The Helmsman - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

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The Helmsman

Torre, Quintín de

Bilbao, 18/04/1877-Bilbao, 15/10/1966


199 x 110 x 136 cm

c. 1913

Early 20th century


Donated by the Vilallonga de la Sota family in 1975

Quintín de Torre was one of the most famous Basque sculptors in the first third of the 20th century. Trained in the Arts and Crafts School of Bilbao, he furthered his training in Paris on a scholarship from the Bilbao Town Hall (1901-1902) and the Provincial Council of Bizkaia (1902-1906). The author of an extensive output primarily crafted in bronze, wood and polychrome stone, he focused on portraiture, Costumbrism and social painting, religious imagery and commemorative and funerary sculpture. His style, rooted first in a grandiloquent eclecticism and later in fin-de-siècle aesthetics, evolved towards an expressive realism close to the tradition of Spanish Baroque imagery. A regular participant in the National Fine Arts Exhibitions, his works were also presented in London, Paris and Venice and won several awards. He furthermore stood out for his role as a driving force behind and president of the Association of Basque Artists and for his steadfast promotion of art.

The Helmsman is one of the key pieces in the more socially-oriented part of his sculptural oeuvre which he developed until the mid-1920s under the influence of Constantin Meunier. Torre was able to see Meunier's work directly in Paris, and in Belgium as well, where he travelled with his friend Aurelio Arteta in 1904. However, unlike Meunier, he focused his attention on traditional trades in the Basque Country, primarily those associated with the sea and executed by archetypes that he contributed to characterising. Examples include Docker of Bilbao (1906, Museo de Bellas Artes de Córdoba), Female Docker of Bilbao (c. 1917, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía), Docker of Bilbao (prior to 1922) and Ship's Boy (c. 1923), the latter two in the museum's collection (inv. no. 82/49 and 82/69).

Made in around 1913, it is a full-body figure slightly taller than real life which depicts a young sailor at the helm of his ship. Javier Viar claimed that the model was Juan Bautista Echaburu from Ondarroa (Bizkaia). Standing, facing the sea and the inclement weather, he is immortalised with his left leg forward to balance the rudder, which is on a clear diagonal. With this technique Torre manages to also bring motion to a figure which otherwise appears sturdy and static. His stark face and apparently immutable nature, coupled with his calm pose and undeniable monumentality, contribute -as does the inscription at the base "Gora Euskadi Askatuta" (Long live the free Basque Country), today lost- to reinforcing the epic sense of the figure, which is treated with soft, summary modelling similar to Meunier.

The clay model appeared in the Modern Art Exhibition held by the Association of Basque Artists in Bilbao in 1913 under the title A Bargeman. The bronze version was commissioned by Ramón de la Sota for the garden of his house in Lertegui and transferred to its final material at the Fundición J. L. de Soria foundry in Barcelona. [María Soto Cano]

Selected bibliography

  • Bengoechea, Javier de. Catálogo de arte moderno y contemporáneo del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. Bilbao, Banco de Vizcaya, 1980. p. (Con el título El timonel).
  • Escultura Vasca, 1889-1939 [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Banco de Bilbao, 1984. p. 33
  • Alix, Josefina. Escultura española : 1900-1936. Madrid, Ministerio de Cultura, 1985. p. 95.
  • Fundiarte : el arte en la fundición = Galdeartea : artea galdategian. Bilbao, Federación Española Asociaciones Fundidores, 2005.
  • López Echevarrieta, Alberto. Quintín de Torre : el último imaginero. Bilbao, Muelle de Uribitarte, 2006. pp. 75-76.
  • Soto Cano, Maria. "Los primeros años del escultor Quintín de Torre, 1877-1910", Sancho el Sabio, n° 32. 2010. p. 52.
  • Jaureguiberry, Michel de ... [et. al.]. Euskal zizelkariak = Escultores vascos = Sculpteurs basques. Ziburu-Ciboure, Arteaz, 2011. p. 190.
  • Arrizabalaga Salgado, Victor. Entre lo visible y lo invisible : el coleccionismo de arte en Bizkaia y Álava durante el siglo XX. Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia = Diputación Foral de Bizkaia, 2016. p. 132.
  • 110 Años 110 Obras [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 194-195, sin n° cat.
  • 110 Ans 110 Oeuvres [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 194-195, sin n° cat.
  • 110 Urte 110 Artelan [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 194-195, sin n° cat.
  • 110 Years 110 Works [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 194-195, sin n° cat.