Ignacio Zuloaga y Zabaleta
Eibar, 1870 - Madrid, 1945
From an important family of artists who mainly practiced the applied arts, Ignacio Zuloaga y Zabaleta was born in Éibar on 26 July 1870 and soon abandoned his newly begun engineering studies to concentrate on painting. His early artistic training took place at the Museo del Prado, where he copied the masterpieces of Ribera, Velázquez and El Greco, as a result of which the aesthetic of his mature work was shaped within the tradition of Spanish Golden Age painting.
After an initial trip to Rome in 1889, where he worked with other artists in a workshop on the Via Margutta, he went to Paris, a melting pot of the aesthetic and intellectual avant-gardes that fascinated him and where he met the most revolutionary painters of the day such as Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Émile Bernard and Maxime Dethomas, whose sister Valentine he married in 1899. There he joined the circle of Catalan artists living in the French capital, among them Utrillo and also Rusiñol, with whom he again travelled to Italy, touring several towns and cities of the north and Tuscany.
Zuloaga began to reap his first successes in Paris and took part in the Salon of 1899 with Retrato de familia (“Family Portrait”), which was acquired by the French government. However, influenced by the ideology of the group of Spanish writers known as the Generation of ’98, Zuloaga focused his painting on seeking the native roots of the countryside and peoples of the Castile region, stressing the bleakness of its landscapes and the dignified, silent and humble poverty of its inhabitants; from this point onwards his palette became considerably darker in order to emphasise the most dramatic aspects of the so-called “España negra”, the Spain of the black legend that is reflected starkly by this group of writers.
His fast-growing reputation as a portraitist soon led his fame to spread from Paris to the United States, where he had a large and rich clientele, and he exhibited his works with huge success all over the world throughout his lifetime.
When the First World War broke out, Zuloaga returned to the Basque Country and settled into a 12th-century monastery in Zumaya (Guipúzcoa), now a museum, where he installed his large and significant collection of works of art, among them paintings by El Greco and Goya, whom he especially admired.
During the last years of his career he mainly painted still-life scenes and the prestige he enjoyed led to commissions for portraits, most of which are rather conventional and reiterative. His best works date from up to the 1920s. He was awarded a medal at the Venice Biennale in 1940 and died in Madrid on 31 October 1945.
Together with José Gutiérrez Solana, Ignacio Zuloaga is the great painter who continued to embody the core spirit and aesthetic of the Spanish painting tradition in early 20th-century figurative art. Influenced by El Greco, he accentuated the bold, pronounced contours in order to heighten the expressive intensity of his figures and landscapes, which are rendered with a dramatic sense of colour with abundant greys and blacks that he learned from Velázquez and, above all, Goya, artists whose mark is visible above all in his splendid portraits.
A painter of peasants, bullfighters, prostitutes and ladies belonging to the high society of his time, he masterfully captured the sobriety of the countryside and peoples of Castile, also producing a few flower paintings and still-lifes that are of lesser interest.
José Luis Díez