A tribute to Greco

A tribute to Greco

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Title: Maurice Barrès in front of Toledo.

Author : ZULOAGA Ignacio (1870 - 1945)

Creation date : 1914

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Lorraine Museum of Nancy website

Contact copyright: © Musée Lorrain, Nancy - Photo, P.Mignot

Maurice Barrès in front of Toledo.

© Musée Lorrain, Nancy - Photo, P.Mignot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

From “ego worship” to nationalism

Maurice Barrès began his literary career with works exalting emotion, "the blossoming of being" through an individualism freed from standards. Considered the "prince of youth", the writer

dilettante had a considerable influence in the intellectual circles of the time, offering in the cult of the ego an immediate goal to a disillusioned generation. An ardent and committed nationalist, he became president of the League of Patriots in 1914, when Zuloaga painted his portrait.

Image Analysis

The portrait of an esthete writer

The model's silhouette, shifted to the left end of the composition, leaves free the view of the city of Toledo which is clearly inspired by a work by El Greco (View and map of Toledo, around 1610, oil on canvas, Toledo, El Greco museum), in particular by the choice of colors and the representation of a chaotic sky. Leaning against a rock, Barrès seems to have interrupted his reading to contemplate the landscape; he holds in his left hand one of his works, the title of which can be guessed from the three visible letters: Greco or the Secret of Toledo.

It is the lover of delicate art, the dilettante art critic that the painter has chosen to represent here, rather than the man fully engaged in nationalist struggles. However, Barres's interest in El Greco, painter of death and mystical exaltation, is not unrelated to his conception of nationalism, partly based on the dependence of individual consciousnesses on " earth and the dead ”and of which the religious tradition was an essential element.

Zuloaga has kept completely away from contemporary aesthetic options, preferring a proud theatricality and achieving a brilliant synthesis of Spanish painting of the past three centuries. From 1914, he devoted himself mainly to portraiture, often sacrificing a certain worldliness. Familiar with Parisian artistic and intellectual circles, he met many of his future models there, including Maurice Barrès, to whom he transmitted his enthusiasm for El Greco.


Greco and Toledo

A great lover of painting, Barrès was interested in the uprooted, in those who, torn from their province, carried their heritage to a foreign environment. However, his work on El Greco totally ignores the painter's Cretan ancestry, seeing in his paintings only the reflection of an "ardent and mystical" Toledo. By assimilating the painter to the city, Barrès was influenced by the rediscovery of El Greco in his artistic environment, mainly due to Zuola. Through this portrait, the painter and the writer both paid homage to the Toledan master who inspired them with a common passion.

  • art critic
  • writers
  • Barrès (Mauritius)
  • nationalism
  • portrait


Raoul GIRARDET French Nationalism; Anthology, 1871-1914 Paris, Seuil, 1983. Maurice BARRES Greco or the Secret of Toledo Paris, Emile-Paul, 1912 G. BORELLI “Barrès and the psychology of art” in Maurice Barrès, Proceedings of the conference organized by the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of the University of Nancy (22-25 October 1962) Annales de l'Est, Nancy, Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of the University of Nancy, 1963, (p.85 to 94) -1993-1994: MADRID (Palacio de Velasquez) BILBAO (Muszo de Bellas Arles) Center y periferia en la modernizacion de la pintura espanola (1880-1918) , Barcelona, ​​Ambit Servicios Editoriales, S. À., 1993 .- "Greco, the first modernist" Art File , n ° 72, December 2000 - January 2001.

To cite this article

Sabine BOUCHY DU PALUT, “A tribute to Greco”

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