Solana was born in Madrid on February 28th, 1886. His vocation for drawing emerged already in his school days. His family house was robbed by a troublemaker wearing a mask during a carnival celebration, an experience which terrorized young Solana, who would be haunted by this memory throughout his entire life. He was deeply affected by the death of his father in 1898, seeking consolation in his brother, Manuel. At the age of 14 he entered the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, where Anatomy-- together with bulls-- would become one of his favourite themes.
Having completed his studies, he presented his first works at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts. During a gathering at the Café de Levante he met Zuloaga, who praised his work. In 1909 the family moved to Santander. Solana travelled often and finished his book "Madrid. Scenes and customs". At the Café Pombo of Madrid he came into contact with the intellectual figures of the time, and conceived his famous canvas "The coffee gathering Pombo". Gomez de la Serna published the first biography of Solana in 1918. He took part, with many of his works, at the Royal Academy of London and, later on, the Santander Foundation organized his first individual exhibition.
In 1923 he published "Madrid Street", dedicated to Zuloaga. He took part in international exhibitions like the Venice Biennale, the Twenty-Third International Exhibition of Painting and the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh. In Madrid he exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1927, and a year later he travelled to Paris to open an exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune room of the Faubourgh Saint Honoré, supported by Edgar Neville. The Parisian adventure did not yield great results for him, but in Spain, several institutions acquired his pieces, and he took part in the Exhibition of Spanish Art at The Hague, Amsterdam and New York.
In 1930 he was awarded first prize in Fine Arts in Madrid, and exhibited in Pittsburgh, Oslo, Chicago and the Venice Biennale. He won first prize in the National Portrait Contest (1933). On his return to Paris in 1936 he obtained a resounding success, and the French government acquired several of Solana's pieces. In 1943 the Circle of Fine Arts grants him the Gold Medal. Madrid's Estilo Gallery would be the last one to house the work of the living artist. The Santander Bank Collection and the Reina Sofia National Art Museum, as well as the Cultural Foundation Mapfre Vida exhibited his work in subsequent years. He died on June 24th, 1945.