Self-Portrait – 82/686
Mexico City, 01/06/1827-Bilbao, 15/10/1855
Nib on paper
25.5 x 16.5 cm
F Sr. B y B (upright in the centre of lower half)
Acquired in 1935
Bringas's birth in Mexico was anecdotal, as his family was settled back in Bilbao before he was a year old. Although his father had marked him out for a different career, he insisted, successfully, on becoming an artist. In Bilbao he attended classes given by Pablo Bausac in the mid-1840s at the recently inaugurated (and short-lived) Museum of Paintings, and in 1848 he enrolled at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, where he would stay until 1850. His father's economic problems forced Bringas to return to Bilbao. That year he decorated the premises of a society called La Pastelería, of which he was a member, and in 1852 he did the same in the theatre organized by the Philharmonic Society of Bilbao in a mezzanine in a street known as the calle Jardines. It was at this time that he was diagnosed with the tuberculosis.
The discovery of the Romantic schools of Seville and Madrid left a profound mark on Bringas the artist, orienting his work to the production of Andalusian-inspired popular types and scenes, often linked to the world of bullfighting. Postilions, as the stage coach drivers were known, principal personages, highwaymen and bullfighters peopled his works, although Basque scenes also began to be an increasingly regular theme, making him one of the forerunners of the art of popular scenes and customs in his home area. In 1850 he published with lithographer Juan Eustaquio Delmas the bullfighting album Álbum Tauromáquico, and in 1853 he went on to publish a collection of prints under the title of Trajes Bascongados (Basque costumes). He painted feverishly in these years, until the death of his father in 1854 plunged the family into a genuinely precarious situation, forcing its members to rely on charity for their subsistence. His illness returned with a vengeance, and despite a stay at the French spa of Eaux-Bonnes in summer 1855, he died at the age of twenty-eight.
Bringas's self-portrait is notable in purely artistic terms and for the information it provides about the artist, who portrays himself as something of a dandy, leaning on the table on which he has momentarily left a lit cigarette. His penetrating glance seems to be inspecting the spectator and wondering how best to get him on paper, as he had already done with the picador and the bull hanging on the wall. At his feet a letter, a pen, a folder full of sketches, a bottle of sherry, a skull and a copy of the works of Francisco de Quevedo help to define the tastes and enthusiasms of a Romantic Bringas enamoured of Andalusia. The work points up his easy, Frenchified way with line, drawn with the clean stroke to be found in his principal personages and postilions. It is no coincidence that his elegant attitude is directly linked to the ones he conferred on some of his popular characters. (Mikel Lertxundi)
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