The Lady in Red
All Things Biltmore • 01/13/15
Written By Joanne O'Sullivan
Rosita, by Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga (1870–1945), is one of the most eye-catching works in George Vanderbilt’s collection and represents his interest in Spanish art, which gained popularity in the last years of the 19th century.
Lounging on a divan draped with a mantón de manila (a flamenco dancer’s accessory), Rosita is wrapped in a white fringed shawl with a red floral flamenco skirt billowing out. She leans on her elbow and smiles, a huge red flower in her dark hair. Rosita is confident: a model at ease with being an object of beauty. So, how did this captivating woman come to stay permanently at Biltmore?
A celebrated artist
In 1913, Zuloaga, known as “The Great Basque,” was living in Paris where his reputation had grown since his first exhibition in 1890. He came from a family of artists and his great-grandfather was a contemporary of Goya, who Zuloaga cited as one of his major influences.
A rising star in the art world by the turn of the century, Zuloaga was known for his portraits, especially those of women with a great deal of personality. He also had a reputation for hosting memorable Parisian parties attended by artistic luminaries of the day, such as famed conductor and cellist Pablo Casals.
Modern art, circa 1914
In January 1914, an American exhibition of Zuloaga’s paintings was held at the prestigious Kraushaar Galleries at 260 Fifth Avenue in New York. The show was reviewed in the February issue of Art and Decoration, a leading art journal of the time:
“Mr C W Kraushaar, following up on his success of last season, showed for two weeks eight pictures by Ignacio Zuloaga, the greatest realist of the very realistic Spanish school.”
The article goes on to say that “his Rosita, in the pattern of her shawl and of the couch on which she reclines, is masterly in painting.”
While it’s not clear whether or not Vanderbilt actually attended the exhibition, he wrote to Kraushaar in January1914 offering to purchase the painting. He asked that the gallery owner keep the purchase confidential and deliver Rosita to Biltmore in April 1914. Unfortunately, George Vanderbilt passed away in March before the painting was delivered.
Rosita finds a home at Biltmore
After George Vanderbilt’s death, Edith Vanderbilt paid for the painting and requested that it be sent to a museum rather than to Biltmore. In 1915, Rosita entered the collection of National Museum (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) on loan. There she stayed until 1924, when Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her husband, the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil, visited to view the painting and requested its return to Biltmore. The painting arrived in December 1924, with Rosita taking her place as one of Biltmore’s most intriguing permanent residents.
First positioned in the Second Floor Living Hall, Rosita was moved to the Billiard Room in 1976, then recently took up residence in the hallway outside the Louis XV Suite. Be sure to spend a few moments viewing her during your next visit.
Left: Spanish artist Ignacio Zuloaga
Bottom: Charles and John Kraushaar in their New York gallery. Photo courtesy of Kruashaar Galleries.