrer, 44, by V. Moreno

Viva Madrid, tiles showing Cibeles fountain by Julio Mensaque

And finally…

The Incredible Map of all of Madrid’s Tiled Facades

Here you can find a map of all of Madrid’s tiled facades, most of which are from the era of the Arts and Crafts movement.


This article was written by published author Felicity Hughes of The Making of Madrid. Felicity can often be found digging through the Madrid archives for her history blog, which aims to explain how the events throughout Madrid’s past have made it what it is today.

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