Born in Gracia, Barcelona, in 1855, Fabres was a pupil at the Lonja Fine Arts Institute in Barcelona. He initially trained as a sculptor under his father, drawing professor Cayetano Fabres, and Aleu i Teixidor (1839-1900). At only 12 years old, he won first prize for a statue of a bust from the Sant Jordi Academy. Another bust won him a travel grant to Rome in 1875 where he had intended to continue his studies as a sculptor. However, this was one year after the death of fellow Spanish Orientalist Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874) whose fame and influence were still very apparent in Rome. Fortuny had played a huge role in popularising Orientalist painting in Italy and Fabres was instantly drawn to his work, particularly the Orientalist scenes, and decided to abandon sculpture and devote himself exclusively to paintings.
In Rome, Fabres took a studio in the city’s most popular and cosmopolitan artistic quarter, the Via Margutta, where his neighbours included the Italian Orientalists Giulio Rosati, Gustavo Simoni, Filippo Bartolini & Giuseppe Signorini. He enrolled at the Chigi Academy and began painting watercolours in the style of Fortuny. In 1886 he sent 22 watercolours to be exhibited in Barcelona – these were so well received that the public and critics all agreed that he was a worthy successor to Fortuny. Adolphe Goupil, who had been Fortuny’s dealer, must have been impressed too since he soon became Fabres’ dealer.
After starting his painting career with watercolours, Fabres later turned towards oils. Taking his themes from the popular ideas of Muslim life which were current in Europe at the time, Fabres painted women in pretty, Moorish courtyards and guards bristling with vicious weapons. His settings were often luxurious palace interiors based on his knowledge of Spain’s Moorish architecture, though he may have travelled to North Africa to study Islamic culture at first-hand. He exhibited his paintings in many national and international exhibitions, winning important prizes at all of them (see below).
Around 1886, Fabres left Rome to live in Barcelona until 1894, when he moved to Paris. While in Paris, Fabres gained both commercial and critical success, exhibiting in official exhibitions as well as private galleries. During a trip to Mexico in 1903 he painted the portrait of the President Porfirio Diaz who was so impressed by it that he appointed Fabres Director of the National Fine Arts Academy in Mexico, a position he retained until 1908 when he returned to Rome. He visited Barcelona again in 1926 but did not stay long and returned to Rome where he later died.
National Exhibition of Fine Arts 1887 (2nd prize),
International Exhibition of London 1885 (1st prize)
Vienna 1888 (1st prize)
Munich (1st prize)
Universal Exposition in Paris 1900 (silver medal for ‘La Sentinelle’ and ‘L’Esclave’)
Madrid (Marocain au pilori – Museum of Modern Art; Pour un Voleur – Prado Museum
Barcelona (La Belle Sultane, Le Cadeau du Sultan, Le Repos du Guerrier, Tete d’Arabe – Museum of Modern Art)
Granada (Museum of Fine Arts)
Paris, Rome, Berlin, Stockholm, Nantes, Mexico & Philadelphia
E Benezit Vol IV, p238
Itineraires Marocains, Regards de Peintres by Maurice Arama (Les Editions de Jaguar, Paris 1991, p160)
La Femme dans la Peinture Orientaliste by Lynne Thornton (ACR Editions, Paris 1993, pp232-232)
Les Orientalistes de l’Ecole Espagnole by Eduardo Dizy Caso (ACR Editions, Paris 1997, pp83-95)
Les Orientalistes de l’Ecole Italienne by Caroline Juler (ACR Editions, Paris 1987, pp126-129)
Les Orientalistes Peintres Voyageurs 1828-1908 by Lynne Thornton (ACR Editions, Paris 2001, p287)
Najd Collection of Orientalist Paintings by Caroline Juler (Manara Press, England 1991, p107)
Orientalist Painting by P & V Berko (Editions Laconti, Brussels 1982, p69)
Pintura Orientalista Espanola 1830-1930 (Fundacion Banco Exterior, Spain 1988, p112)