Ignacio Zuloaga's painting of his cousin Candida transforms the image of the traditional Maja, with roots in Spanish painting going back to Goya and Velasquez, into an image of modern, 20th century womanhood. The mantilla shawl and fan serve both as central decorative motifs, and to anchor Zuloaga's art, rather than his subject, in the traditions of his own country; indeed numerous foreign patrons of the artist sat for the artist in similar attire.
Zuloaga's composition is typically striking. Unlike his portraits of male sitters, who usually gaze obliquely out of the composition, virtually all of his female portraits show women confronting the viewer head-on, wearing expressions that vary from provocative -- even vampish -- to amused, but always supremely self-assured. Here, Candida is depicted from below, looking down towards the viewer, a confident, almost wry smile playing across her lips. She dominates the composition entirely, not only in her pose, but in the way she completely fills the picture plane. The picture is lent particular drama by the contrast between Candida's pale face and the dark, brooding sky, and by the billowing clouds which make her appear as an apparition conjured up from some unseen domain that is forever Spain.
At the time of this painting's execution, Zuloaga had already risen to international fame, championed in America by John Singer Sargent, and widely acclaimed in both France and Spain for his ability to transform the great pictorial Spanish traditions into an intense language that was immediately relevant to the modern age: psychological, colourful, and combining both the real and the mystical.
This painting is sold with a copy of a letter from the artist to the painting's first owner, Alejandra de la Vega, dated 22 October 1918.