An artistic descendant of the Spanish Masters Velasquez, Zurbaran, Ribera, El Greco and Goya, Ignacio Zuloaga studied at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid, indulging in his passion for inspiration from these earlier masters. In 1898, he spent six months focusing on the works of Renaissance painters in Rome. With this wealth of learning from these years and the years he spent studying in Paris under the influence of Henri Gervex, Eugène Carrière and his friendships with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas, Zuloaga emerged as one of the premier Spanish artists in the early years of the 20th century.
Although married to a French woman and deeply involved in the artistic life of Paris, Zuloaga spent long periods of time in Spain in order to explore and understand his Basque roots. Truly Spanish by blood and by training, he took great pleasure in painting both the bourgeois and the gypsy, each with profound intellect and a restrained sensuality. The artist's years in Montmartre left a mark upon his painting; the simplicity of his landscapes evokes the work of his friend Paul Gauguin, the defined and elaborate silhouette of his figures recalls the time spent with Toulouse-Lautrec, and the slightly off-center compositional technique was surely inspired by the work of Degas.
Degas was the source of perhaps the deepest and longest lasting influence upon the work of Zuloaga. The Spanish artist met Degas very soon after his arrival in Montmartre. The older artist, famed for his unsociability, took an immediate liking to the 'espanolito' as he like to call him, and even invited him to his house for dinner, and Zuloaga in turn invited him to visit his studio. The young Zuloaga venerated the older French artist. 'I feel the deepest possible admiration for this man. He is the major artist of our time (from a letter from Zuloaga, sent from Segovia on 23 August 1912 to P. Lafond, curator of the Museum of Pau and himself a friend of Degas. Quoted in Dallas, The Meadows Museum, Ignacio Zuloaga, exh. cat., May 1991-January 1992, p. 47). Degas's influence was immediate and long-lasting. The most pronounced effect of the French artist upon the Spanish painter was in his composition: the enlarging and off-center placement of the figure. Movement was critical to Degas, and clearly this can be seen in the work of Zuloaga, and particularly in the present work. The placement of the figure slightly to the right of the canvas lends fluidity to the composition that is further emphasized by the swirling clouds and the undulating landscape. Although the aging man is obviously deliberately posing, there is immediacy to the painting which makes the viewer aware that there was a rapport between the artist and his subject.
The subject of this work, El Buñolero, was painted several times by Zuloaga. Born Carlos Albarran, he received his nickname from his previous employment as a fritter maker. Albarran was interviewed in Blanco y Negro, and the interview was published in the 21 April 1900 issue, along with contemporary photographs of Albarran, wearing the costume in which he is portrayed in the present painting (fig. 1). In the interview, he gives his age as 79, and it is his job to open the pens to release the bulls into the ring. He has been doing this for 58 years. He reminisces about all the great bullfighters he has seen, remembering each one clearly. He talks about injuries he has suffered, and deaths he has witnessed in the rings, both of the bulls and the matadors.
Zuloaga has captured the essence of Albarran in this striking portrait. His costume is not quite as crisp as it should be, his shoulders are slightly stooped, his hairline is receding. His eyes have seen the release of the bulls 16,720 times, and he does not look directly at the viewer but rather his eyes seem to be fixed on the sights of the bullring. He is lost in the world of the corrida, as in his own words, he has ‘dedicated his life to the bulls’ (‘Interview con El Buñolero’, Blanco y Negro, 21 April 1900, n.p.).
This painting was donated by the artist to a lottery organized by the Dutch consul in Madrid to benefit the Boer War and it was then sold at public auction because it had not been won. The purchaser enagaed in correspondence with Zuloaga who indicated in a letter dated 8 October 1911 that he would be interested in buying the painting back. It was clearly a personal favorite of his.
We are grateful to María Rosa Suárez-Zuloaga of the Archivo Museo Ignacio Zuloaga, Castillo de Pedraza, for confirming the authenticity of this painting.
(fig. 1) Carlos Albarran, 1900.