SURIA, TOMÁS DE, artist; b. May 1761 in Madrid, son of Francisco Suria and Feliciana Lozana; m. 15 Dec. 1788 Maria Josefa Dominguez de Mendoza; d. 1835 in Mexico City.
Tomás de Suria studied in Madrid at the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts. At age 17 he embarked for New Spain in the company of his mentor, Jerónimo Antonio Gil. In Mexico City he became an engraver at the viceregal mint and gained some measure of fame during his lifetime as a creator of medallions. With Gil in 1778 he was involved in the founding of the Royal Academy of San Carlos, where he served as artist and later as professor.
In 1791, married and with a family, Suria was selected to join the Spanish round-the-world expedition under Alejandro Malaspina*, for temporary duty on the northwest coast of North America as artist. Imbued with a spirit of adventure and uniting the qualifications desired by Malaspina, Suria was chosen by Viceroy Revilla Gigedo because he was the best available candidate in New Spain. Despite the strenuous protests of his wife, who fruitlessly carried her complaint to Revilla Gigedo, Suria determined to go, and with a substantial increase in salary and other emoluments he departed to join Malaspina in Acapulco, where Tadeo Haenke* and the other scientists attached to the expedition were making preparations for a visit to northern latitudes.
At his arrival in Acapulco on 16 February, Suria began a journal, a portion of which has survived. This diary, a private undertaking, contains information not available in the official accounts of the expedition, which began on 1 May, and has the unmistakable flavour of the landlubber. It also contains rough sketches of a number of his finished drawings done on the coast from Alaska to California.
The first artistic work done by Suria on the northwest coast was at Port Mulgrave (Yakutat Bay, Alaska), where he concentrated on the local Tlingit Indians. From here the expedition followed the coast southward and by mid August had reached Nootka Sound, B.C. There Suria made drawings of the Spanish settlement, the Indian leaders Muquinna*, Natsape, and Tlupananulg in their basket-weave whaling hats, and other Nootka Indians, as well as a small sketch of the internationally disputed anchorage in the sound [see Juan Francisco de la Bodega* y Quadra]. At the same time Suria recorded in his journal data of anthropological significance concerning local customs and the structure of Nootka society. Under Suria’s tutelage, Manuel José Antonio Cardero*, a cabin-boy who had accompanied the expedition, drew zoological illustrations, depicted native customs, and sketched landscapes.
During the expedition’s stay in Nootka Sound, Suria accompanied a party in two small boats up Tahsis Inlet. The results of this excursion, however, are little known since Suria’s journal ends with their departure. Not so his art, for subsequently he drew Chief Tlupananulg commanding his great war canoe. A dance performed for the Spaniards on the beach by Tlupananulg was also captured by the artist.
The expedition was back in Acapulco by 16 October, and Suria resumed his employment at the mint and the academy, having left a copious artistic record of the voyage. His finished drawings bear the Latin inscription “ Suria fecit.” Malaspina, his commander for almost seven months, summed up Suria’s effort: “Our collections for the Royal Museum have been numerous and very interesting, inasmuch as Don Tomás Suria has depicted with the greatest fidelity to nature all that merits the help of the engraver’s art, so as to secure better understanding in the historical narrative of this voyage.”
Suria spent the rest of his life as an engraver, a professor, a paymaster, and at times a minor government official. With dimmed eyesight, he completed his last artistic work in 1834 and died the following year in Mexico City at age 74.
Tomás de Suria’s journal is held at the Yale Univ. Library, Beinecke Rare Book and ms Library (New Haven, Conn.), where it is identified as Western Americana ms no.464. Published as Tomâs de Suria y su viaje con Malaspina, 1791, ed. Justino Fernândez (Mexico City, 1939), it has also appeared in English: as “Journal of Tomás de Suria of his voyage with Malaspina to the northwest coast of America in 1791,” ed. and trans. H. R. Wagner, Pacific Coast Hist. Rev. (Glendale, Calif.), 5 (1936): 234–76, and as a separate publication with this title, ed. D. C. Cutter (Fairfield, Wash., 1980). The Museo Naval and the Museo de America, both in Madrid, hold works by Suria.
D. C. Cutter, Malaspina in California ([San Francisco], 1960). J. F. Henry, Early maritime artists of the Pacific northwest coast, 1741–1841 (Seattle, Wash., 1984). Carmen Sotos Serrano, Los pintores de la expedición de Alejandro Malaspina (2v., Madrid, 1982). D. C. Cutter, “Early Spanish artists on the northwest coast,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly (Seattle), 54 (1963): 150–57. D. C. Cutter and Mercedes Palan de Iglesias, “Malaspina’s artists,” El Palacio (Santa Fe, N.Mex.), 84 (1976), no.4: 19–27.