The Women of the Sea - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

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The Women of the Sea

Maeztu, Gustavo de

Vitoria-Gasteiz, 30/08/1887-Estella-Lizarra, Navarre, 09/02/1947

Oil on canvas

217 x 232 cm

G. de Maeztu (bottom left hand corner)

c. 1916

First quarter of the 20th century


Acquired in 1928

Gustavo de Maeztu is an individualistic artist with a tendency towards dispersion; he is lyrical, romantic and controversial; a passionate, sensitive creator; difficult to pigeonhole in a single movement because he avoids classifications, just as he flees from himself. His life is an evasion forward and constant moves backward, experiences that situate him on the verge of impressions and precisions, making him a unique, charming personality who is impossible to classify because, immersed in his present, he sought to find explanations in personal formulas disconnected from reality.

During the years of his creative peak (1910-1925), De Maeztu gives shape to a major set of works whose essence boils down to the attempt to merge personal aspiration, interior aesthetic formulation and identification with the intellectual reflection of Spain as a concern. He thus crystallised an ambivalent artistic output that is both intimate and social, lyrical and epic, contained and overwhelming, sad and hopeful; a magical duplicity which would bring him failure and eternity.

Two motifs characterise his output from this period: man and woman. The men appear melancholy, absorbed in serious matters beyond human ken. Their hermeticism and consequent sense of alienation enhances their mystery. The female figures are powerful, voluptuous, sensual, with a jaunty yet powerful elegance, integrating folksy boisterousness into the aristocratic spirit. They are figures that are bedecked with a splendid colourful richness full of glimmers and ceramic tonalities.

With a strong literary sense in his paintings, Gustavo de Maeztu plays with the diptych and triptych as compositional features to generate a story. He uses this device in his paintings The Samaritan Women (Museo Gustavo de Maeztu, Estella-Lizarra) and The Women of the Sea.

The artist draws from the twofold language of the image as a vision that harbours the symbol. The Samaritan Women reflects women from a gloomy Castilla who are bearing large loads but do not give up and show no fatigue as they face their fate. The Women of the Sea, in turn, opens up a different landscape and a gloomier theme. Here the women do not smile; they have no future. They only yearn for the return of their loved ones, and the wait is reflected in their dark countenances. They are colossal women in their conception, even more powerful than the architecture of the houses, which, however, make up a placid landscape, especially in the languid waters which reflect them. The bridge and the faces are marked by anguish, with eyes that look, question and scan the distance to know, to understand, and yet they can only keep waiting. His treatment of the figures is closer to that of a sculptor, highlighting the sense that they are gigantic painted sculptures. His friend, the art critic Juan de la Encina, who was enamoured of this work, delighted in "the iridescent skirt. With the predominance of violet, on the reclining woman, or the woman leaning on her bosom (we believe that it is a bosom) wearing a red dress which is like a flare in this same painting." (Camino Paredes)

Selected bibliography

  • 50 años de pintura vasca, 1885-1935 [Cat. exp.]. Madrid, Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, 1971. n° cat. 96.
  • 50 años de pintura vasca, 1885-1935 [Cat. exp.]. San Sebastián, Museo de San Telmo, 1972. s. p., n° cat. 58.
  • Martín. G. de Maeztu. [Madrid], Servicio de Publicaciones del Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, 1975. p. 38..
  • Bengoechea, Javier de. Catálogo de arte moderno y contemporáneo del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. Bilbao, Banco de Vizcaya, 1980. p. 81. (Con el título Mujeres del mar).
  • Mur Pastor, Pilar. La Asociación de Artistas Vascos. Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao ; Caja de Ahoros Vizcaína, 1985. p. 57.
  • Cat. Actas literarias sobre el Arte Vasco con motivo de la Exposición Internacional de 1919 celebrada en Bilbao. Bilbao, Laida, 1991. p. 128.
  • Galilea Antón, Ana María. "A propósito de las obras del Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao depositadas en otras Instituciones", Urtekaria 1992 : asterlanak, albistak = Anuario 1992 : estudios, crónicas. 1993. pp. 19-72, il.
  • "Cuales fueron los dieciseis cuadros enviados por los rojos al Extranjero, otros trece han sido encontrados en el Carlton", Hierro. 28 de septiembre de 1937. p. 3.
  • Centro y periferia en la modernización de la pintura española, 1880-1918 [Cat. exp.]. Madrid, Minsterio de Cultura, 1993. pp. 421, 436, n° cat. 160.
  • Castañer López, Xesqui. "Iconografía de la mujer en los pintores vascos, siglos XIX y XX", Kobie : bellas artes, n° 2. 1984. p. 105.
  • Paredes Giraldo, María del Camino. Gustavo de Maeztu. Pamplona, Caja de Ahorros Municipal, 1995. pp. 57-57, 61, 68, 200, 285, 424, il.
  • Gustavo de Maeztu [Cat. exp.]. Iruña-Pamplona, Caja de Ahorrosde Navarra, 1997. p. 35, sin n° cat.
  • La mirada del 98 : arte y literatura en la Edad de Plata [Cat. exp.]. Madrid, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, 1998. p. 275.
  • Los 98' Ibéricos y el mar = os 98' Ibéricos e o mar [Cat. exp.]. Madrid, Sociedad Estatal Lisboa '98, 1998. p. 73, sin n° cat.
  • Guía Artistas Vascos. Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2008. pp. 92-93.
  • Gida Euskal Artistak. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Eder Museoa, 2008. pp. 92-93.
  • Guide Basque Artists. Bilbao, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, 2012. pp. 92-93, n° cat. 44b.
  • 110 Ans 110 Oeuvres [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 210-211, sin n° cat.
  • 110 Años 110 Obras [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 210-211, sin n° cat.
  • 110 Years 110 Works [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 210-211, sin n° cat.
  • 110 Urte 110 Artelan [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa-Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 2018. pp. 210-211, sin n° cat.
  • Barañano, Kosme de. Bilbao y la pintura [Cat. exp.]. Bilbao, FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao, 2021. p. 212.