Spanish intellectual’s letters illustrate life during war and in exile

Spanish intellectual’s letters illustrate life during war and in exile

Letters by Pilar De Zubiaurre (left), an intellectual and socialite in pre-civil war Spain, were collected into a new book by UNL's Iker González-Allende. The book is shedding light on life in exile for Spanish defectors, art history and cultural life in Spain before the Spanish Civil War.
Courtesy photo
Letters by Pilar De Zubiaurre (left), an intellectual and socialite in pre-civil war Spain, were collected into a new book by UNL's Iker González-Allende. The book is shedding light on life in exile for Spanish defectors, art history and cultural life in Spain before the Spanish Civil War.

Thanks to the efforts of a UNL professor, a new collection of letters kept by a Spanish female intellectual is shedding light on life in exile for Spanish defectors, art history and cultural life in Spain before the Spanish Civil War.

“Epistolario de Pilar de Zubiaurre (1906-1970)” was published by Tamesis Books in October and was compiled and edited by Iker González-Allende, associate professor of Hispanic studies and women’s and gender studies.

González-Allende spent about five years photographing, transcribing and researching the letters of Pilar De Zubiaurre. Zubiarre was an intellectual and socialite in pre-civil war Spain. As a manager for her brothers, who were famous painters, de Zubiaurre maintained correspondence with many art galleries and museums throughout the world. She also hosted many cultural gatherings in her brother’s Madrid studio, which were attended by many of the brightest and most well-known intellectuals in Spain. She was also a founder of the first female cultural association in Spain, Lyceum Club Femenino.

When war ended in 1939, Zubiaurre and many supporters of the Spanish Second Republic were exiled by the Francisco Franco regime. Zubiaurre ended up in Mexico with her husband, art critic Juan de la Encina, and son. She maintained her ties to Spain through epistolary correspondence and occasional trips, but died in Mexico in 1970.

The letters cover a wide range of topics, from the mundane tasks of daily life, news about books and cultural gatherings and conversations about Franco’s Spain and its government, to correspondence with some of the top art museums in the United States. The book, published in Spanish, is broken into three sections: The first is concentrated on Spanish cultural life from the 1910s to the 1930s, followed by sections on the civil war and life in exile.

“She was an interesting woman, and she contacts everywhere, with many important people, including painters, philosophers and writers such as Juan Negrin, prime minister of Spain, and Gabriela Mistral, Nobel Laureate in Literature,” González-Allende said. “There is correspondence with people from all over the world.”

To bring her words to the masses, González-Allende first had to track down the letters in the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao. He photographed and transcribed each letter. He also had to find the heirs to the writers of the letters in Europe, the United States and Latin America to gain their permission to print the letters. It was a three-month investigative process, but González-Allende said it allowed him to find new letters written by Zubiaurre.

“Some of them were very surprised to hear from me about these letters,” he said. “They were surprised that I was doing this project and didn’t know about the existence of these letters.”

González-Allende said the book should be of interest to a wide audience.

“It covers several different historical periods,” he said. “There are letters about Spanish culture, the styles of paintings that were on trend at the time and we get some information about the sufferings during the war, such as hunger, separation of families, and the lack of support of France and Great Britain for the Spanish Republican government. The letters also show the important role that women played in exile to keep alive the Republican liberal project and share information about news and people across countries.”