This work—the companion to Life (1912), also painted by Egusquiza—depicts the mediaeval legend of Tristan and Isolt, reinterpreted in 1865 by the German composer Richard Wagner as a symbol of the victory of emotion over reason. Egusquiza describes the moment when Isolt, the victim of poison, falls over Tristan's body. The end of the drama is hastened by a mistake between the poisonous and passionate philtres, as a result of which Tristan dies and Isolt deliberately poisons herself.
The horizontal format of the picture, the sensuousness of the figures, the twilight atmosphere and certain symbolic features such as the poppy or the pommel award the painting a serene quality divested of any element of tragedy. Love is thus sublimated and appears to transcend death.
During a sojourn in Venice in 1876 Egusquiza was moved by Wagner's oeuvre and in 1879 would actually meet the composer, after which his conception of art underwent a radical change. From then on his production would be linked to Wagner's Neo-Idealistic Symbolism and to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Egusquiza adapted Wagnerian premises to the precious painting he had developed with Léon Bonnat, Raimundo de Madrazo and, above all, Fortuny. His interest in the complex Wagnerian concept of "the total work of art" led him to explore different artistic disciplines and the German composer's operatic series; it also determined the tenacious dedication to his work, as exemplified by this painting to which he devoted over seventeen years. [J.N.G]
Francisco Calvo Serraller. Pintura simbolista en España, 1890-1930. [Cat. exp.]. Madrid : Fundación Cultural Mapfre Vida, 1997, pp. 92-93. (Con el título Tristán e Iseo [La Muerte]).
Lourdes Jiménez. La Vida y la Muerte de Tristán e Isolda por Rogelio Egusquiza (1845-1915). Oviedo : Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, 2007, pp. 32-35, n. º 3.
Javier Novo González. De Goya a Gauguin : el siglo XIX en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2008, pp. 338-340, n.º 66, ad vocem.
Javier Novo González. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p.111, n.º 77, ad vocem.