Manuela de Errazu1875 - 1880. Oil on canvas, 113 x 62 cm.
The eldest of six children born to Joaquín María de Errazu and Guadalupe Rubio de Tejada, Manuela was born in Querétaro (Mexico) in 1839. Her family, of Spanish origin, amassed a huge fortune through the industrial development of that Central-American country. When she was fifteen years old, her parents moved to the most exclusive neighborhood in Paris. There, despite some criticism -the Goncourt brothers cruelly and baselessly alluded to the color of Guadalupe’s skin to reinforce their disdain for the Errazu family as an example of social climbers in the court of Napolon III- the family moved with complete naturalness in Europe’s wealthiest circles and adopted their refined customs. Manuela became a client of famous photographer André-Adolpe-Eugène Disderi, and regularly participated in the select fêtes of high society, including the one held at the Tuilleries Gardens during the Carnival of 1863, where she took the lead in a celebrated quadrille des abeilles alongside the princesses, Troubetzkoy and Dolgorouki, accompanied by young men disguised as peasants from Watteau’s paintings. A consequence of her considerable visibility in Second-Empire Paris’s high society is Manuelita, a suite of waltzes for piano by Émile Waldteufel (1837-1915) dedicated to Mademoiselle Emmanuelle de Errazu. Manuela married banker José Domingo Irureta Goyena, an art lover and good friend of famous painter Mariano Fortuny. This brought the Errazu family into the Catalan artist’s circle and into the world of art collecting. Manuela Errazu’s brother, Ramón, became close friends with Fortuny’s brother-in-law and follower, Raimundo de Madrazo, who became the family’s portrait painter. In fact, the portrait of Ramón Errazu (P2614) is one of the finest works of all Raimundo’s career, followed by portraits of Ramón’s siblings, including María Concepción Errazu (private collection), and of Manuela’s husband, which is an exquisite small-format bust (Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes), as well as likenesses of other lovers or friends of Ramón, such as the Marchioness d’Hervey Saint-Denis (Paris, Musée d’Orsay) and the Marchioness of Manzanedo (P2603), a spectacular panel dating from 1875 whose typology is reproduced on a smaller scale in the present portrait of Manuela, which was painted soon thereafter on canvas. The model poses on foot with her hands crossed in an expression of unpretentious timidity. Her silhouette stands out against a continuous bright green background that emphasizes her elegant blue and pink evening gown with flounces and lace. She wears large pearl earrings, which also appear in her portrait by Wssel de Guimbarda (Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes), and carries a fan. The figure is rendered with a prodigious and somewhat affected technique, in a tight and extremely realist manner reminiscent of Fortuny. This contrasts with the loose, paint-laden brushstrokes visible on the curtains and carpet in the background. This exceptional canvas is painted in the fashion of French portraits from the Second-Empire, when Fortuny’s style was most in vogue. Its adaptation of a model drawn from official portraiture is particularly striking, as such works are normally life sized, while the present one is far smaller. Both the figure’s placement in space and the rendering of the surrounding atmosphere are, however, drawn from the Spanish tradition that the painter had the advantage of learning at the Museo del Prado, where his father was director. That, along with this artist’s extraordinary capacity to enhance the model’s limited physical gifts make this small work one of the most representative of Madrazo’s style (Text drawn from G. Navarro, C.: El retrato español en el Prado. De Goya a Sorolla. Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, p. 156).