Art Gallery of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru

(Informative Panels)

Beginnings of the Republic

At the time of the declaration of independence in 1821, the last generation of colonial artists was still active, and would remain at work over the following decades. During this period they were compelled to adapt their work to the changing social and political realities. Although they had been educated  under colonial artistic traditions, the first Republican painters played a crucial role in the “symbolic war” launched by Independence leaders to substitute the new Republican symbols for the visual representations of the Old Regime.

Since then, portraiture would gain great importance as an artistic genre at the service of the State and the new Creole élite. José Gil de Castro (1785-1837), who returned from Chile with the Liberator Army, became a calligrapher and “chamber painter to the Government of Peru”. Among the artists of the time, it was he who best represented the heroic character of patriot leaders. He also depicted numerous magistrates, public officials, and notable citizens. The simple, almost naïf style, the hieratic poses, and the plain, austere backgrounds in these portraits reflect the ethical values of the nascent nation.

Artists also contributed frequently to the creation of national symbols, many of which are still in use. Francisco Javier Cortés designed Peru’s first National Seal and flag. Gil de Castro himself was commissioned by the government to create military uniforms and patriotic emblems. In 1837 José Leandro Cortez, a relatively unknown professional artist, created the National Seal here exhibited for the National Mint.

“Costumbrismo”

“Costumbrismo” (the pictorial representation of local characters and customs) became a predominant genre during the first decades of the  Republic. “Costumbrismo” imagery became a powerful element in the formation of the Nation’s collective identity. In the 1830s, Francisco “Pancho” Fierro (1807-1879), an apparently self-taught watercolor artist of African descent like Gil de Castro, emerged as an iconic figure of “costumbrismo”. His representations of friars, soldiers, vendors, veiled ladies (“tapadas”), and a plethora of street types became widely known thanks to their low cost and massive supply. Lima bookstores used to sell them by the hundreds to travelers and collectors. Fierro’s watercolor  paintings have ever since served to evoke Lima’s colonial past and traditional culture.

The Academic School (First Generation)

In the mid-19th Century, a time of modernization and economic expansion, Peruvian “cultivated” artists began to distance themselves from colonial traditions. As painting ceased to be regarded as a workshop craft and turned into an academic profession, it became increasingly attractive to the children of prominent families. Foremost among them was Ignacio Merino  (1817-1876), who is considered to be Peru’s first academic artist.

A spell in Europe’s art schools and private ateliers was considered essential to absorb the latest artistic trends of the time. With financial aid from their families or supported by government scholarships, these new cosmopolitans began a tradition of Peruvian artists in exile. They customarily exhibited their work in European galleries, and many of them would never return to Peru’s infant artistic milieu. Such was the case of Merino, a painter of friars and episodes of European history, who in 1850 left for France, where he would remain until his death twenty-six years later.

Merino’s Europeanized character was in stark contrast with Francisco Laso’s personality. Laso (1823-1869), a politician and writer deeply identified with Peruvian public life, combined these activities with the creation of portraits and allegorical compositions. His numerous trips to the Andean South inspired him to introduce Peruvian themes into academic art. Works like Indian Potter and the Pascanas series, in which Andean people are presented as a symbolic embodiment of the Nation, already announces the emergence of the “Indigenismo” art movement one century later.

The Academic School (Second Generation)

Encouraged by the example of Ignacio Merino, since the 1870s a new generation of Peruvian artists migrated to Europe, where they would meet an evolved academic environment. During the last quarter of the 19th Century, the influence of impressionism on academic art was evidenced by a taste for plein air landscape painting and by a greater interest in the study of both natural and modern electric light. These painters combined the creation of such academic work for major official galleries with the production of society portraits and genre works for private clients.

Some of them, like Carlos Baca-Flor (1857-1941) and Alberto Lynch (1855-1931), never returned to Peru. Francisco Canaval (1877-1911) and Enrique Domingo Barreda (1879-1944) became amateurs, socialites who dedicated part of their time to the practice of art. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the return of Teófilo Castillo (1857-1922) and Daniel  Hernández (1856-1932) to Lima was a turning point in the development of the local artistic milieu.

As an artist and a critic, Castillo advocated the adoption of “national” themes in local art and the abandonment of obsolete academic practices. His work shows an adherence to plein air landscape painting and to Spanish “Luminismo”, represented by Mariano Fortuny. Hernández became the first Director of the National School of Fine Arts. Upon returning to Peru, his work experienced a dramatic departure from official portraiture and historical evocation. His later style made a deep impression on his students, many of whom would go on to found the “Indigenista” movement years later.

