In 1898 Zuloaga had painted Eve of the Bullfight in the Sevillian town of Alcalá de Guadaira, a work that depicted that world of light and picturesque local customs of what is known as the “white period” of the painter from Eibar: a series of Andalusianthemed paintings – among which it is worth mentioning The Walk After the Bullfight, 1901, destroyed in the Second World War, or Woman From Alcalá de Guadaira, 1896 – in which the leading themes are bullfighting, gypsy women, and women wearing mantillas. In Eve of the Bullfight, from the top of a hill women observe the bulls to be used in the bullfight the next day.

After achieving first prize in 1898 at the Fine Arts exhibition in Barcelona, the work was rejected by the Spanish jury for inclusion in the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1900, preferring the more social Joaquín Sorolla and his Sad Inheritance, among others. This decision provoked the indignation of the artist himself, but also of a large number of critics, who wrote at length about the injustice of the decision and defended his painting, in which they admired the influence of Goya and Velázquez, but also underscored the influence of Manet. Finally, the painting was shown at the La Libre Esthétique exhibition in Brussels before being acquired that same year by the Belgian State.

From that moment on, the bright, cheerful, full-of-life “White Spain”, which drew on naturalist and Impressionist sources, represented by Sorolla, existed alongside the so-called “Black Spain”, influenced by Symbolism and fin-de-siècle decadence: the Spain of deep-rooted, incomprehensible tragedy, sometimes magical, yet always profoundly tragic. According to this view, Zuloaga would be the leading representative of this black Spain, whose genesis can be traced to the severity of the paintings of the Golden Age and the Velazquez aesthetic. This tradition was to experience one of its high points with the Black Paintings (1819-1823, Prado Museum, Madrid) by Francisco de Goya and, after Zuloaga, was to be found not only in Picasso’s “blue period”, but also in artists such as José Gutiérrez Solana or Antonio Saura, and even in the films of Luis Buñuel and Pedro Almodóvar. This is a world that began in the Golden Age and which, in part, has come down to our day; an immediate past which, as suggested by Stefan Zweig, in his autobiographical book The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European, is disintegrating at a rapid pace and is starting to be unrecognizable.

Pablo Jiménez Burillo, curator of the exhibition Zuloaga in Belle Époque Paris, is manager of the Fundación MAPFRE Culture Area. He was Plastic Arts consultant for the Juan Ramón Jiménez Centennial and for the Spanish Society for Cultural Commemorations. He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics and of the Executive Committee of the Association of Friends of ARCO. He has been distinguished, first as a Knight and later as an Officer, with the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic. In 2013 the University of Medellin (Colombia) published his book of poetry Esto no es el amor [This is Not Love].
Leyre Bozal Chamorro has been curator of the Fundación MAPFRE Collections since 2009. She holds a degree in History of Art from the Complutense University and has taught History of Art and Semiology at the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED). She has participated in various publications, most noteworthy being Suite Vollard. Pablo Picasso. 1930-1937. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, The Hand With a Pencil. “Drawings of the 20th century”. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, Francisco de Goya. The Disasters of War. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, Return to Beauty. Italian Masterpieces from Between the Wars.
Image credits: Ignacio Zuloaga Eve of the Bullfight, 1898 Musées royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, Bruselas Inv. 3535 © Ignacio Zuloaga, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017