Cathedral Basilica of Santiago, Bilbao

Bilbao’s Gothic Cathedral, dedicated to Saint James, was originally built as the city’s parish church during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was only concecrated as a cathedral in 1950 after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bilbao had been officially created. 

It has a Latin cross plan with three naves, separated by cylindrical pillars, which lead to the main chapel, the Presbytery. This was remodelled in 2000 and has a simple layout, containing the bishop’s seat and the altar, which is presided over by a late Gothic figure of Christ dating from around 1515. The Presbytery is surrounded by an ambulatory which gives access to fifteen chapels, all originally financed by wealthy parishioners, many containing ornate baroque altarpieces. The Chapel of San Antón contains a magnificent polychrome carving of the saint from the fifteenth century, as well as the tomb of the Arbieto family of merchants from Bilbao.

Presbytery, Bilbao Cathedral

Chapel of San Antón

The cathedral also contains an impressive cloister, again in the Gothic style. It has a central garden surrounded by four vaulted bays, around which there are several tombstones from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Cloister, Bilbao Cathedral

Museum of Fine Arts, Bilbao

Bilbao’s Museum of Fine Arts, now housed in an impressive Neo-Classical building, was formed in 1945 by combining the original Fine Arts museum with the Modern Art Museum, hence the comprehensive range of paintings from the twelfth century to the present day in its permanent collection.

Jan Gossaert ‘La Sagrada Familia’ (1525 – 30)

Lucas Cranach the Elder ‘Lucretia’ (1534)

El Greco ‘The Annunciation’ (c.1596 – 1600)

Francisco de Goya ‘Portrait of Martin Zapater’ (1797)

Paul Gauguin ‘Washerwomen in Arles’ (1888)

Mary Cassatt ‘Seated Woman with a Child in her Arms’ (c.1890)

Francis Bacon ‘Lying Figure in Mirror’ (1971)

‘Oskar Kokoschka – a Rebel from Vienna’

‘Oskar Kokoschka – a Rebel from Vienna’ is a major retrospective of the Austrian modernist artist’s work. Kokoschka was associated with both Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele in Vienna and achieved international renown with his revolutionary style of figurative art.

Kokoschka, who was born in 1886 in Pochlarn, Austria, was trained at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. His early works were expressive experiments in depicting the human form that shocked the Viennese public but influenced other artists. His aim was to reveal the inner self of the subject rather than to produce a conventional portrait..

Oskar Kokoschka ‘Herwarth Walden’ (1910)

From 1912 to 1914, Kokoschka’s muse was Alma Mahler, with whom he became obsessed, to the extent that when their relationship came to  an end he famously had a life-size doll made of her.

Oskar Kokoschka ‘Alma Mahler’ (1913)

Oscar Kokoschka ‘Tre Croci, Dolomite Landscape’ (1913)

Kokoschka joined the army at the outbreak of the First World War but was seriously wounded twice. Whilst receiving care for depression in a convalescent home in Dresden he became a professor in the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. The paintings he produced there were brightly coloured and extremely expressive.

Oskar Kokoschka ‘Self-Portrait’ (1917)

Oskar Kokoschka ‘The Power of Music’ (1918)

Oskar Kokoschka ‘The Painter II (Painter and Model II)’ (1923)

He then travelled extensively throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but after the death of his sponsor, Paul Cassirer, he had financial problems and returned to Vienna. Two years later, he moved to Prague where he met and married Olda Palkovska. However, from Czechoslovakia he saw the rise of the Nazi party, which classified his art as ‘degenerate’, and he fled to England in 1938. After the end of the war he obtained British citizenship and this enabled him to continue his career in Europe.

Oskar Kokoschka ‘Self-Portrait of a Degenerate Artist’ (1937)

He eventually settled in Switzerland from where he confirmed his position as a leading international painter, becoming extremely influential for the next generation of artists, especially after his founding of the ‘School of Vision’ in Salzburg in 1953. It was not a school in the conventional sense but rather Kokoschka’s attempt to revive humanist ideals after the horrors of the war. He explained that the school, which was open to all, did not “strive towards technical skill, nor towards photographic imitations of nature, and not at all towards abstract art … I want to teach my students the art of vision”.

Kokoschka died in Montreux, Switzerland in February 1980.

‘Joan Miró. Absolute Reality. Paris, 1920–1945’, Guggenheim, Bilbao

The Guggenheim’s exhibition explores one of the most important periods of Miró’s career, from 1920, when he first went to Paris, to 1945.

Joan Miró ‘Self-Portrait’ (1919)

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona in 1893 and studied at the city’s Higher School of Industrial and Fine Arts. His early paintings, which were influenced by both the Fauves and Cubists as well as Catalan art, had bold outlines and bright colours, much in the Fauve style. In 1920 he made his first trip to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso.

Joan Miró ‘Interior’ (The Farmer’s Wife) (1922 – 23)

In Paris he also came into contact with André Breton, André Masson, the poet, Max Jacob and other members of the surrealist circle, Miro joined the Surrealist group and was included in its first exhibition, ‘La Peinture Surrealiste’, at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. His style changed from realism to experimental fantasy, combining a mixture of signs and vivid colours.

Joan Miró ‘Painting’ (1925)

Joan Miró ‘Landscape (The Hare)’ (1927)

He painted a series of gouaches called ‘Constellations’ and these works were probably the high point of his creativity. Stars, moons, birds, animals and human figures can all be seen in such works as ‘Woman and Birds’ from 1940.

Joan Miró ‘A Star Caresses the Breast of a Negress’ (1938)

Joan Miró ‘Birds and Insects’ (1938)

Joan Miró ‘Woman and Birds’ (1940)

Postcards from Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

In the Basque city of Bilbao, Spain, for two exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum: ‘Oskar Kokoschka. A Rebel from Vienna’ and ‘Joan Miró. Absolute Reality. Paris, 1920–1945’. Also an opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and the city’s impressive Gothic Cathedral.

43 decorated columns hold up the buildings of the Azkuna Zentroa arts centre