Personal library of Fernando Zóbel de Ayala, an artist's library

In 1980 the artist Fernando Zóbel (Manila, 1924–Roma, 1984) donated to Fundación Juan March a collection of documents that are crucial for understanding his work and for the study of Spanish abstract art: the collection of the art works he owned exhibited at the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español de Cuenca, his notebooks and diaries, photographic archive and his library.

Fernando Zóbel de Ayala (Manila, Philippines, 1924 – Rome, Italy, 1984) was born in the Philippines, where his family had business interests, although they were originally Spanish. He studied in Madrid before taking up medical studies in the Philippines. In 1946 he entered Harvard University to study philosophy, literature and art and graduated in 1949. He worked as a bibliographic researcher in the library at Harvard. He returned to the Philippines to take over the family businesses and between 1954 and 1956 he travelled to the USA and Europe where he met various abstract painters, leading him to abandon his figurative painting and adopt an abstract style. In 1961 he moved to Madrid and subsequently to Cuenca, keeping up his friendship with Spanish artists such as Gerardo Rueda, Luis Feito and Gustavo Torner. He founded the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español with them in Cuenca, opened in 1966 in the privileged location of the Casas Colgadas, where he was director until his death in 1984. Cuenca and the Júcar river were a constant source of inspiration for his work. In 1980 he donated the museum to the Fundación Juan March, passing on the responsibility for maintaining it since then. Fernando Zóbel personally compiled this library over the years, beginning during his time at Harvard and continuing to enrich it with new titles, especially from the mid-1950s until the late 1980s.

Ex libris of the library of Fernando ZóbelEx libris of the library of Fernando Zóbel

The collection is largely composed of books and journals on the art of all ages and styles, encyclopaedias, artist's books and illustrated books, catalogues of exhibitions and monographs of Spanish and international artists. Zóbel made this art reference library available to researchers and artists in the area of the Museo specially dedicated to the library since its inauguration in 1966.

The library is of great value thanks to the artists it includes, the variety of subjects, singular publications and bindings, books on Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and art, today still hard to find in academic libraries but which were already being consulted for research (and inspirational) purposes in Cuenca in the mid-1960s. The library, an artist's library, deserved a special treatment to recover it for studying Zóbel's oeuvre.

As a personal library, it is no surprise to find in the collection books signed by Zóbel (431), whose signature grew more schematic over time, others with stamps (233), dedicatory inscriptions (234), annotations (144) or bookmarkers (217), along with a considerable number that speak of his interests and which stand out as particularly significant collections such as those he regularly acquired in his visits to museums and exhibitions, the collection of photograph books, artist's books (a testament to the delight he took in layout, design and printing and binding) or the collection of oriental art, specifically Hindu, Chinese and Japanese art.

The personal library contains more than 2,000 books. Although they are mostly published post-1950, there are around 200 earlier monographic works from the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, including two publications dated 1626 and 1768. The central theme is history of art, painting, drawing and pictorial and impressionistic techniques. However, there are numerous monographic works on artists and a section on oriental art, especially from China, India and Japan. A section on poetry, mainly English language, is also included.

Documentary treatment

The in-depth cataloguing begun in January 2016, with abundant additional notes, has mapped all the subjects addressed, the geographical areas represented and the writers, artists, illustrators, literary editors, photographers and entities (museums, exhibition venues, publishers, printers) that are present in the 2,100 titles that make up the Zóbel personal library.

Each item has been cleaned, restored and bound prior to the digitization of key pages that describe the book: the cover, inside front cover, jackets with information, table of contents, a page that illustrates the content, together with dedicatory inscriptions, objects used as bookmarkers or exlibris.

Virtual Visit

The Fernando Zóbel Legacy Library is a digital repository similar to other collections constructed with software applications in the Islandora system, and has been made possible thanks to the interdepartmental work of cataloguing, curating and data programming carried out in the Library Department, web programming (in the IT Department), web layout and implementation (Communication and Multimedia Department), and the vision and support of the Exhibitions Department. A total of 12,036 pages were digitized and 2,100 PDF files were created. This work was carried out at the Fundación by the company Arte Digital 2012 (Madrid).

Authorization has been obtained for the reproductions on the web for both upper photograph ("Fernando Zóbel at Gustavo Torner's house in Cuenca, 1967". Photo: © Jaume Blassi)" and the lower photograph ("Library room at Museo Español de Arte Abstracto de Cuenca. Photo: © Santiago Torralba.)"


The greater part of the library is on deposit at the Fundación Juan March Library in Madrid, and a representative sample (some seven hundred books) may be seen at the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español de Cuenca.

After Zóbel's death in 1984, the Fundación continued enriching the Museum's library, until in 1996 it donated close to 18,000 documents to the "Escuelas Aguirre" Municipal Library and to the Universidad de Castilla–La Mancha Library, in Cuenca, given the need to use the rooms occupied by the library for temporary exhibitions. The books currently in the personal library of Fernando Zóbel deposited in the Museo and in Fundación Juan March can only be consulted on site, and may only be loaned out for exhibitions and with appropriate insurance cover.

Terms of use and legal notice

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Fernando Zóbel personally compiled this library over the years, beginning during his time at Harvard and continuing to enrich it with new titles, especially from the mid-1950s until the late 1980s.
The library of Fernando Zóbel, 1962The library of Fernando Zóbel, 1962