Venezuela Painting Part I

By | December 16, 2021

At the beginning of the century. 20 ° the attention of the Venezuelan intellectual class focused on the very young Tito (Británico Antonio) Salas (1887-1974), considered the successor of the nineteenth-century history painters, a genre started by J. Lovera (1778-1841) and who had as maximum exponent M. Tovar y Tovar (1827-1902), and the heir of the most significant artists of the end of the century: C. Rojas (1857-1890) and A. Michelena (1863-1898).

Lovera, also author of portraits, with the canvas El 5 de Julio de 1811 (1838) left a very important document for the history of Venezuela, faithful testimony of the appearance of the heroes of Independence (another of his work in the historical genre is El 19 de Abril de 1810, dated 1835). In 1959 in Caracas the Museo de Bellas Artes organized the first exhibition of this artist; and another was organized, for the bicentenary of his birth, by the Galería de Arte Nacional de Venezuela. For Venezuela 2010, please check

Tovar y Tovar studied (from 1850) in the Real Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, then moved to Paris. In 1855, having returned to his homeland, he began an intense activity and returned for several long stays in Europe, especially in Paris. In 1864 he created a photographic studio in Caracas together with JA Salas, father of T. Salas. Realist painter, he eliminated the naivety full of candor that can be seen in Venezuelan art from the colonial era onwards, very evident in the perspective, anatomical, chiaroscuro errors, in the just sketched modeling, in the pathos of the characters, which some artists of the mid-century. 20 ° will exploit being by now an integral part of popular sensibility. (The oldest dated painting, which is known in Venezuela, is a small canvas in the A. Boulton collection of Caracas, La Sagrada Familia from 1719 by FJ de Lerma y Villegas, active between 1719 and 1753, the year of his death).

Author of the portraits of his most distinguished contemporary compatriots, Tovar also painted historical events, in large dimensions. His main works can be found in the Salón Elíptico of the Palacio Federal in Caracas: La Firma del Acta de la Independencia, a theme he faced on several occasions, finished in 1883, was exhibited on the occasion of the centenary of Bolívar’s birth; the battles of Boyacá, of Junín (ruined in 1903 and will be rebuilt in 1904 by A. Herrera Toro, 1857-1914), of Ayacucho (painted on a sketch by Tovar y Tovar, by Herrera Toro himself in 1906), of Carabobo which, completed in 1887, it occupies the central ceiling. In this gigantic work, as well as in the small painting, owned by the Banco di Caracas, Escena Llanera, probably from 1885, and in some portrait background, the Venezuelan landscape emerges from a naturalistic point of view.

In 1883, C. Rojas with the work La muerte de Girardot, now in the Bolivarian Museum of Caracas, drew attention to himself and the state bought the canvas and granted him a scholarship. A pupil of Tovar y Tovar at the Academia de Bellas Artes in Paris, he enrolled at the Julien Academy (then and subsequently the destination of many Latin Americans) and studied with JP Laurens; then he attended the École des Beaux Arts.

A very sensitive man, tormented all his life by economic difficulties, Rojas took the side of the humble, not with intentions of social demands, but with sublimation imbued with profound religiosity (La Miseria, 1886; El Plazo Vencido, 1887). Very permeable to innovations, in some works of his maturity he faced the problem of light with special Latin American lyricism (La Lectora, El Balcón).

His works for the French Salons tend to be bigger and bigger according to the custom of the time: in these works he essentially solves chiaroscuro problems, but his intimism, his true nature, is revealed in the small format, as in the Naturaleza Muerta watercolors with Lámpara and La Bordadora with Lámpara, in the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores of Venezuela. Painted in Paris, presented in the Salon of 1889, property of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, clearly symbolic, Dante y Beatriz is among the important works in the history of American art of the nineteenth century, as it enters into modernism. Other works by this artist are La Taverna, completed in 1887, and La Primera y Ultima Comunión from 1888. The only known religious work of him is El Purgatorio, finished in 1890 for the Pastora church in Caracas, now in the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Michelena went to Paris (1885) on a government scholarship; he studied with J.-P. Laurens in the Julien Academy and obtained in France, like Rojas, acknowledgments in official exhibitions (the first in 1887, for L’Enfant Malade of 1886). Back in Venezuela in 1889, he was welcomed as a triumph; from 1890 to 1893 he was again in Paris. From 1888 are the Retrato Ecuestre del Libertador, in the Consejo of the City of Valencia, and La Caridad, where he reaches the dominion of chiaroscuro and you can glimpse the free, virtuoso brushstroke which, together with the agile drawing and the joyful color, will characterize works such as Carlota Corday Camino al Cadalzo, from 1889 (awarded at the Universal Exhibition in Paris of the same year), and Miranda en la Carraca, from 1896, both in the Galeria de Arte Nacional in Caracas. Penthesilea is one of his best known works (painted in Paris in 1891, and exhibited the same year at the French Salon), where the reference to Rubens is explicit. Michelena was also the author of paintings with a sacred subject, because in Venezuela after independence until the beginning of the twentieth century the main clients were the State and the Church. In 1961 the A. Michelena museum opened in Caracas.

Venezuela Painting