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Eulalia de Abaitua




Eulalia de Abaitua is a legendary figure in Spain's Basque Country. The first female Basque photographer, she took thousands of photographs recording daily life, especially of women and children, in the rural villages and hamlets of the Basque Country. In the last decade, many aspects of Abaitua's life and career have been recovered by scholars, journalists, museums and galleries in the Basque Country, and several books of her photographs have been published.

Abaitua was born in Bilbao in 1853 as Maria Elvira Juliana Abaitua Allende-Salazar. Her mother died soon after she was born, and Abaitua was renamed Eulalia in her memory. Eulalia's father Luis, a merchant, brought up Eulalia, her brother and sister with the help of female relatives. According to Maite Jiménez Ochoa de Alda, Eulalia studied at the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús school in Sarriá (Barcelona), but unfortunately the school's archive was lost during the Spanish Civil War, and so no record remains of Eulalia's schooldays. On the outbreak of the Carlist Wars in the late 1860s, the extended Abaitua family moved from their native Bilbao to Liverpool, where they took a residence in the then well-to-do area of Everton, located on a hill overlooking the city. Their home at 69 Shaw Street survives today (left and below left). They may have chosen Liverpool because Luis's first cousin once removed, shipbuilder Juan Bautista Abaitua Malluquiza, had settled in the city, marrying there in 1868. Other relatives in the city included the Olano-Loyzaga family, who had been in Liverpool for around fifteen years and lived a few doors away at no. 79 Shaw Street.

On the 1871 census, we find Luis, aged 51, at the head of a household of 11 people: his son Felipe (26) and daughter Eulalia (18), his niece and nephew Rosario (14) and Ignacio (15) de Abaitua (children of his brother Serafin, who had died in 1868), another nephew, Juan de Olano (20), Luis's cousin Manuela de Adaro (51) and her daughter Maria (15) and three servants, all Basque: Zoila Mazzoni (55), Mariano Olea (33), and Maria Aramburu (33). Neither Luis nor Felipe gave a profession, but Eulalia, Rosario and Maria were all described as scholars, while the boys were training for the professions, Ignacio in architecture and Juan in engineering. Just six weeks after the census was taken, on May 16th 1871, Eulalia married her cousin Juan Narciso de Olano 'Cum dispens. In 3 & 4 gradu consang.' at the church of St Francis Xavier, just across the road from the family's Liverpool home. It was a double wedding - on the same day, her brother, Felipe de Abaitua, married Juan’s sister Ana de Olano. The witnesses to both marriages were Eulalia and Felipe's father Luis and his cousin, Manuela Adaro. Within a couple of years the families had moved to Greenwich in London, where Felipe and Ana's son Castor Maria de Abaitua was born in 1874 and Eulalia and Juan's son Luis Maria de Olano was born in 1876. In around 1878 they returned to Bilbao, where Eulalia would live for the rest of her long life.

During her time in Liverpool, Eulalia took up photography as a hobby, taking lessons and acquiring photographic equipment. On the family’s return to Bilbao, she set up a studio in the basement of the family house, which was built to resemble the red-brick Victorian merchant houses the family had seen in Liverpool. Abaitua is remembered especially for her thousands of photographs of Basque traditional and family life, but she also photographed her travels around Europe, Morocco and the Holy Land, her native city of Bilbao, and her own family. More than 2500 of her photographs are stored in Bilbao's Museo Vasco. Abaitua is commemorated in two Spanish streets: the calle Eulalia Abaitua in Guadalajara, and the Glorieta Eulalia Abaitua in Valdemoro, Madrid.

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