Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala

Bilbao, 1841 - Madrid, 1871

  • Returning to the Monastery


Eduardo Zamacois Zabala was born in Bilbao into an enlightened family on 12 July 1841, soon after the end of the first Carlist war. His father was founder and director of the Santiago de Vizcaya school of humanities, the city’s leading academic institution which closed after the war and where the mathematician Alberto Lista taught, among other prominent people. He and his wife had twenty-three children, many of whom excelled in various branches of the arts and sciences. The young Eduardo, who showed an interest in art from an early age, initially trained at the studio of the Madrid-born painter José Balaca, who was then living in Bilbao.

Owing possibly to the closure of the school and the need for their children to complete their studies, the Zamacois family moved to Madrid, where Eduardo enrolled at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts. A classmate of Raimundo de Madrazo, with whom he would later share artistic experiences in Paris, he was taught by Raimundo’s father Federico, then the director of the school. The young painter complemented his academic training by copying the Old Masters during his frequent visits to the Museo del Prado. His vocation was strengthened after he attained adulthood when he produced his first important work entitled La desesperación (“Despair”), which was submitted to second National Exhibition in 1860 and secured him his first success.

At the recommendation of his master Federico de Madrazo, Zamacois travelled to Paris in 1861 to further his training in contact with the trends and tastes of the modern bourgeois of Paris. He was later followed by his father and brothers. In the French capital he and Martín Rico attended Charles Gleyre’s classes to prepare for the entrance examination for the Paris School of Fine Arts, an aspiration he later renounced when he entered the school of drawing known as the Petite École. He also joined the workshop of the famous genre painter Ernest Messonier in Poissy, from whom he would acquire the rudiments of tableautin painting for which he was gifted thanks to his drawing skills and natural comic slant.

The watercolours and the commission from Federico de Madrazo to decorate the apartments of the future King Alfonso XII at the Royal Palace in Madrid brought him his first income; he was later awarded a scholarship by the Diputación (provincial council) of Vizcaya. However, as a regular participant in literary and social gatherings, he achieved early recognition thanks to his relationship with the haute bourgeoisie of Paris; this recognition is borne out by his contract with the dealer Frederick Reitlinger. He took part regularly in the Madrid National Exhibitions and the Paris Salons from 1862 onwards and his efforts were soon rewarded with significant prizes.

In Paris in 1866 he also met the Catalan painter Mariano Fortuny, with whom he became close friends; the destiny of both painters would be linked by their preference for genre painting and by their premature deaths.

Fortuny and another Spaniard, Eduardo Rosales, who won the gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 for his famous painting El testamento de Isabel la Católica (“The Testament of Isabella the Catholic”), would encourage Eduardo Zamacois to travel to Rome, the city where they both lived. He moved there in 1868 with the intention of executing a history painting. During this first trip he painted El refectorio de los Trinitarios (“The Refectory of the Trinitarians”), for which he enjoyed well-deserved success at the Paris Salon. The following year he paid a second trip to Rome accompanied by the collector William Hood Stewart to see his friend Fortuny’s oeuvre.

A favourable contract with the dealer Goupil brought Zamacois into contact with an important market of European and American collectors interested in his amusing court scenes set in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

His definitive recognition from the French capital came with the gold medal at the 1870 Salon, to which he submitted Educación de un príncipe (“A Prince’s Education”). However, the French-Prussian war halted his career rise, forcing him to leave Paris and return to Madrid, where he arrived during the cold winter of 1871, coinciding with the entry of King Amadeus I. The following day, 12 January, he died suddenly of gangrenous angina which, according to the painter Martin Rico’s memoirs, he caught during the ceremony. Distinguished with the legion of honour, he was also awarded a posthumous diploma by the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878.

Miguel Zugaza