Artist - Ignacio Zuloaga
( Originally Published 1925 )
We are no longer with Sorolla and his vibrating sunshine on Valencian sands, or under the hard blue dome of San Sebastian; the two-score can-vases on view in Igo§ at the Hispanic Museum were painted by a man of profounder intellect, of equally sensual but more restrained temperament than Sorolla; above all, by an artist with different ideals — a realist, not an impressionist, Ignacio Zuloaga. It would not be the entire truth to say that his masterpieces were seen several notable pictures, unhappily, were not, but the exhibition was finely representative. Zuloaga showed us the height and depth of his powers in at least one picture, and the longer you know him the more secrets he yields up.
In Paris they say of Sorolla that he paints too fast and too much; of Zuloaga that he is too lazy to paint. Half truths, these. The younger man is more deliberate in his methods. He composes more elaborately, executes at a slower gait. He resents the imputation of realism. The fire and fury of Sorolla are not his, but he selects, weighs, analyses, reconstructs in a word, he composes and does not improvise. He is, nevertheless, a realist — a verist, as he prefers to be called. He is not cosmopolitan, and Sorolla is: the types of boys and girls racing along the beaches of watering places which Sorolla paints are cosmopolitan. Passionate vivacity and the blinding sunshine are not qualities that appeal to Zuloaga. He portrays darkest — let us rather say greenest, brownest Spain. The Basque in him is the strongest strain. He is artistically a lineal descendant of El Greco, Velasquez, Goya; and the map of his memory has been traversed by Manet. He is more racial, more truly Spanish, than any painter since Goya. He possesses the genius of place.
Havelock Ellis's book, The Soul of Spain, is an excellent corrective for the operatic Spain, and George Borrow is equally sound despite his bigotry, while Gautier is invaluable. Arsène Alexandre in writing of Zuloaga acutely remarks of the Spanish conspiracy in allowing the chance tourist only to scratch the soil "of this country too well known but not enough explored." Therefore when face to face with the pictures of Zuloaga, with romantic notions of a Spain where castles grow in the clouds and moonshine on every bush, prepare to be shocked, to be disappointed. He will show you the real Spain — the sun-soaked soil, the lean, sharp outlines of hills, the and meadows, and the swift, dark-green rivers. He has painted cavaliers and dames of fashion, but his heart is in the common people. He knows the bourgeois and he knows the gipsy. He has set forth the pride of the vagabond and the garish fascinations of the gitana.
Since Goya, you say, and then wonder whether it might not be wiser to add : Goya never had so complicated a psychology. A better craftsman than Goya, a more varied colourist, a more patient student of Velasquez, of life, though without Goya's invention, caprice, satanism, and longue.
Zuloaga was not horn poor, but with genius; and genius always spells discontent. He would not become an engineer and he would paint. His family, artists and artisans, did not favour his bent. He visited Italy, almost starved in Paris, and after he knew how to handle his tools he starved for recognition. It is only a few years since he exhibited the portrait of his uncle, Daniel Zuloaga, and his cousins, It now hangs in the Luxembourg; but Madrid would have none of him; a Spanish jury rejected him at Paris in 'goo, and not possessing the means of Edouard Manet he could not hire a gallery and show the world the stuff that was in him. He did not sulk; he painted. Barcelona took him up; Paris, the world, followed suit. To-day he is rich, famous, and forty. He was born at Eibar, 1870, in the Basque province of Viscaya. He is a collector of rare taste and has housed his treasures in a gallery at his birthplace. He paints chiefly at Segovia, in an old church, though he wanders over Spain, sometimes afoot, sometimes in his motor car, often accompanied by Rodin in the latter, and wherever he finds himself he is at home and paints. A bullfighter in the ring, as was Goya — perhaps the legend stirred him to imitation - he is a healthy athlete. His vitality, indeed, is enormous, though it does not manifest itself in so dazzling a style as Sorolla's. The de-merits of literary comparisons are obvious, yet we dare to think of Sorolla and Zuloaga as we should of Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire. In one is the clear day flame of impersonality; the other is all personality, given to nocturnal moods, to diabolism and perversities, cruelties and fierce voluptuousness. Sorolla is pagan; Gothic is Zuloaga, a Goth of modem Spain. He has more variety than Sorolla, more intellect. The Baudelairian strain grows in his work; it is unmistakable. The crowds that went to see the "healthy" art of Sorolla (as if art had anything in common with pulse, temperature, and respiration) did not like, or indeed understand, many of Zuloaga's magnificent pictorial ideas.