“Indigenismo”

The emergence of “Indigenismo” in the 1930s marked a definitive modernizing shift in Peruvian art. “Indigenismo” sought to vindicate and honor Peru’s native heritage through pictorial representation. It became an influential movement in all Latin American countries with a considerable indigenous population.

The foundation of the National School of Fine Arts (1919) and the return of José Sabogal (1888-1956) from Argentina were key events in the inception of “Indigenismo”. Strongly influenced by Spanish and Latin American “Regionalism”, Sabogal’s indigenous subjects caused great commotion among Peruvian artists. His appointment as teacher at the National School of Fine Arts established him as a leading figure in the local art community. As an artist and an ideologue, he advocated a departure from academic traditions in favor of a freer style. This is manifest in Sabogal’s distinctive use of bold brush strokes and in his interest in local colors.

A tightly knit group of followers —mostly graduates from the National School of Fine Arts— gathered around the Master. Foremost among them were Julia Codesido (1883-1979), Camilo Blas (1903-1985), Enrique Camino Brent (1909-1960), and Teresa Carvallo (1909-1988). Late followers like Aquiles Ralli (b. 1920) remained faithful to the principles of “Indigenismo” until  recently. Independent artists like Alejandro González Trujillo, Apurímak (1900-1985) and Jorge Vinatea Reinoso (1900-1931) also based their work on native themes. Outside Lima, the self-taught Cajamarca artist Mario  Urteaga (1875-1957) and others created a direct pictorial testimony of rural Peru.

The “Independents”

Since the 1930s, a new generation of artists, most of them fleeing the imminent war in Europe, opposed the preponderance of “Indigenismo”. Although they did not share a common style, they all challenged Sabogal’s leadership and orthodoxy, and promoted a fast updating with world art trends. These “Independent” artists were so called for their critical stance against the establishment, but more specifically for their participation in the 1937 “Independent Artists’ Exhibition”, a landmark in the development of modern art in Peru.

Ricardo Grau (1909-1970), who returned from Paris in the same year, became the most vocal member of the group. His influence increased  considerably after his appointment as Director of the National School of Fine Arts in 1946. Towering figures like Macedonio de la Torre  (1893-1956), Sérvulo Gutiérrez (1914-1961), Carlos Quízpez Asín  (1900-1983), Juan Manuel Ugarte Eléspuru (1911-2002), and Reynaldo Luza (1893-1978) further strengthened the innovative role of the “Independents”.

The “Independent” group admitted diverse tendencies, from Francisco González Gamarra’s (1890-1972) late academic style to Manuel Domingo Pantigoso’s (1901-1991) “advanced” treatment of indigenous themes. However, their common feature was a preference for artistic values over literary or ideological content. Their return to traditional genres was a mere strategy for de-emphasizing the subject and underscoring pure artistic speculation. Notwithstanding their figurative stance, the “Independents” paved the way for the non-figurative avant-garde of the 1950s.

From Abstraction to Current Trends

The foundation of the “Espacio” group in 1949 was a crucial event in the development of avant-garde art in Peru. Although “Espacio” was mostly made up of architects committed to fierce modernization in their field, it included young artists like Fernando de Szyszlo (b. 1925), who presented his first individual exhibit in the same year. In 1951 Szyszlo promoted one of the first abstract exhibitions ever to take place in Peru. During the rest of the decade, the local art scene would revolve around the ensuing debate on nonfigurative art.

The inauguration of the 1st Abstract Art Exhibition in 1958 established non-figurative art as the predominant trend. “Expressionist” and “lyrical” abstraction —with “Informalism” and “action painting” as their most radical expressions— would dominate the first half of the 1960s. At the same time, an important group of artists sought to bring together “cosmopolitan” and “local” elements in their abstract work.

In the 1960s, the optimism created by economic modernization and growth pushed forward the progress of avant-garde painting. Itinerant exhibitions and young local artists brought to Lima the latest world trends (op art, pop art, minimalism, happenings). This momentum came to a sudden halt in the 1970s, with the cultural policies dictated by the military junta led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado. While the government promoted an official brand of “Indigenismo”, the significant development of local art galleries favored a return to figurative surrealism and hyper-realism. In the 1980s, mounting political violence created a sense of expressionist tension and introspection. Peruvian art now faces the challenge of conciliating the proliferation of iconographic symbols and the emergence of a global culture with the constantly changing realities of contemporary Peru.

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