Bilbao has transformed over the last thirty years from a city dependent on trade and heavy industry to become a modern cultural capital. We visited the Guggenheim, Frank Gehry’s masterpiece, last time here and decided on the Museo de la Belles Artes this time. There was an exhibition of the Spanish artist, Ignacio Zuloaga, not well known in England.
Zuloaga like Ramiro Arrue was born in the Basque Country and after spending some time in Paris returned to Spain, particularly Seville. His figurative style of portraits against urban and rural backgrounds, has not been appreciated always by the connoisseurs of European art, and is sometimes bracketed as from Dark Spain, which is a shame as we in Britain have missed out on this fine artist. The Paris portraits seem very inspired by Manet as they would, as a fresh young man finding his way in Montmartre in the 1890s. Occasionally he employs the rich Viridian green for the garments reminiscent of Manet.
Seville became his home as he moved back to Spain in the early twentieth century and the figures became more sombre, and ‘of the street’, the backgrounds developing an earthy and gaunt look. The themes were street life, especially the world of gypsies and prostitution. He captures facial emotion superbly but I found his rough brushstrokes a little unnerving.
Bullfighting. Another familiar theme is around the bullfight where he allowed the rich colours of the ‘flamenco’ garments a free rein. In fact a pattern is seen of colour for the prostitutes and courtesans and black for the nobility, as in The Lunch in the Woods, above.
This Zuloaga exhibition was a pleasure to visit, and we especially enjoyed the spacious display and clear curation. I do hope someone in Britain will be brave enough to show this work, some of which was lent by Oriel College, Oxford, and King’s College, Cambridge.
The Museum is a fine building and near the City Centre. We spent a little time with the permanent collection which was presented in an interesting ABC theme where the rooms represent a concept, rather than the traditional idea of artist, genre or period. For example Room A for “Arte” comprised Paul Gauguin’s Washerwoman à Arles, which was painted in Arles in 1888, when the Artist was staying with Van Gogh, with some prehistoric bone art and Joseph Bueys lithographs. In another room were three Goya’s which had been spirited out of Spain in the 1930s but were now safely returned to Bilbao. All in all a great visit.
The Guggenheim? Yes we did view it from a distance, down one of the long city streets – an iconic view photographed by many.