Exciting Spanish Artists of the Past: Part I – Rogelio de Egusquiza (1845-1915) Master of the Embrace


Rogelio de Egusquiza is one of my favourite artists, especially because of his ability to convey the true emotion of love.  This becomes so apparent when we view his paintings of couples.  There are four which I find particularly amazing.

Rogelio de Egusquiza Tristán e Iseo (La vida) Tritan and Iseuld

Tristan and Isolde (Life) by Rogelio de Egusquiza

The first two are entitled Tristan and Isolde (Life) and Tristan and Isolde (Death).  They are painted using oil on canvas, but in such a way as to conjure up a misty other worldliness.  This effect removes the protagonists from the real world, putting them into a dreamlike fantasy.  And yet the emotions conveyed are so blindingly real.

The characters cling to one another as if their very life and soul depend upon it, as if they are incomplete without one another.  It is an embrace that has little to do with raw sexual instinct and everything to do with love.  Tristan’s eyes are closed, yet we feel from his face alone how he much he adores her.  Isolde’s face we do not even see, she is turned away from us, yet her arms and her hands -  almost clutching in their need -  the stance of her body, pressed against Tristan, illustrate the strength and need of her love.

The symbolism of the picture itself -  the deep darkness below, despite the sunlight breaking through pinky violet clouds above - foretells the doom that is in store for these lovers, yet the brightness of their love cannot be eclipsed by their death.  We see the purest white of the sky is closest to their touching heads.


Rogelio de Egusquiza Tristan and Iseult (Death) Painting

Tristan and Isolde (Death) by Rogelio de Egusquiza

Tristan and Isolde (Death) is the bittersweet companion canvas.  Here the two lovers have died, and yet… are still together.  The curving of Isolde’s body around Tristan’s makes it seem as if even in death they are embracing.  Tristan’s eyes are once again closed, although this time not out of overwhelming emotion.  In death, the overall look emanating from his face is one of peace.  If we didn’t know the lovers had died, we could almost think they had simply fallen asleep together.  Even in death, Isolde’s hand appears to hold Tristan’s wrist.  The background again is misty, although clearly they are laying out in the open and there are flowers nearby.  The sky is rose-coloured, maybe dawn or dusk, perhaps symbolically the moment between day and night, or life and death.

There is yet another work of Tristan and Isolde by Rogelio de Egusquiza, an etching called Tristan and Isolde in Embrace.


Tristan and Isolde in Embrace by Rogelio de Egusquiza

Tristan and Isolde in Embrace by Rogelio de Egusquiza

The emphasis is very much on the strong, clutching arms of the lovers, holding one another, as if never wanting to let go, unable to contemplate separation.  Their faces are pressed together and both of them have their eyes closed.  It is a strong representation of the need of two souls to be one.  Through the medium of this monochrome etching the well-defined muscles in Tristan’s arm show themselves taut, yet gentle, he holds strongly without crushing.

We can just see above Isolde’s hand, on the top of Tristan’s head, the fingers of her other hand overlapping, and it is clear that she has encircled his head in her arms and is pressing it close to hers.  These gentle, caring, yet desperately fraught actions tell us so much about the lovers.  Their love is all-consuming and yet unselfish, they truly care about one another and not just about gratifying their own desires.

There is yet one more painting of Rogelio de Egusquiza that I feel particularly drawn to and it is titled The End of the Ball.

The End of the Ball by Rogelio de Egusquiza

 The End of the Ball by Rogelio de Egusquiza

Not only is this visually exquisite, with all the expertly detailed depictions of flowers, lace, silk, and the tiny glimpse of a pink silk shoes on the lady’s foot, but it is again a perfect example of the artist’s ability to capture and illustrate very tender feelings through a combination of gesture and narrative detail.

To start with, we have a curtain pulled to one side in the background, showing us the environment the lovers find themselves in.  There is a marked contrast between the two ladies who are not dancing - one of them perhaps examining her dress, the other maybe discussing the evening - with our couple in the front of the picture, who seem to be in a world of their own.

The little details in their pose emphasize the feelings between them.  His left hand tenderly holds hers, whilst his right encircles her body respectfully, yet lovingly.  She rests her head comfortably on his shoulder, and he watches her tenderly.  There is a definite suggestion that these two do not want the ball to end, whilst it continues they have an excuse to be locked together in this tender embrace.

Of course Rogelio de Egusquiza painted numerous other beautiful and accomplished paintings of many other subjects other than embraces, but these ones, for me, particularly illustrate a very special sensitivity and capability which I very much admire. 

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