The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is showcasing the three portraits of the Adán de Yarza family painted by Francisco de Goya in the late 1780s which are being presented to the public and the scholarly community for the first time after being studied and restored. They will remain on display until September. The paintings, which until now were only known through scholarly bibliographic references, the press and period photographs, are being shown for the first time along with the original crate in which they were transported to France in 1937 since they were evacuated by the Basque government during the Spanish Civil War thanks to the generosity of the family that owns them.
The technical study and restoration carried out by the museum's restorer José Luis Merino Gorospe show the outstanding state of conservation of all three works; particularly noteworthy is the fact that they are conserved on their original canvases and nailed to their original stretchers dating from the 18th century. The renowned international experts on Goya's oeuvre, Juliet Wilson-Bareau and Xavier Bray, have conducted the historical-artistic study of the paintings, highlighting their originality within Goya's early portraits. The conclusions of the rigorous study and restoration are compiled in the digital publication entitled The Goyas of Zubieta. Portrait of the Adán de Yarza Family, which also includes a biographical article on the sitters by historians Susana Serrano and Mikel Urizar and an article on the vicissitudes of the works during the Spanish Civil War written by the expert Francisco Javier Muñoz.
They are Francisco de Goya's portraits of three member of the illustrious Adán de Yarza family from Bizcaia, originally from Lekeitio, whose lineage dates back to the 10th century. The portraits depict Bernarda Tavira, the widow and mother of Antonio Adán de Yarza, who married María Ramona de Barbachano in 1787. The story of this important family is extensively documented in the study entitled "Antonio Adán de Yarza Tavira (1761-1835)" carried out by Susana Serrano Abad, researcher and full professor of Contemporary History at the University of the Basque Country, and Mikel Urizar, head of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Archive.
Painted in Madrid probably around the time of the wedding, they are supreme examples of Goya's intense work as a portraitist in around 1790, when he was the king's chamber painter. The works were collected by the Basque government to safeguard them during the early months of the Civil War and transported to France in 1937. Since then, they have remained safe but completely anonymous outside of Spain, without ever changing owners. Today, thanks to the generosity of the sitters' descendants, the three portraits and the original crate in which they were evacuated have been returned to the Basque Country and are being presented for the first time to the public along with documentation on their unique history in gallery W in the Bilbao Museum's Alphabet, which, tellingly, stands for War.
The first known references to the portraits date back to 1916 and 1917, when the art historian and future director of the Museo del Prado, Aureliano de Beruete y Moret, cited them in his first two monographic volumes on Goya's oeuvre. Beruete's accurate description after seeing them firsthand, as "typical of the grey period... from 1790 or shortly thereafter", was repeated in a variety of subsequent publications. The earliest photographs of the works come from the magazine Blanco y Negro, which published them in 1930 to illustrate the article entitled "Mansiones hidalgas: Zubieta en Vizcaya" (Stately Homes: Zubieta in Bizcaia). The paintings were also mentioned in 1927 by the historian Fernando de la Quadra Salcedo in a contribution to El Noticiero Bilbaíno, and later in 1936 in "Los Goyas inéditos de Vizcaya" (The Unknown Goyas of Bizcaia) in a text published as a brochure and article in the magazine Vida Vasca.
In 1936, given the dramatic developments of the Spanish Civil War, the Directorate General of Fine Arts of the Basque government took the initiative to assemble both the public and private art collections scattered around the land in order to protect them. On the 13th of November, several works of art were removed from the Palacio de Zubieta, including the three Goya paintings, to transport and safeguard them in the Uribitarte bonded warehouse in Bilbao. Later, the government itself decided to evacuate them to France along with a group of works from the Modern Art Museum and other collections so they could join an exhibition at the Pavilion of the Republic at the Paris International Expo of 1937.
The three portraits were packaged in crate no. 10, which is still conserved and is now also being exhibited, and ultimately the Basque government delivered them to their legitimate owner, María Adán de Yarza, who at that time had taken refuge in France, where she died in 1947 without ever returning to her homeland, as the Goyas of Zubieta had not until now. The essay entitled "María Adán de Yarza: A story of war, art and exile" by the researcher Francisco Javier Muñoz Fernández explores these vicissitudes of the Basque Country's artistic heritage during the Civil War.
The three Goya portraits were not cited again until 1989 by historian Kosme de Barañano, who claimed that "whose whereabouts are unknown", in an essay shortly before the US American expert William Jordan and the English expert Juliet Wilson-Bareau had the chance to locate and study the paintings firsthand in research undertaken between 1990 and 1992, which professor Nigel Glendinning also joined.
The experts' interest in the works has continued unabated, until the shared desire of the family, the experts and the Fine Arts Museum of Bilbao to showcase these works publicly in the place where the family belongs was finally brought to fruition in November 2017. After drawing up the basic technical documentation in the Museo del Prado, the works were transferred to the Fine Arts Museum of Bilbao to be studied and restored under the oversight of José Luis Merino Gorospe, who had already restored Goya's Portrait of the Poet Moratín (1824) in the museum's collection. The patient effort to clean them concluded recently, and its process is described in the article entitled "Technical study and restoration of the works". They were very dirty and had never been restored, but after cleaning the layers of accumulated grime, they were found to be in an admirable state of conservation, which is quite exceptional given the fact that they are conserved on their original canvases and still nailed to the original stretchers from the 18th century. Their status as intact works means that the portrait of Bernarda Tavira still retains a piece of paper signed by Goya with the name of the sitter glued to the back of the canvas.
In parallel to the technical documentation and restoration, the historical-artistic study of the portraits, which have virtually never before been seen, befell Juliet Wilson-Bareau, to whom we owe their contemporary discovery, and Xavier Bray, current director of the Wallace Collection and curator of the major exhibition entitled Goya. The Portraits at the National Gallery of London (2015). In their essay entitled "Three Rediscovered Portraits by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes", we can grasp the originality of these works within the intense early stage in what would become his extraordinary career as a portraitist, as well as the close relationship they bear with such important contemporary works as the portraits commissioned for the Banco de San Carlos, especially with the one of the bank's Basque-French founder, Francisco de Cabarrús, painted by Goya around the same time (1788).
The conclusions of the ambitious research project carried out by the Fine Arts Museum of Bilbao are collected in the digital publication entitledThe Goyas of Zubieta. Portrait of the Adán de Yarza Family, which is available on the museum's website. Likewise, there are plans to hold study workshops open to all researchers before the end of the exhibition period agreed upon with the portrait owners.