Indepth Arts News: |
"Francisco Oller y Cestero, La Batalla de Trevino to be on Public View for the First Time Ever"
2008-05-24 until 2008-05-29
New York, NY,
USA United States of America
From May 24 through 29, the most important painting to be offered at
auction by Puerto Rico’s preeminent 19th-century painter, Francisco Oller y Cestero (1833-1917), will be on view at Sotheby’s New York, alongside the exhibition for the New York sale of Latin American Art, which will take place on May 29 and 30. This newly discovered work, whose very existence was unknown until recent years, has been in the same private family collection in Spain for over 100 years. This painting has never been exhibited publicly or published and represents a major discovery and contribution to the scholarship on this outstanding artist. La Batalla de Trevino will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s London in The Spanish Sale on November 12, 2008 (est. £340,000 – 380,000*).
The painting depicts the Battle of Treviño in 1875, a truly heroic episode in the context of the
Spain’s Carlist Wars of Succession. Led by the Colonel Juan Contreras y Martínez the battle
unfolded against extremely difficult odds. Contreras’ meager army of 98 men faced an army ten
times the size. Yet despite these circumstances, the Colonel’s troops prevailed against the heavily
armed Carlist troops from Navarra. The significance of this victory did not go unnoticed as it was
due to this victory that Colonel Contreras’s was promoted to General.
Stylistically, the painting embodies Oller’s mature work— the subject and mood of the painting are
clearly inspired by aspects of Spanish Realism; while the loose, rapid brushwork and atmospheric,
temporal qualities of the scene suggest his absorption of the principles of Impressionism, a style
which no doubt suited Oller’s desire to capture on canvas the visual effects of the immediacy of the
moment as it unfolded at chaotic and lightning speed.
This painting was executed during Oller’s final and most extensive European sojourn, during which
time he was appointed as the official painter to the Spanish Court of King Alfonso XII. While his
choice of a militaristic subject matter may have been prompted by this development, it should also
be noted that Oller and Contreras were contemporaries who had met earlier in 1855 when the
Colonel’s father was second in command in Puerto Rico. Indeed, Oller knew and admired
Contreras greatly. He painted a smaller, less expansive version of the Battle in 1877 that is in the
Collection of the Palacio Real in Madrid. A related study, Study for la Carga de Treviño, was sold by
Sotheby’s New York in 2005 for $102,000, which remains the record for the artist at auction.
However, these related works all pale in comparison to this version due to its overall size (37 x 66
7/8 in, 94 x 170 cm) and the depth and quality of Oller’s rendering of this historic event. Oller takes
full advantage of the dramatic potential of the scene, offering the most detailed and panoramic vista that brilliantly contrasts the events unfolding on the ground with the atmospheric conditions of the
sky above. The latter imbues the scene with an ethereal-like quality while solidifying the heroism of
its main protagonist–Colonel Contreras.
Puerto Rico’s most accomplished and beloved 19th-century painter, Francisco Oller is best known
for having fused aspects of European Impressionism and Realism with a profound desire to create a
truly national art rooted in the Island’s particular regional and socio-political circumstances. He is
best known for his still life and landscape paintings. His most famous work, El Velorio (The Wake),
1893, which was shown at the Paris Salon in 1895, is an icon of Puerto Rican art and a symbol of the
Island’s nascent sense of identity at the turn of the last century. This work resides in the collection
of the Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras.
Born in San Juan, Oller studied and worked intermittently in Madrid and Paris from 1851 through
1884 when he finally established himself permanently in Puerto Rico. During his European sojourns
he became a member of the extended mid-nineteenth century Parisian School, counting among his
fellow pupils Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pisarro. He
maintained close friendships with the latter two, while often referring to himself as a disciple of
Édouard Manet and Gustave Courbet, with whom he shared a number of formal and aesthetic
affinities. The most comprehensive retrospective of Oller’s work was organized in 1984 by the
Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico and later traveled to El Museo del Barrio in New York City.
*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium.
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