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Evil vanishes. Egusquiza and Wagner´s Parsifal in the Museo del Prado

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 11/4/2013 - 11/23/2014

Egusquiza was an established artist when he met Wagner in 1879, whom he already admired and followed. He was the only Spanish artist to establish a first-hand relationship with the composer, albeit of a sporadic, respectful nature. This acquaintanceship completely transformed Egusquiza’s artistic concerns and from then on he focused on the iconography of the composer’s works.Over the years and in an almost obsessive manner Egusquiza produced drawings, prints and paintings of the characters from Parsifal, Wagner’s last opera, which the composer conceived as an allegory of human salvation. Egusquiza’s works were the subject of enormous interest among the small number of Spanish artists and intellectuals associated with the Wagnerian Association in Madrid and constituted his greatest success as an artist.The artificiality of the figures in these works, bathed in the supernatural light that radiates from the redeeming goodness of the Grail, defined the aesthetic of Egusquiza’s Wagnerian works. In order to emphasise their spiritual communion, he focused on the hallucinatory expressions of the figures, which he depicted in a declamatory, theatrical style and with exaggerated gestures that reflect their theatrical nature and which convey the remarkable profundity of the characters’ inner dramas. Alongside these works on Parsifal, the exhibition also includes two portraits of Wagner by Egusquiza, one of them a sculpture, as well as a portrait of Wagner’s patron Ludwig II of Bavaria. The latter belongs to a series of portraits of individuals sympathetic to Wagner’s ideas, which are also in the Prado’s collection. In Egusquiza’s portraits, Wagner is depicted in the almost messianic way typical of the reverence in which he was held by his followers and admirers, explaining the religious tone of the rest of the group. In a way, these paintings, drawings and prints were conceived by Egusquiza as elements of an arcane, initiatory type that lack meaning without a prior and profound knowledge of the opera that inspired them.


Room 60. Villanueva Building



The Holy Grail
Rogelio de Egusquiza
Aquatint and drypoint on Japanese paper
300 x 242 mm
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

Parsifal is inspired by a medieval poem associated with Arthurian literature, which narrates the story of the legendary knight Percival, who is destined to be the guardian of the Holy Grail. With the mission of saving Amfortas, Governor of the Kingdom of the Grail, from a magical wound inflicted by the Lance of Longinus that has made him fall ill, Parsifal (a “chaste innocent, inspired by compassion”), sets out from the castle of Montsalvat. His mission is to recover the Lance, which is in the hands of the wizard Klingsor, who tries to prevent this by enlisting the help of Kundry. Kundry is an evil enchantress who secretly longs to make amends for her wicked deeds which have kept her enslaved for centuries since she laughed at Christ’s suffering on the road to Calvary.

Parsifal’s return to Montsalvat after he succeeds through his knightly skills, his asceticism and the goodness of his deeds, coincides with the death of Titurel, Amfortas’s father and the first guardian of the Grail and the Lance, who dies without knowing the happy outcome of the story. The Lance cures Amfortas’s sufferings and Parsifal, now proclaimed its new guardian, presides over a ceremony with the Grail, after which Kundry is also pardoned and finds eternal rest while a symbolic dove perches first on the Grail and then on Parsifal himself. Evil in all its manifestations vanishes before the presence of Supreme Good.

Although Wagner began working on Parsifal in 1857 it was not performed until 1882. He described it as a “Sacred theatrical festival” and stipulated that it was only to be performed in the Bayreuth theatre, the sole setting that guaranteed a performance of a moral stature and religious intensity on a par with his work.

It was Spain – the county in which the story is set – that saw the first authorised performance outside of Bayreuth, at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona on 31 December 1913, after Wagner’s ban - which had been universally adhered to with the one exception of a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1903 - was lifted. It is not surprising that Spain was the country chosen for this first performance in compliance with the composer’s wishes, given that it was among the places where Wagner had his most fervent and active admirers. Egusquiza is a good example, participating along with other leading figures from the Spanish cultural world in the Wagnerian Association in Madrid. Other similar groups were founded across the country with the aim of promoting knowledge of the composer’s music. Some of them, such as the one in Barcelona, were notable on an international level for their impressive and energetic initiatives.


Rogelio de Egusquiza
Red chalk on paper
440 x 300 mm
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Rogelio Egusquiza (Santander, 1845 - Madrid, 1915) was a Spanish painter, sculptor and printmaker. A pupil of Francisco de Mendoza, in 1860 he moved to Paris and entered the École des Beaux-Arts where he studied with León Bonnat. In 1862 he travelled around England, Belgium, Holland and Germany then in 1869 settled in Paris. He initially focused on history painting, which he soon abandoned for portraits of members of French society while also producing a small number of genre scenes close to Fortuny, whom he knew and admired. The political situation in France led him to move temporarily to Madrid, although he returned to Paris as soon as he was able. From there he went to Rome where, until the spring of 1875, he worked with Raimundo and Ricardo de Madrazo in the studio of the recently deceased Fortuny. At the same time Egusquiza attended the Spanish Academy in Rome. In 1876 his work radically changed direction due to his new interest in Richard Wagner. In 1879 he went to Munich to attend a performance of The Ring of the Nibelung cycle, and was so impressed that he decided to go to Bayreuth to meet Wagner at first hand. On his return to Paris, Egusquiza became one of the group of Symbolist artists inspired by the composer and his universe and embarked on a series of works that reveal a new concept of art as a vehicle for the sacred and mystical. This is the context for his portraits of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and of Ludwig II of Bavaria, and of his participation in the first Salon de la Rose + Croix (1892), in which he again participated in 1893, 1896 and 1897. At the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900 Egusquiza presented his series of five prints on Parsifal, which earned him a silver medal, soon followed by the Legion of Honour. For twenty years the artist’s work focused on Wagnerian themes, from which he only moved away at the end of the century with a new interest in the Spanish Golden Age. Within this new phase he produced a series of portraits of Calderón de la Barca, Goya and Cervantes, creative figures who were currently being rediscovered at this period. Before his death, Egusquiza donated part of his work to the Museo de Reproducciones Artísticas, the Biblioteca Nacional and the Conservatorio Nacional de Música. In 1902 he also donated a series of drawings and prints to the Museo de Arte Moderno, which subsequently passed to the Museo del Prado in 1971. They include four highly detailed studies of heads that are first depiction of the Wagnerian characters Kundry, Titurel, Amfortas and Parsifal. Represented with overhead light and in attitudes that convey self-absorption and spiritual concentration, these figures were repeated in the oil paintings and etchings that are also in the Museum’s collection. The Prado also has a bronze bust of Wagner (1892) by Egusquiza and a series of etched portraits.


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