(Eibar, Spain, 1870–1945, Madrid, Spain)
Oil on canvas
93 1/8 x 78 3/4 in. (236.5 x 200 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase with funds generously provided by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Levy and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Hermele, MM.2014.05
Listen to Meadows Museum docent Judy Cazorla discuss this work (2:39 minutes)
Ignacio Zuloaga (1870–1945)
Portrait of the Duchess of Arión, Marchioness of Bay, 1918
by Judy Cazorla, Meadows Museum docent
Zuloaga places the slim, elongated figure of the duchess slightly left of center, strongly and distinctly outlined against both earth and sky. She pauses, tall and poised, half-turned towards us, close up, in the near foreground, much larger than real life, so that she seems to acquire mythic dimensions transforming her, for a moment, into a universal icon.
We marvel at the quiet dignity of her posture, the perfection of her exquisite oval face, and the opalescent skin-tones of her arms and shoulders. We can only catch our breath in wonder at her elegant attire. This artist knew how to translate into paint the tactile reality of fabrics and the way light acts upon them. He captures the golden metallic glint glancing off the stiff blue-green moiré of her gown. He recreates the sensuous drift of the black lace mantilla floating down from the peineta (the high Spanish comb), in contrast to the weighty softness of the traditional shawl (the mantón de Manila).
But a great portrait is not only a faithful representation of the outward appearance of a person. It also suggests something beneath that, some mystery that we are invited to explore.
When we approach the duchess, when we meet her eyes, candidly returning our gaze, when her lips, slightly parted in a smile, seem to be inviting us to join her on her walk we find ourselves in front of an enigma. Where is she going? What is the meaning of that turbulent sky?
We should perhaps stop to reflect for a moment on the historical context of Zuloaga’s life. He was born in 1870 and died in 1945; that is to say, he lived through the Spanish American War, two World Wars, the Russian Revolution, and the Spanish Civil War.
Turbulence was the background to Spanish life then. His friends and admirers recognized his passionate devotion to Spain, and said of him that he not only painted Spain, he “painted in Spanish.”