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Annotated works

UCELAY, José María de

(Bermeo, Bizkaia, 1903-Bilbao, 1979)

Still Life

Oil on canvas

71,8 x 92,3 cm

c. 1938-1949

Basque Artist II (20th Century - 21th Century)

N.° inv. 92/117

Acquired in 1992

Conversation Piece, Just Leisure or Hemingway and Duñabeitia

Oil on canvas

130,5 x 166,3 cm

1957

Basque Artist II (20th Century - 21th Century)

N.° inv. 85/300

Acquired in 1985


UCELAY, José María de on Online collection

Still Life was painted in England, where Ucelay remained in exile from 1938 to 1949. On a table covered with a richly embroidered cloth the painter has laid out a few objects: a porcelain vase filled with flowers, a platter with diagonally cut corners and a ball of wool with its knitting needle. Although all the objects are depicted in a realistic way with precise descriptions, the light that clearly defines the still life against the neutral ground of the wall introduces an element of unreality into the space. The vase, with its Oriental decoration, reveals the artist's fascination with Chinese and Japanese objects—such as trays, lacquered boxes, fans, prints, many of them from his family collection—that he often included in his works.

In Conversation Piece, Just Leisure Ucelay portrayed the writer Ernest Hemingway in the company of his friend, the sailor Juan Duñabeitia. Apparently it was Hemingway himself, whom Ucelay had met in Pamplona in the 1950s, who asked him to paint this joint portrait. The painter sets the two friends in a wide unreal-looking landscape, seated on a bench with the sea in the background. He had previously portrayed both separately, humorously entitling the picture of Duñabeitia Sinbad the Sailor. The double portrait is a pendant to another work by Ucelay kept in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Conversation Piece Cum Tiffin or Urrutia and Aranoa, featuring the painters Genaro Urrutia and Juan de Aranoa, who were also friends of Ucelay's. Both works evoke a type of group portrait that was common in 18th-century British painting and that presented families or groups of friends sharing a common activity or hobby, such as music or hunting. In Ucelay's case the characters are separated and seem surprised by the painter: Hemingway has just stopped reading the newspaper, which appears by his side on the bench although he is still holding his glasses in his right hand.

Still lifes and portraits lie at the heart of Ucelay's work, which is noteworthy for its precise and highly descriptive draughtsmanship and for its use of light. Most of his work bears a relation to Magic Realism, German New Objectivity of the period between the two world wars and Italian metaphysical painting. In all these movements and in Ucelay's oeuvre the commonplace usually contains a strange, timeless and disturbing element.  [M.A.]

Selected bibliography (Still Life):

Kosme María de Barañano Letamendia. La obra pictórica de José María de Ucelay : análisis biográfico y estético. Bilbao : Fundación Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa = Bilbao Bizkaia Kuutxa Fundazioa, 1997, pp. 78 y 203,  n. º 269.

De Picasso a Bacon : arte contemporáneo en las colecciones del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. [Cat. exp.]. Segovia : Museo de Arte Contemporánea Esteban Vicente, 1999, pp. 70-71 y 157.

Miriam Alzuri. Guía Artistas Vascos. Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2008 (1ª ed. 2008; ed. inglés), pp. 110- 112, n.º 57, ad vocem.

Adelina Moya Valgañon. José María de Ucelay. Segovia : Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, 2007, pp. 98-99, il. 80.

Arte japonés y japonismo. [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2014, p. 35, il. 7.

Miriam Alzuri. 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), pp. 176 y 177, n.º 125 a, ad vocem.

Selected bibliography (Conversation Piece, Just Leisure or Hemingway and Duñabeitia):

Kosme María de Barañano Letamendia. La obra pictórica de José María de Ucelay : análisis biográfico y estético. Bilbao : Fundación Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa = Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa Fundazioa, 1997, pp. 98, 116, 188, n. º 126.

Miriam Alzuri. Guía Artistas Vascos. Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2008 (1ª ed. 2008; ed. inglés), pp. 110- 112, n.º 57, ad vocem.

Adelina Moya Valgañon. José María de Ucelay. Segovia : Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, 2007, pp. 125, 127, 129, il. 105.

Itsasoa artean, itsaroaren artea : Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoko Bilduma = El mar en el arte, el arte del mar : colección del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao : Bilboko Itsasadarra Itsas Museoa = Museo Marítimo Ría de Bilbao, 2010, pp. 28-29.

Miriam Alzuri. 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), pp. 176 y 177, n.º 125 b, ad vocem.

Annotated works