Soler y Manonelles, Urbici Jose Francisco (1890–1953)

By: Paul Daniggelis

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Urbici Soler, sculptor, was born in Farrán, Lérida, Spain, on June 21, 1890. He was an apprentice sculptor at age ten. He subsequently studied with Pedro Carbonell and at night at the famed Casa Lonja in Barcelona. Having won an apprentice competition at fourteen, his Cabeza de Estudio was accepted in 1907 for the important Fifth International Exposition of Fine Arts. Soler broke with contemporaries in 1913 by accepting a scholarship to study with the classical master Adolph von Hildebrand in Munich, Bavaria. Rigorous training led to his first monumental sculpture, Princess María de la Paz (1918). After World War I Soler moved on to Vienna, Budapest, Paris, and home to Spain. After a slow start in Madrid, portraits, monuments, his first religious sculpture, and a portrait of singer Charlotte Dahmen Chao (1925) won him recognition. A contract to decorate public buildings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1925 led to a successful five-year statuary enterprise. During this time, Soler received a commission from the Spanish government to sculpt portrait busts of the native types of Latin America. He began this series in Temuco, Chile, among the Araucanians, then moved on to Peru, Ecuador, and Panama. Soler exhibited his collection of portrait busts at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1931. The first (1931) of his Diego Rivera portraits was finished in sandstone but did not sell. Disappointed, he went to Mexico City to resume his studies of Tarascans, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Aztecs. The resultant collection of studies, The World, is Soler's most important work. Portraits of Mexican president Abelardo Rodríguez (1932) and of the poet Enrique González Martínez (1934) follow. Civil War in Spain prevented Soler's return home, and in 1937 he reluctantly accepted a commission for the monumental sculpture Cristo Rey, situated on the mountain peak Sierra de Cristo Rey near El Paso, Texas. Though delays and diminished funds limited the project, the forty-foot-high cruciform figure, dedicated on October 17, 1940, was destined to become Soler's most popular work. He subsequently moved to New Orleans, California, New York, and in 1943 back to South America. Two unsuccessful marriages scarred him. His fine hard-wood carved crucifix, El Cristo Moreno (1943), is from this period of difficulty. Expecting to resume work on Cristo Rey, Soler returned to El Paso in 1944, but the project was ultimately abandoned, and he resigned himself to teaching at the Texas School of Mines (now the University of Texas at El Paso). He is remembered as a gifted teacher.

A few important works remained for Soler: dual portraits with Tom Lea (Thomas Calloway Lea III), 1946; the Araucanian Fresia (1946) carved in hardwood; and the last of modern pieces, Mater Dolorosa (1950). Soler became a United States citizen in 1949 and never returned to his homeland. His dual portrait sessions with Peter Hurd in 1952 were aborted. Soler died in the home he built at the foot of his beloved Cristo Rey on January 15, 1953. The Texas Historical Commission honored the sculptor with a marker at his gravesite in Evergreen Cemetery, El Paso, dedicated on July 14, 1984.

Patricia D. Hendricks and Becky D. Reese, A Century of Sculpture in Texas, 1889–1989 (Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, 1989). Carl Hertzog, "Two Artists in Two Mediums," Southwest Review 32 (Winter 1947). Bud Newman, "Urbici Soler As I Knew Him," Nova, December 1972.
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Visual Arts
  • Sculpture

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Paul Daniggelis, “Soler y Manonelles, Urbici Jose Francisco,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995

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