Tag: Basque Artists

March 12, 2008: Death of artist Menchu Gal

On March 12, 2008 the Basque artist Menchu Gal Orendain, the first woman to win Spain’s National Prize for Painting (1959) and renowned for her colorful landscapes as well as portraits, died in Donostia-San Sebastián.

Menchu Gal

Born into a middle-class family in Irun, Gipuzkoa, in 1918, she developed an early interest in painting and by the age of seven was studying the art under local painter Gaspar Montes Iturrioz. Recognizing her talent, he encouraged her family to send her to Paris to continue her studies. This she duly did in 1932, enrolling in a school run by French cubist Amédée Ozenfant. She spent two years in Paris, taking advantage of the time there to visit the great museums and exhibitions in this major global art capital. She was particularly drawn to Impressionist and Fauvist works, and especially the oeuvre of Henri Matisse. Thereafter, she continued her studies in Madrid, at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, where her teachers included the celebrated Basque artist Aurelio Arteta.

Menchu Gal at work in 1975

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, together with her family she took refuge in France. She returned to Madrid in 1943 and soon became part of the Young Madrid School of artists, a group of young contemporary artists who exhibited regularly through the 1950s. It was at this time that she focused on landscape painting, particularly representations of the Castilian Meseta, the famed plateau of Don Quixote, and her native Basque Country. As she exhibited more, so she  gained a reputation for her vibrant use of color and the joy she expressed in her painting. And in 1959 she was awarded Spain’s National Prize for Painting for a landscape of Arraioz in the Baztan Valley of Navarre – the first woman to win this award. She continued to exhibit through the 1960s and 1970s, returning to the Basque Country and sponsoring a new generation of young Basque artists. In this regard, she was particularly interested in spotlighting painters and paintings connected with her natal Bidasoa region of Gipuzkoa; organizing retrospective of her first teacher, Montes Iturrioz, and participating in a travelling exhibition, “Painters of the Bidasoa,” in 1986. And she was still painting and exhibiting to the turn of the millennium.

Asked in a 2006 interview to describe the colors of her own particular corner of the Basque Country, the Bidasoa region, she replied:

Green and gray dominate; the trees are green, and the ground gray. The houses are kind of ocher. They don’t have a lot of color. But I love the Aia Massif [a rocky massif straddling the border between Gipuzkoa and Navarre]. I’ve seen it in all its colors. San Marcial [a shrine on a hill overlooking Irun and the Bidasoa region] and the Aia Massif have featured a lot in my painting.

Besides the Spanish National Prize for Paining, she also won many other awards. She was the first woman to receive the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa’s Gold Medal (2005) and in 2007 Eusko Ikaskuntza (the Society of Basque Studies) awarded her the prestigious Manuel Lekuona Prize.

She died in 2008 and in 2010 the City Council of Irun, in collaboration with the Kutxa Foundation, established the Menchu Gal Room at the Sancho de Urdanibia Hospital in Irun, where some of her work–purchased by the city council itself–is exhibited. That same year, a foundation was established in her name.

Further Reading

Menchu Gal Orendain at the Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia.

Menchu Gal, una artista extraordinaria,” by José Javier Fernández Altuna in Euskonews & Media (2007).

 

 

The Basque Country in the 19th Century painted by the Feillet sisters

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Hélène Feillet (1812-1889), as painted by her sister Blanche. Image by TRAILERS MUSEUM, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hélène (1812-1889) and Blanche (1815-1886) Feillet were artists and lithographers of some renown in the mid-19th century. Although born in Paris, they had strong connections to Iparralde, where they lived (in Biarritz) from 1834 on. And they are best known for their many portrayals of the Basque people and landscape in the form of lithographs, watercolors, oil paintings, drawings, and sketches. Their principal focus of interest was the Basque coastline, from Baiona in Lapurdi to Bermeo in Bizkaia, by way of the many fishing towns and villages along the way.

