Antonio Maria Fabres y Costa was born in the town of Gràcia (now a district of Barcelona) in Catalonia, Spain. The son of a draughtsman and nephew of a silversmith he was artistically inclined as a child. He worked as a sculptor (which he later abandoned), genre painter, watercolorist and illustrator. His work is highly influenced by that of Mariano Fortuny y Carbo Marsal (1835-1874): Orientalist subjects and typical European genre scenes characterized by gallantry, flirtatiousness, love affairs and carefree attitudes.
Fabres y Costa enrolled in the Escuela de Bellas Artes in his hometown when he was only thirteen. He then studied at the Escuela de La Lonja in Barcelona. The young artist was a student of realist painter Fortuny, who died from malaria. Shortly after the death of his mentor, Fabres y Costa was awarded a grant to study in Rome, moving there in 1875.
In Rome Fortuny’s influence was still apparent as Fabres y Costa began to explore the medium of watercolor. He quickly found work illustrating books and magazines, and became very successful. His work was very popular with the bourgeoisie collectors who were infatuated with medieval and Oriental scenes, considered very exotic at the time. Fabres’ success in this period allowed him to eventually open a well-appointed studio in Paris.
Fabres y Costa won his first Gold Medal in 1876 at the Munich Exposition. In 1878 he was awarded another at the Vienna Exposition. In 1886, he returned to Barcelona. The following Fabres y Costa exhibited the watercolor Por Ladrón at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes.
He took part in Exhibitions in Vienna and Munich, winning gold medals for his work. In 1894 he moved to Paris and at the World’s Fair in 1900 was awarded a silver medal. It was at the World’s Fair that he met Mexican sculptor Jesus Contreras, who convinced him to work in Mexico.
In 1902 the president of Mexico asked Fabres to fill the post of the inspector general of Fine Arts at the Academia de San Carlos. The school sought to modernize the art program by introducing the Realist ideals that were popular in Europe. Fabres was brought in to head the effort. However, the rest of the faculty was unable to adapt to his particular style, and personality conflicts would eventually cause him to leave. In 1907, he left Mexico, returning to Rome in 1908. In his short time there, Fabres instilled the knowledge to solve complex compositions and embrace exotic elements. He influenced a number of the students who would later become part of the Post-Revolutionary Movement in Mexican art.
While he was in Mexico, Fabres completed numerous commissions. Among his last commissions there was the decorations of a hall in the Porfirio Diaz mansion in the art nouveau style.
Fabres was very successful and highly acclaimed. He was recognized most places he traveled. His work was exhibited in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, London, Paris, Lyon, Vienna and Mexico City.
In 1926 Fabres donated a significant number of works to the Museo de Bellas Artes in Barcelona in exchange for hall to be built in his name. Unfortunately, the museum never built the addition, despite numerous attempts by the artist to force their hand. He was devastated.
The artist died in Rome in 1938.