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Masterpieces

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Portrait of the Countess Mathieu de Noailles

Ignacio Zuloaga

Eibar, Gipuzkoa, 1870-Madrid, 1945

Portrait of the Countess Mathieu de Noailles

Oil on canvas, 152 x 195.5 cm

1913

Donated by Ramón de la Sota y Llano in 1919

Portrait of the Countess Mathieu de Noailles depicts Anna Elisabeth de Brancovan, a Parisian poetess of Greek and Romanian origin. Heavy curtains serve as a frame for the portrait, emphasizing the theatrical nature of the portrait. Even so, Zuloaga opens the painting up to a backdrop of clouds, itself inspired by El Greco’s backgrounds, as a way of concentrating our interest on the sensual figure of the sitter. In the lower right corner, the artist gifts us a small still-life consisting of a table with books, evoking the Countess’s devotion to literature, a necklace of pearls—a sign of passion—and a broad vase full of roses, symbol of love: both a brief symbolic compendium of the Countess’s personality and an updating of the Spanish baroque theme of the vanitas. Despite being hailed by international art critics of the early 20th century as one of the finest painters of the time, in Spain Zuloaga was accused of exalting the country’s perceived backwardness. His training, far from the academic world, the influence of the intellectual circles in Paris and his association with Spain’s highly critical "Generation of "98" literary movement, led him to take popular culture and Spanish 17th century painting and Goya as his references. These influences imbued his works with a remarkable expressiveness and powerful psychological insight, which, together with the Romantic vision and his undeniable skills as a painter, were the essential factors in Zuloaga’s subsequent output. [J.N.G.]

Portrait of the Countess Mathieu de Noailles

Masterpieces