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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ignacio Zuloaga

Rosita, 1913, Ignacio Zuloaga
Most of the time when I write about an artist I have merely to mention his or her country of origin and then move on. However, there are a few artists from countries or areas so obscure that not only have few people ever heard of the artist, they've never even heard of that artists country...or if so, have little idea where it might be on map. If I were to mention the Basque region, would you know where that area is located? Probably not. Thus it's little wonder that in talking about one of the greatest artists to come out of that area, Ignacio Zuloaga, you've likely never heard of him either. Don't trouble yourself, Zuloaga was but one of many Spanish artist (the Basque region occupies the northern part of Spain) to rise from humble beginning to invade the city of Paris (you do know where that is, right?) and make something of a name for himself, in his case mostly as a portrait artist. Born in 1870, Zuloaga was of Picasso's generation though actually eleven years older then the Catalan upstart.
Unless otherwise noted, the images above are self-portraits.
Zuloaga arrived in Paris in 1888, at the age of eighteen. Picasso came to town around 1900. Born in Eibar (Guipuzcoa), Ignacio was the son of metalworker and damascener (the art of inlaying different metals into one another) and grandson of the organizer and director of the royal armory in Madrid. In his youth, Ignacio drew and worked in the workshop of his father, Plácido. Although his father's craftsmanship (basically a gunsmith) was highly respected throughout Europe, the boy's father intended for his son to enter the fields of commerce, engineering, or architecture. However, during a short trip to Rome with his father, the young Ignacio decided to become a painter (Rome often has that effect on young men). Thus, almost penniless, and without an ounce of formal art training, the young Basque would-be painter headed for the most important art mecca in Europe to seek his fortune.

Christ of the Blood, 1911, Ignacio Zuloaga
Zuloaga's first painting took six months' work, whereupon he exhibited it at the Paris Salon of 1890 (not the painting above). Zuloaga could not afford to attend any of Paris' art school so he continued his self-training by copying paintings at the Louvre just as he had earlier at Madrid's Prado. He lived in poverty for the next five years rubbing shoulders with French artists only a little more successful than he was. Among his friends and those who helped him financially were the Post-impressionists such as Ramon Casas, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. Yet, unlike his peers, who tended toward "art for art's sake," Zuloaga's tendencies were always thematic and more ethnic in scope. He began to split his time between Paris and the Andalusia region of (southern) Spain.

Portrait of Maurice Barres on Toledo Background, 1913, Ignacio Zuloaga
My Grandson, Ramon,
Ignacio Zuloaga
Zuloaga began to focus on the ethnic content of Spanish culture and folklore, including bullfighters, peasants, and dancers. He used earthen colors almost exclusively and often placed his figures against dramatic landscapes similar to that of Portrait of Maurice Barres on Toledo Background (above) dating from 1913. Zuloaga began to achieve international success with the painting Daniel Zuloaga and His Daughters (below), which was exhibited in 1899. It was purchased by the French government for the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. By 1907 Zuloaga had become a popular society portraitist, an aspect of his career that brought him considerable wealth. In 1913, Zuloaga, known as “The Great Basque,” was living in Paris where his reputation had grown since his first exhibition in 1890. His great-grandfather was a contemporary of Goya, who Zuloaga cited as one of his major influences.

Portrait of Countess Mathieu de Noailles, ca. 1910, Ignacio Zuloaga
A rising star in the art world by the turn of the century, Zuloaga was known for his portraits, especially those of women with a great deal of personality as seen in the artist's Portrait of Countess Mathieu de Noailles (above) from around 1910. In 1913, Zuloaga, known as “The Great Basque,” was living in Paris where his reputation had grown considerably. In January 1914, an American exhibition of Zuloaga’s paintings was held at the prestigious Kraushaar Gallery in New York. Among the works featured in the show was Rosita (top), seen as one of his most eye-catching works. It was brought to the notice of the American multi-millionaire, George Vanderbilt, inasmuch as it represented his interest in Spanish art, which had gained popularity in the last years of the 19th century. Lounging on a divan draped with a mantón de manila (a flamenco dancer’s accessory), Rosita is wrapped in a white fringed shawl with a red floral flamenco skirt billowing out, a model at ease with being an object of beauty. it’s not clear whether Vanderbilt actually attended the exhibition. However, he wrote to Kraushaar, the gallery owner, offering to purchase the painting. He asked that the purchase be kept confidential and delivered to his home at Biltmore in April of 1914. Unfortunately, George Vanderbilt passed away in March before the painting was delivered. Today, Rosita has found a home at Biltmore.

Daniel Zuloaga and His Daughters, 1899, Ignacio Zuloaga

Having spent much of his career working in Paris, Zuloaga settled permanently in Spain in 1924. Following his 1913 show in New York, Zuloaga's paintings became immensely popular in the United States. They were exhibited again in a highly successful one-man show in New York City in 1925. Several years later, in 1938, Zuloaga was awarded the grand prize for painting at the Venice Biennale. However, around 1940, as the Spanish Civil War overtook Zuloaga's homeland, the artist chose to align himself with the Falangist movement of Generalissimo Franco, whose portrait he painted about the same time. While it may seem surprising for a Basque to have been sympathetic to the forces that had leveled his hometown of Eibar, the Basque area was also home to supporters of Carlism and their militia, and the devoutly religious militia of the Requetés, who formed an uneasy alliance with Franco's Falangists. Zuloaga later claimed he was aghast, as a Francophile, when Hitler so abruptly defeated France in 1940. After Zuloaga's death in 1945, he appeared on Spain's 500 peseta banknote produced by the Franco Regime in its 1954 series. On the back is a depiction of Toledo.

Ondarroa, before 1933, Ignacio Zuloaga

A Victim of the Party, 1910, Ignacio Zuloaga


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