He paints in large coups, but his broad, slashing planes are not impressionistic. He swims in the traditional Spanish current with joy. Green with him is almost an obsession — a national symbol certainly. His greens, browns, blacks, scarlets are rich, sonorous, and magnetic. He is a colourist. He also is master of a restrained palette and can sound the silver grays of Velasquez. His tonalities are massive. The essential bigness of his conceptions, his structural forms, are the properties of an eye swift, subtle, and all-embracing. It seems an image that is at once solidly rooted in mother earth and is as fluctuating as life. No painter today has a greater sense of character, except Degas. The Frenchman is the superior draughtsman, but he is no more vital in his interpretation of his ballet girls, washerwomen, and grisettes than is Zuloaga in his delineations of peasants, dwarfs, dogs, courtesans, scamps, zealots, pilgrims, beggars, drunkards, and working girls. What verve, what grip, what bowels of humanity has this Spaniard! A man, not a professor of academic methods. He has no school, and he is a school in himself. That the more serene, poetic aspects and readings of life have escaped him is merely to say that he is not constituted a contemplative philosopher. The sinister skein to be seen in some of his canvases does not argue the existence of a spiritual bias but is the recognition of evil in life. It is not very pleasant, nor is it reassuring, but it is part of the artist, rooted deep in his Spanish soul along with the harsh irony and a cruel spirit of mockery. He refuses to follow the ideals of Other men, and he paints a spade a spade; at least the orchestration, if brutal, is not lascivious. A cold, impartial eye observes and registers the corruption of cities small and great and the infinitely worse immoralities of the open country. Sometimes Zuloaga's comments are witty, sometimes pessimistic. If he has studied Goya and Manet, he also knows Félicien Rops.
The only picture in the Zuloaga exhibition that grazes the border-land of the unconventional is Le Vieux Marcheur. It is as moral as Hogarth and as bitter as Rops. It recalls the Montmartre days of the artist when he was acquainted with Paul Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. Two women are crossing a bridge. Their actuality is impressed upon the retina in a marvellously definite way. They live, they move. One is gowned in dotted green, the other in black. There is a little landscape with water beyond the iron railing. A venerable minotaur is in pursuit. He wears evening clothes, an overcoat is thrown across his left arm, under his right he carries waggishly a cane. His white tie and hat of sober silk are in respectable contrast with his air of fatuousness — the Marquis of Steyne en route; the doddering hero of Mansfield in A Parisian Romance, or Baron Hulot. The alert expression of the girls, who appear to be loitering, tells us more at a glance than a chapter of Flaubert, Zola, or De Maupassant. Is it necessary to add that the handling takes your breath away because of its consummate ease and its realisation of the effects sought? Note the white of the old party's spats, echoed by the bit of stocking showing a low shoe worn by one of the girls; note the values of the blacks in the hat, coat, trousers, shoe tips of the man. The very unpleasantness of the theme is forgotten in the supreme art of its presentation.
M. Alexandre, the French critic, may argue valiantly that Zuloaga must not be compared with Goya, that their methods and themes are dissimilar. True, but those witches (Les Sorcières de San Millan) are in the key of Goya, not manner, but subject-matter — a hideous crew. At once you think of the Caprichos of Goya. The hag with the distaff, whose head is painted with a fidelity worthy of Holbein; the monkey profile of the witch crouching near the lantern, that repulsive creature in spectacles - Goya spectacles; the pattern hasn't varied since his days these ladies and their companions, especially that anonymous one in a hood, coupled with the desperate dreariness of the background, a country dry and hard as a volcanic cinder, make a formidable ensemble. Zuloaga relates that the beldames screeched and fought in his studio when he posed them. You exclaim while looking at them: "How now, you secret black and midnight hags!" Hell hovers hard by, each witch of the unholy trio has the evil eye.
As a painter of dwarfs Zuloaga has not been surpassed by any one but Velasquez. His Gregorio, the monster with the huge head, the sickening, livid, globular eye, the comical pose — you exclaim: What a brush! The picture palpitates with reality, an ugly reality, for the tall old couple are not prepossessing. The topography of the country is minutely observed. But this painter does not wreak himself in ugliness or morbidities; he is singularly happy in catching the attitudes and gestures of the peasants as they return from the vintage; of picadors, matadors, chulos, in the ring or lounging, smoking, awaiting the signal. The large and celebrated family group of the matador Gallito — which is to remain permanently in the Hispanic Society's museum — is a superb exemplar of the synthetic and rhythmic art of the Spaniard. Each character is seized and rendered. The strong silhouettes melt into a harmonious arabesque; the tonal gamut is nervous, strong, fiery; the dull gold background is a foil for the scale of colour notes. It is a striking picture. Very striking, too, is the portrait of Breval as Carmen, though it is the least Spanish picture in the collection; Breval is pictured on the stage, the lights from below playing over her features. The problem is solved, as Besnard or Degas has solved it, successfully, but in purely personal manner. It is the picture in the Metropolitan Museum that is bound to attract attention, as it is a technical triumph; but it is not very characteristic.
