Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952. The show consists of forty paintings including portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and genre scenes by Jose' Campeche, Francisco Oller and Miguel Pou, exploring how they perceived and rendered their surroundings.
Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952
The first major exhibition in the continental United States devoted to Puerto Rico’s three greatest masters, Jose' Campeche, Francisco Oller, and Miguel Pou, opens at The Newark Museum on February 16, 2007. Organized by the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952 showcases select masterpieces from their permanent collection and rarely seen paintings from private collections in Puerto Rico. Celebrating the art and artists of this Caribbean island, Mi Puerto Rico provides an extraordinary glimpse into the rich artistic heritage of this United States Commonwealth. The Newark Museum is the exhibition’s final venue in the continental United States; it closes on April 15.
Mi Puerto Rico consists of forty paintings including portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and genre scenes by Jose' Campeche (1751-1809), Francisco Oller (1833-1917), and Miguel Pou (1880-1968). The exhibition explores how these three principal painters from different generations perceived and rendered their surroundings, especially the island’s people and iconic landscapes, over the course of nearly two centuries. Providing a broader context for the paintings of Oller and Pou, there are five additional works by several artists who were their peers: Ramon Atiles, Manuel E. Jordan, Jose Cuchi, Felix Medina and Ramon Frade.
Josè Campeche was the official portrait painter of 18th-century Puerto Rico. His elegant, delicate, and refined renderings offer detailed testimony about the life of the ruling classes. Bishops, governors, mayors, and other high-ranking officials commissioned him to paint their likenesses. Campeche was the son of a slave who had bought his freedom. Yet, from these inauspicious roots, Campeche became the best portrait painter in the Spanish America of his era, achieving an honored position within San Juan’s ruling elite. Campeche did not limit his artistic talents to painting; he was also well known as an urban planner, architectural draftsman, musician, musical instrument craftsman as well as a fireworks maker. Because of his impressively broad range of talents, his mastery allowed him access to the pillars of Puerto Rican society: the Catholic Church, government, and the military. A retrospective of Campeche’s work was held in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1988.
The legacy of artistic excellence established by Campeche continued with Francisco Oller, whose paintings epitomized a new role for the artist, that of critic as well as chronicler of society. Oller’s formal education began with trips to Spain and France, where he resided for a number of years. The influence of the Spanish master painters is evident in his still lifes. In Paris, he joined the vanguard of Courbet and Manet, becoming close friends with Pissarro and Cezanne. He embraced Realism and Impressionism, artistic movements that were changing the face of painting in the West. In the landscapes he painted after returning to Puerto Rico, he sought to capture the Caribbean’s atmosphere through its tropical light and intense, variable skies. In 1983, a major exhibition of Oller’s work traveled to El Museo del Barrio in New York, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de America Latina in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Miguel Pou liked to portray what the artist called “regional types.” Pou studied in the United States at the Art Students League in New York and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts during the earlier part of the 20th-century. In terms of subject matter, he wished to “reflect the soul of my people” and a way of life he feared was being “blown by the wind” of modernity. His best work was local, embracing the land, its people, and their customs. Like Campeche and Oller before him, Pou helped to define the national character of Puerto Rico during his lifetime, and he added to the island’s artistic tradition in equally important ways. The additional works in Mi Puerto Rico are by contemporaries of Oller and Pou. These artists were also inspired by the island’s majestic landscape, and they portrayed its inhabitants and especially the abundance of the natural world as symbols of pride and authenticity.
Opening: february 16, 2007
The Newark Museum
49 Washington Street - Newark