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“Pêcheuses de St-Jean-de-Luz” (Fisherwomen of Donibane Lohizune), by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

They were the daughters of a famous lithographer, Pierre Jacques Feillet (1794-1855), who was also head of the School of Drawing and Painting in Baiona from 1844 until his death – on which Blanche took over the same position. Continuing with their father’s specialty, they gained particular fame as lithographers in their representations of the Basque Country, embracing the romanticist tendencies of the age in their lithographs and prints.

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“Costumes basques” (Basque dress) by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1844 Blanche married Charles-Henri Hennebutte, who ran a printing company in Baiona. His company would later publish well-known guides to the Basque Country, such as Guide du voyageur de Bayonne à St Sébastien and Description des environs de Bayonne et de Saint-Sébastien (France et Espagne: Album des deux frontières), beautifully illustrated by the Feillet sisters. Hélène also exhibited her work in both Paris and London.

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“Entrée du duc de Bayonne en 1839” (Entrance of the Duke of Baiona in 1839) by Hélène Feillet. A work commissioned by the French Ministry of the Interior. Image by Léna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Their art stands as a remarkable testament of the time and place in which they lived and worked, and serves as an invaluable resource for capturing the Basque Country on the cusp of major social change in the mid- and late-19th century.

Chillida art explained scientifically!

Today we’d like to share a short but nevertheless fascinating Basque-related news item. Volume 55 of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie: International Edition, published on behalf of the German Chemical Society, recently included on its front cover a sculpture by renowned Basque artist Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002). The image accompanies an article in the journal: “Structurally Defined Molecular Hypervalent Iodine Catalysts for Intermolecular Enantioselective Reactions,” by Dr. Stefan Haubenreisser, Dr. Thorsten H. Wöste, Dr. Claudio Martínez, Prof. Dr. Kazuaki Ishihara, and Prof. Dr. Kilian Muñiz. According to the abstract: “The monumental ‘Elegy to the Horizon’ by the Basque artist Eduardo Chillida oversees the Atlantic coast at the town of Gijón (Asturias, Spain). A similar structural shape is involved in the enantiodiscrimination of alkenes through a chiral iodine(III) catalyst.” It would appear, then, that Chillida captured in his art the structural shape of the intermediate molecule of a chemical process. Remarkable!

Check out the article here for an enchanting intersection between science and art.

 

 

New Exhibition at the Bizkaia Aretoa: “Amerikanuak. From North to South: Artists in residence in America by students from the Fine Arts Department of the University of the Basque Country”

An exhibition on the American experience by students of the University of the Basque Country began on September 19 and will take place until the 26th of the same month in Bilbao. The central theme of these artists is cultural understanding and we are happy to have been a part of it.

flyerThree students have spent time at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies during the past two years, thanks to the collaboration between our institution and the University of the Basque Country. Manuel Diego Sánchez, Leire Baztarrica, and Oihane Sánchez Duro brought their different projects and perspectives to Reno, taking part in courses offered by the Fine Arts Department as well as networking. Their work varies in its medium, but focuses on the migration of Basques in the West and images of Nevada.

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Sánchez (Madrid, 1993) compiled a photographic archive through the lens of historic memory and the uprooting experienced by migrants. His contemporary interpretations help shed new light on this experience.

Baztarrica (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1992) focused her work on images of Reno, with help from Will Durham, contrasting the kitsch of the casino world with her own photographic portraits of the people she came across on her visit.

Sánchez Duro (Sestao, 1991) researched the representation by migrants to recreate familiar spaces, reminiscent of their homelands. She presents this as an architecture of memory signified by the dualism between the local and the global.

This exhibit also features the work of Teresa Jareño Querejeta (Donostia, 1987) who spent time in Antarctica. She wishes to recreate the experience through a multimedia form of visuals and sound.

We look forward to having more students come and be a part of the CBS, as their artistic residencies help broaden our views of Basques through artistic contemplations.

For more information about the exhibit, please read their flyer, available here:  http://www.ehu.eus/ehusfera/bbaa/files/2016/09/AMERIKANUAK-DIPTICO.pdf

Center publications that explore art-related themes include Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray; and Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika, which can be downloaded for free here.