What really drew them to the city, the common feature among them, was one of El Greco’s paintings: a doctor in the city was selling one his paintings and they all came running when they heard the name of El Greco.
The fact that Rodin the sculptor visited Mateo Inurria at Agustín Moreno’s Arts School –very close from hotel Viento10– with whom he also kept a correspondence; or that Pío Baroja’s “The City of the Discreet” would take place in the city and was written shortly after his visit; those facts did not account for the main reason for them to travel to Córdoba but instead consequences of the visit.
Zuloaga, the great painter, is one the main figures that worked towards restoring the name of Doménikos Theotokópoulos “El Greco”. They, him and the whole Generation of 98, fell in love with his paintings, and vindicated him as a genius, they considered him the first modern painter in History. The true identity feature of El Greco’s painting is the fact that he distorted shapes and figures, and back then that was seen as a first attempt to enter non-figurative painting or the first sign of a romantic painting, in other words, the sign that the painter was not only trying to reproduce Nature but also leaving his emotions in the canvas. Also at the time photography had shaken the Art figurative tree for good and the first avant-garde waves were sweeping everything at their pass: El Greco was one its main symbols.
Zuloaga managed to have over twelve El Greco paintings in his private collection. He was desperate, he looked for them everywhere and he bought them in Spain and Europe. In 1905 he got word that in Córdoba a painting was put up for sale –actually half a painting.
The painting is part of a bigger retable made at the commission of the church of the hospital of Saint John the Baptist in Toledo. It depicts a passage from the Bible, Book of Revelations (6: 9-11), describing the opening of the Fifth Seal at the end of times when white tunics were given to those who were killed by God’s work. The remaining severed upper part could have showed the Sacrificial Lamb opening the Fifth Seal.
During the XIXth century this painting belonged to J.Núñez del Prado, after him it passed down to Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. The painting had to be severed 175 cm due to the poor state in which it was. The long restoration process of 1880 ended up with Saint John the Baptist pointing nowhere as the upper part had dissapeared. In that state of mutilation, the painting reached Córdoba doctor Rafael Vázquez de la Plaza who would put it up for sale under the name “Amor sacro y amor profano” (Sacred and Profane Love), a curious coincidence as there is a painting by Julio Romero de Torres under the same name. A title that the painting kept up until 1908 when it was renamed “Opening of the Fifth Seal”.
In 1904, Baroja and Regoyos –we have previously talked about them in this blog– saw the painting in Córdoba. The doctor was selling it for 2.500 pesetas, 2.500 pesetas was not cheap for a couple of bohemians so they didn’t buy it. They might have been the ones who told Zuloaga about it. A year later Ignacio Zuloaga traveled to Córdoba along with Rodin and the art critic Ivan Tchukin and bought the painting for 1.000 pesetas.
Comparing “Opening of the Fifth Seal” with Picasso’s “The young ladies of Avignon”.
This “half painting” was key to many of the painters of the early XXth century, the avant-garde. Pablo Picasso, dear friend of Zuloaga, visit the later in his studio in Paris where the painting rested at the time. Picasso contemplates it and studies it and eventually the painting serves as inspiration for one his first and most famous cubist works: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
Ignacio Zuloaga kept the painting between Paris and Zumaya (1905-1945). After his death the painting ended up in the Zuloaga Museum in Zumaya (1945–1956) and then, in 1956, thanks to the intermediation of the Newhouse Galleries, was sold to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art where it is still exhibited.
Ignacio Zuloaga with Auguste Rodin and the Russian art collector and critic Ivan Ivanovitch Schukin.
It is very likely that the photograph was taken in Córdoba.
Luces y sombras de una pasión: Zuloaga y El Greco.