Art & Architecture,
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ART & ARCHITECTURE - The Art: Brazil and Mexico
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[93] - The art of the Spanish-American countries to the south of us is in general such an unknown quantity that a very brief review of the history of that of our nearest neighbor, Mexico, may not be uninteresting. For these facts we are indebted to the labors of such competent travelers and historians as Messrs. Thos. A. Janvier, W. H. Bishop, and one or two very recent tourists, and, fortunately, some four or five of the painters whom they celebrate as the most worthy masters of the national school are represented in the fine art galleries at Chicago. The very first art school of Mexico, Mr. Janvier tells us, was founded by the eminent Franciscan Fray Pedro de Gante as early as 1529, he having established departments of music and drawing in his new College of San Juan de Letran. Sic years earlier, it is believed, Rodrigo de Cifuentes arrived in New Spain and painted portraits of Cortes. "The real art life of the colony," however, did not begin till near the end of the sixteenth century, with the arrival of three or four distinguished painters from the mother country, Sebastian Arteaga, Alonzo Vasquez, Baltasar Echave and the latter's wife, known as La Sumaya, who, according to the romatic story, was his first [94] instructor in art, while still a young girl. Examples of the work of all these painters may be seen in the Academy collection, in the City of Mexico, and in someof the churches.

The seventeenth century was signalized by the labors and talents of quite a number of artists, who devoted themselves principally to religious art, their patrons being chiefly the convents, but the following century produced no great names, excepting that of Francisco Eduardo, painter, sculptor, and architect who has been styled the Michael Angelo of Mexico. The beginning of the existing school of the fine arts dates back to a royal order of Charles III., March 15, 1778, establishing a school of engraving in the Mint, which was accordingly opened in the following year.

Nevertheless, the unanimous testimony of these travelers is that the early work is very much better than the modern, - so much so that there circulates an irreverant saying to the effect that "the founding of the Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico was the death-blow to Mexican Art." We have all heard somewhat similar statements made in other countries. The best examples of modern work in the Academy collection hang in the fifth gallery of that building, and of the four cited by Mr. Janvier as "pictures which would command attention anywhere" three may be seen in Chicago. These are, the "Job" of Gonzalo Carrasco, the "Margarete" of Felipe Ocadiz, and the "Galileo" of Felix Parra. The technical qualities of these paintings seem to err somewhat in the direction of thinness, and darkness in the shadow; in the "Galileo," which is a large canvas, the old astronomer is demonstrating his theories on a globe, a monk listening. An important painting by the last named artist, a "Las Casas," is cited by all the authorities as one of the greatest works of art produced by this nation, but unfortunately it has not been sent to the Columbian Exposition. The good monk stands in the doorway of an Aztec temple, his arms crossed, holding a crucifix and looking upward in unavailing protest; a nearly naked Indian lies dead at his feet and an Indian woman, kneeling, clasps his knees in mute appeal. The fourth picture of Mr. Janvier's quartet is a "Cardinal Romano," by Louis Monroy, which is also not here, but the same painter's "Roman Daughter" and "Atala," which are, seem to us to verge on the strictly conventional.

[95] - The textual illustration which we give of one of the largest and most interesting of these pictures may be taken as an excellent representative example. As will be seen, there is a sober, somewhat uninspired conception of the subject, an intelligent composition and plenty of careful drawing and modeling, though, in this case, it is somewhat difficult to explain the different level of the heads. The painting is nearly always executed without impasto, smooth, and not always pleasant in color. The artist of this "EPISODE OF THE FOUNDING OF THE CITY OF MEXICO," Jose Jara, of that capital, is also represented by another canvas, a candlelight scene depicting a national funeral custom.

The sculpture exhibit consists of a dozen busts and a bronze group, "A MOCKERY OF CUPID," by Gabriel Guerra. This art, even more than that of painting, suffers from the lack of popular appreciation, there being an almost total absence of enlightened patrons, no government commissions excepting an occasional portrait, and no pictures of importance in the best Mexican houses. Consequently, "many a bright genius is forced to paint his inventions on the walls of pulque shops, and finally to quit the profession for lack of support." The finest piece of sculpture executed by Mexican artists is unanimously declared to be the monument to Benito Juarez, "the second Washington" of his country, old Padre Hidalgo having been the first. This, by the brothers Yslas, is in the Panteon de San Fernando, the effigy of Juarez in marble, very realistically modeled, lies upon a mausoleum, and a fine flying figure of Fame bends over him.

The art of Brazil, like that of Mexico, was originally derived from Spain, and from the point of view of the painter and colorist seems to suffer from the same limitations. With regard to the other pictorial qualities, however, variety and ingenuity of theme, skill in composition and a certain lightness and lack of provincialism in the touch, the best of the Brazilian canvases have an advantage over the Mexican. The Commissioner of Fine Arts to Chicago is Professor Rodolpho Bernardelli, Director of the Fine Arts School at Rio de Janeiro, and he furnishes four of the five works of sculpture exhibited, portraits in marble and bronze and a marble group of Christ and the woman taken in adultry. Among the paintings the number of landscapes is very large. Signor Insley Pacheco, for example, furnishing not less than thirty-three in oil and watercolors in the Brazilian Building, most of them being views of [96] Rio de Janeiro. There are, however, not lacking ingenious and interesting figure pieces, as two or three of the textual illustrations in this chapter show. In the "COUNTRY BALL," of Pedro Weingartner, with the excpetion of the two obviously arranged little girls in the foreground, it would be difficult to give in a more natural, pleasant and plausible manner such a truthful and eminently satisfactory rendering of the scene; in his, "BY OBLIQUE LINES" the same admirable and conscientious presentation of personages and locality is supplemented by a bit of humor. This crafty traveling salesman is evidently paving the way for extensive commercial transactions, - heedless of the disarray of his wares and samples on the floor by the small child inspecting them, he ingratiates himself in the hearts of his customers by holding the skein of the mother and by pleasant discourse with the daughter.

Professor Brocos is one of the most industrious and versatile of these painters, his contributions including portraits, landscapes and figures, though from an inspection of our illustration of his "Manioc" it would be difficult to conceive that the painter of this excellent composition, with its demonstration of artistic judgment and sound academical training ever occupied himself with other methods. These dusky workers, a succession of admirable studies from life, are occupied in scraping the stems of this plant for the purpose of extracting the faecula contained in them, tapioca being one of its products. Another clever, all-round painter, represented by a number of pictures, is Henrique Bernardelli; as an example of his simpler compositions we give his dignified study of a Brazilian mother of the poorer classes, draped like a Madonna and suckling her rather large infant on a bench by the wayside.

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Last Updated: February 16, 1999