Motherhood - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

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Motherhood – 82/938

Asarta, Inocencio

Gastiain, Navarre, 28/12/1861-Bilbao, 06/06/1921

Oil on canvas

80.3 x 60.9 cm

I Asarta (bottom right hand corner)


Early 20th century


Bequeathed by Laureano de Jado in 1927

The theme of motherhood was a constant in Spanish painting at the turn from the 19th to 20th centuries, in both Costumbrist renderings and others falling within social realism, to the point of even being presented as a satisfactory illusion inseparable from the status of women. Inocencio García Asarta took an interest in this theme as an artist sensitive to his time, open to influences from the painting of his day, which he was familiar with firsthand through his years of training in Rome, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. This is joined by the artist's own biography, as in around 1903-1904 he was associated with the working and domestic milieus on the Basque coasts.

Motherhood is a charming scene set in a kitchen and depicting a brief pause during a hard day's work; it shows a young mother, most likely a Basque sardine packer, seated next to a huge fireplace and playing with her child lying on her lap, perhaps before nursing it. Behind her, a second woman is scrubbing the floor. A cupboard containing some objects completes the background scene. The setting is not idyllic, with sardines scattered around the floor, in a basket, lettuce leaves and an earthenware dish with the remains of a finished meal. It is inside the fisherfolks' home, with characteristic details like the nets hanging from the ceiling. The fireplace, where a pot is heating over a tenuous fire, brings warmth to the scene with its flames, which are painted in an extraordinarily lifelike way. It is a tender image of a truly harsh life.

The young woman is poorly dressed, and her physical appearance resembles that of other women that García Asarta portrayed, a type of woman who is sturdily built, has sunburnt skin and pulls her hair back in a bun, and the warmth of its palette is reminiscent of the Spanish school from the 17th century. Likewise, it recalls Parisian models in its interest in the female figure and the way colour is applied. Motherhood is a clear example of those industrious, hardworking women who stack sardines in the market, while they simultaneously have to take charge of the household economy during the long periods when their husbands are away at sea working. The drawing of the main figure is noteworthy, and she is presented honestly, with the naturalness of a mother who is taking pleasure in her child, oblivious to the spectator. The candour of the scene contrasts with the secondary figure in the background, bent over her toilsome labour.

Though precise on the main details, the brushstrokes become loose and at times show an expressive thickness. The cream and ochre tones, judiciously combined with blues and violets, confer a pleasant appearance on the scene, even though the interior is anything but elegant. The painting creates a diagonal line, which the artist liked to use, marked by the step up to the fireplace and leading to the bent over figure in the background. The main light source hits the mother, lightening the tones and offering an interesting palette in her clothing. It also enables us to see the mother's tender smile at her child's gesture. Another light source comes from the fireplace and glances off the objects arranged around the flames. (Ignacio Urricelqui)

Selected bibliography

  • Plasencia, Antonio. Catálogo de las obras de pintura y escultura del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. Bilbao, Imprenta Provincial, 1932. p. 71, n° cat. 346. (Con el título Maternidad, y atribuido a Inocencio Asarta)
  • Bengoechea, Javier de. Catálogo de arte moderno y contemporáneo del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. Bilbao, Banco de Vizcaya, 1980. p. 26. (Con el título Maternidad).
  • Castañer López, Xesqui. "Iconografía de la mujer en los pintores vascos, siglos XIX y XX", Kobie : bellas artes, n° 2. 1984. p. 111.
  • Cat. Inocencio García Asarta. Iruña, Cultura y Deporte, 1991.
  • Castañer López, Xesqui. La imagen de la mujer en la plástica vasca contemporánea, s. XVIII-XX : aproximación a una metodología del género. Bilbao, Universidad del País Vasco = Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, 1993. p. 70.
  • Urricelqui Pacho, Ignacio Jesús. "Inocencio García Asarta en el Museo de Navarra", Príncipe de Viana, n° 225. 2002. p. 94.
  • Urricelqui Pacho, Ignacio Jesús. La recuperación de un pintor navarro : Inocencio García Asarta, 1861-1921. Pamplona, Gobierno de Navarra, Departamento de Educación y Cultura, 2002. pp. 166, 205, 236, 267, n° cat. 80.
  • Emakumearen irudia : bestelako begiratu bat = La imagen de la mujer : otra mirada [Cat. exp.]. Vitoria-Gasteiz, Diputación Foral de Álava, 2003. pp. 60-61.
  • Urricelqui Pacho, Ignacio Jesús. Inocencio García Asarta. Pamplona, Fundación Caja Navarra, 2003. pp. 31, 35, 54-55.
  • Guía Artistas Vascos. Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2008. pp. 42-43.
  • Gida Euskal Artistak. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Eder Museoa, 2008. pp. 42-43.
  • De Goya a Gauguin : el siglo XIX en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2008. pp. 484-486, n° cat. 107.
  • 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. 21, 25, 55.
  • Guide Basque Artists. Bilbao, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, 2012. pp. 42-43, n° cat. 18b.