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Estatua de Castelao en Padrón. Foto: Padrón Turismo

Alfonso Rodríguez Castelao: A Galician artist and politician in exile

Alfonso Daniel Manuel Rodríguez Castelao was born in Rianxo, A Coruña, on 30 January 1886. He is considered one of the creators of modern prose in Galicia and the greatest representative of Galician nationalism.

Castelao spent part of his childhood in Argentina, but after five years of emigration, he returned to Galicia, where he completed his secondary education. He studied medicine in Santiago de Compostela, but his life was always linked to the artistic branch.

Artist and politician

His artistic activity began during his years of study and was mainly centred on drawing caricatures. During this period, Castelao took part in the II and III Salón de Humoristas in Madrid and designed the cover of several books and magazines, such as the cover of the first issues of Vida Gallega.

Drawing by Castelao.

Drawing by Castelao.

In 1910, after graduating, he travelled to Madrid, intending to obtain a doctorate. In the capital, he continued illustrating books and collaborating in various publications. Despite his intention, he never finished his doctorate and returned to Rianxo a year later.

Once in the Galician town, he began to edit the newspaper El Barbero Municipal. In 1912, he married Virginia Pereira and joined the Acción Gallega movement, whose main aim was to awaken the conscience of the Galician peasant class.

In 1913, he held his first solo exhibition in Ourense and gave his first lecture on caricature at the Mondariz spa. Although he was very young when he was in Argentina, Castelao’s link with Buenos Aires always remained intact, and he collaborated assiduously with the press there.

From Rianxo, he moved to Pontevedra and joined the Irmandades da Fala organisation. Since then, his political thinking has been based on the idea that nationalism is the only possible way for Galician identity to develop.

Alfonso Rodríguez Castelao

Alfonso Rodríguez Castelao.

A writer in exile

In 1918, he passed a competitive examination in Madrid and became a member of the technical staff of the Geographical and Statistical Institute. That same year, he began to collaborate with the Madrid newspaper El Sol.

Four years later, he published his first short novel, Un ollo de vidrio. Memorias dun esquelete (1920). Shortly afterwards, he began to collaborate with the Diario de Galicia, and his book Cousas (1926) was published. His literary work is mainly written in Galician, and he tried to denounce injustice.

With the proclamation of the First Republic, Castelao was selected by the Galician Republican Federation for the post of deputy. In 1934, he became a member of the Galician Royal Academy, and two years later, he was elected as a member of parliament for the Popular Front. The military uprising caught him in Madrid, where he was to deliver the Galician Statute to the Cortes.

Castelao. Photo: Zenda Libros.

Castelao. Photo: Zenda Libros.

In Valencia, in 1937, he published the war albums Galicia Mártir and Atila en Galicia. The following year, he made a propaganda trip to the USSR, the United States and Cuba. After the defeat of the Republican side, he had to go into exile and travel to New York.

In 1940, he managed to move to Buenos Aires. Four years later, he founded the Council of Galicia in Montevideo, Uruguay. It sought to bring together Galician politicians in exile. He was a minister without a portfolio in the Republican Government presided over by José Giral and lived in Paris until 1947.

Alfonso Rodríguez Castelao died on 7 January 1950 in the Argentine capital. His remains were transferred to Galicia in 1984 and now rest in the Pantheon of Illustrious Galicians alongside those of other renowned Galicians such as Rosalía de Castro and Francisco Asorey.

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