Exterior Port and Abra of Bilbao with Punta Galea
Juan Martínez Abades

Exterior Port and Abra of Bilbao with Punta Galea

  • Oil on canvas

    90 x 200 cm


  • © Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza en préstamo gratuito al Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga

This is a seascape of Abra de Bilbao with Punta Galea in the background viewed either from Santurce or an area not far from the port. Sharply rectangular in shape, the composition reveals a careful choice on the part of the artist, who painted larger pictures like this one in the studio, basing them on bozzetti made in situ. As is customary with Martínez Abades's marine paintings, the horizon lies just below the middle of the canvas (five-ninths of the way down). Another feature common is the spit of land in the background, with the foam of the breaking waves standing out against it. The arrangement of the waves themselves at a very well-measured distance serving to highlight the different degrees of depth is also characteristic of this painter; starting parallel to the horizon, the waves advance ever more obliquely so that finally the one in the foreground forms an almost perfect diagonal in the lower half of the picture, thus heightening the dynamism of its collision with the ebbing wave which, with its motion, is the focal point of the composition. Likewise the clouds, which are parallel to the horizon in the background, also turn obliquely (in the opposite direction to the waves) by the time they reach the foreground. The result of this carefully planned arrangement is a balanced composition with an absence of monotony, despite the fact that this is little more than a seascape with scarcely a fringe of coastline, enlivened only by the flight of eight low-flying seagulls.

The execution reveals a wide variety of often very loose brushstrokes which on the coast in the background are mottled and green or pink in colour, yet nervous and coiled in the whites of the foam against the blue background, and shorter, wider and heavy with thick impasto in the wave in the foreground on the left. As regards colour, typical of this artist's work of the early years after the turn of the century is the beauty of the contrast between the saturated dark blue of the sea and the whites of the waves, while the sky and the coast are depicted with light tones, as is the foreground in general. Martínez Abades's observation of light is clearly noticeable in the different shades of the sea. In some areas, particularly around the centre, the painter made use of the white primer to produce some of the reflections.

A restless artist continually in search of motifs for his pictures, Martínez Abades travelled the Spanish coastal regions on many occasions, particularly in the north of Spain. His development of these motifs led Francisco Alcántara to call him the "marine artist par excellence of the Bay of Biscay". This critic saw in Martínez's clear, vibrant palette an orientation which he described as "masculine", as opposed to the more intimate and melancholy disposition of the Andalusian marine painters.

Among his marine paintings of the north of Spain, only those of the Basque Country, where he travelled frequently, at least from 1892, are exceeded in number by those of his native Asturias. Prevalent among the former are views of Bilbao and the surrounding area. This situation was influenced at the beginning by business links between Gijón and Bilbao, particularly after the increase in port traffic with steamers arriving with coal and returning to Asturias with iron. The artist’s work quickly became popular with the Basque bourgeoisie, which explains the large number of views he painted of that region, especially between 1907 and 1912. He even acted as intermediary for some of his own customers, including Félix Chávarri, in the sale of a number of his friend Sorolla's paintings.

Javier Barón