We saw dark-eyed, graceful manolas on bal-conies - this truly Spanish motive in art, as Spanish as is the Madonna Italian —over which are thrown gorgeous shawls, smiling, flirting; with languorous eyes and provocative fans, they sit ensconced as they sat in Goya's time and centuries before Goya, the Eternal Feminine of Spain. Zuloaga is her latest interpreter. Isn't Candida delicious in green, with black head-dress of lace isn't she bewitching? Her stockings are green. The wall is a most miraculous adumbration of green. Across the room is another agent of disquiet in Nile green, Mercedes by name. Her aquiline nose, black eyes, and the flowers she wears at the side of her head bewilder; the sky, clouds, and landscape are all very lovely. This is a singularly limpid, loose, flowing picture. It has the paint quality sometimes missing in the bold, fat massing of the Zuloaga colour chords. The Montmartre Café concert singer is a sterling specimen of Zuloaga's portraiture. He is unconventional in his poses; he will jam a figure against the right side of the frame (as in the portrait of Marthe Morineau) or stand a young lady beside an ornamental iron gate in an open park (not a remarkable portrait, but one that pleases the ladies because of the textures). The head of the old actor capitally suggests the Spanish mummer. And the painter's cousin, Esperanza! What cousins he boasts! We recall The Three Cousins, with its laughing trio and the rich colour scheme. Our recollection, too, of The Piquant Retort, and its brown and scarlet harmonies; of the Promenade After the Bull-fight, which has the classical balance and spaced charm of Velasquez; and that startling Street of Love overbalances any picture except one in this exhibition, and that is The Bullfighter's Family. The measuring eye of Zuloaga, his tremendous vitality, his sharp, superb transference to canvas of the life he has elected to represent and interpret are at first sight dazzling. The performance is so supreme — remember, not in a niggling, technical sense — a half-dozen men beat him at mere pyrotechnics and lace fioritura--that his limitations, very marked in his case, are overlooked. You have drunk a hearty Spanish wine; oil to the throat, confusion to the senses. You do not at first miss the soul; it is not included in the categories of Senor Zuloaga. Zuloaga, like his contemporary farther north, Anders Zorn, is a man as well as a painter; the conjunction is not too frequent. The grand manner is surely his. He has the modulatory sense, and Christian Brinton notes his sonorous acid effects. He paints beggars, dwarfs, work-girls, noblemen, bandits, dogs, horses, lovely women, gitanas, indolent Carmens; but real, not the pasteboard and foot-lights variety of Merimée and Bizet. Zuloaga's Spain is not a second-hand Italy, like that of so many Spanish painters. It is not all bric-a-brac and moonlight and chivalric tinpot helmets. It is the real Spain of today, the Spain that has at last awakened to the light of the twentieth century after sleeping so long, after sleeping, notwithstanding the desperate nudging it was given a century ago by the realist Goya. Now, Zuloaga is not only stepping on his country's toes, but he is recording the impressions he makes. He, too, is a realist, a realist with such magic in his brush that it would make us forgive him if he painted the odour of garlic.
Have you seen his Spanish Dancers? Not the dramatic Carmencita of Sargent, but the creature as she is, with her simian gestures, her insolence, her vulgarity, her teeth — and the shrill scarlet of the bare gum above the gleaming white. His street scenes are a transcript of the actual facts, and inextricably woven with the facts is a sense of the strange beauty of them all. His wine harvesters, venders of sacred images, or that fascinating canvas My Three Cousins — before these, also before the Promenade After the Bullfight you realise that by some miracle of nature the intensity of Goya and his sense of life, the charm of Velasquez and his sober dignity are recalled by the painting of a young Spanish artist who a decade ago was unknown. Nor is Zuloaga an eclectic. His force and individuality are too patent for us to entertain such a heresy. A glance at Jacques-Emile Blanche's portrait of the Spanish painter explains other things. There is the physique of a man who can work many hours a day before an easel; there are the penetrating eyes of an observer, spying eyes, slightly cruel; the head is an intellectual one, the general conformation of the face harmonious and handsome. The body is that of an athlete, but not of the bull-necked sort we see in Goya. The temperament suggested is impetuous, controlled by a strong will, it has been fined down by study and the enforced renunciations of poverty-haunted youth. Above all, there is race; race in the proud, resolute bearing, race in the large, firm, supple, and nervous hands. Indeed, the work of Zuloaga is all race. He is the most Spanish painter since Goya.