Without Bread and Without Work (Sin pan y sin trabajo)

  • Artist: Cárcova, Ernesto de la
    Nationality Argentina
    (Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1866 – Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1927)
  • Date: 1894
  • Acquisition: De la Cárcova, Ernesto
  • Genre: social, lounge
  • Support: On canvas
  • Dimensions: 125,5 x 216 cm.
  • Location: Room 24 - Arte argentino del Siglo XIX


Without Bread and Without Work (Sin pan y sin trabajo) Enlarge
Reference 1777

Summary Without Bread and Without Work (Sin pan y sin trabajo)

Sin pan y sin trabajo (Without Bread and Without Work) is the first painting on a workers’ theme intended as a social critique in Argentinean art. From the moment it was first exhibited it has constituted an emblematic piece of national art: it has been commented on, reproduced, quoted and re-appropriated by successive generations of artists, historians and critics and these repercussions continue even today. It was painted by Ernesto de la Cárcova upon his return from a trip to undertake studies in Turin and Rome and executed in Buenos Aires; the artist had already begun to work on it before departing. He left at least one sketch as a gift to Pío Collivadino, the Argentinean artist who came to occupy the studio that de la Cárcova vacated when leaving for Argentina, located on via del Corso 12. He began his European artistic formation at the Accademia Albertina delle Belle Arti (Albertina Academy of Fine Arts) in Turin, where he was admitted with a work (Crisantemos / Chrysanthemums) at their 1890 exhibition. He later went to Rome, where he continued his studies at the studios of Antonio Mancini and Giacomo Grosso. He received a silver medal prize for a work titled Cabeza de viejo (Head of an Old Man), which was acquired in 1892 by the Galleria Reale in Turin; he also received a gold medal in Milan in 1893 (1). Due to these achievements, when he returned to Argentina at 28 years of age he was named as a member of the Ateneo jury, and as such, his work Sin pan y sin trabajo was celebrated as the salon’s most outstanding artistic accomplishment, but it did not participate in the competition. The painting is done in a naturalist style and the theme is one that had a significant presence in European salons during the final years of the 19th Century: large paintings carried out in somber tones depicting dramatic scenes of misery and contemporary urban social conflicts. The critical spirit that undoubtedly motivated these end-of-the-century naturalist compositions was diluted in paintings destined for salons due to an interest in appearing in important competitions and thus respecting the more conservative academic art. Nevertheless, Sin pan y sin trabajo was not painted to compete in a European salon: it was the work that de la Cárcova would present at the second Salón del Ateneo in Buenos Aires upon his return, after having joined the recently created Centro Obrero Socialista (an immediate predecessor to the Partido Socialista (Socialist Party), founded two years later) (2). In Buenos Aires there was no academic tradition; the group of artists associated with the Ateneo managed to take the first steps in that direction. On the other hand, from the crisis of 1890 onward, the immense affluence of immigrants arriving from Europe looking for work in Buenos Aires began to be perceived in a conflictive manner. There are several elements in the composition and the manner in which the theme is handled that differentiate Sin pan y sin trabajo from more typically naturalist schemes, favoring a more critical form of expression, transforming it into a painting of ideas: the elongation and unstable position of the worker’s back, the inclination of the table (which does not respond to rigorous parameters of perspective) and the chair he leans forward on all generate tension leading to the gesture of the hand that pulls the curtain aside to focus attention on the scene that unfolds in the veduta in the background. There, a conflict between workers and guards on horseback in front of a closed and inactive factory can be seen. The inclined plane of the fully illuminated and empty table is another focal point, on which tools, now useless, stand out. The figure of the woman holding an infant to the right of the composition, with a lap that is extraordinarily ample and an empty expression on her face, functions as a counterpoint to the dramatic tension of the worker. Buenos Aires’ newspapers made special mention of de la Cárcova’s painting, calling it the great revelation of the 1894 salon. The long, intentional article in La Nación by Roberto J. Payró (who had also joined the Centro Obrero Socialista that year) is particularly notable, in which the painting was reproduced by Martín Malharro. Payró made a dramatic commentary of the work for his readers: “I don’t want you to, don’t want you to take the bread away from my wife, away from my child! You have no right, assassins, to cause the death of this innocent creature, to make this innocent woman suffer! […] But he doesn’t know yet. He is infuriated by the effect and doesn’t realize what the cause is. Tomorrow, when he does know, he will become an anarchist, and wreak vengeance for the unjust rage brought against his companions in suffering, with other, deadly rage, that will lead him to who knows what atrocious extremes”.  Sin pan y sin trabajo formed part of the envoy that Eduardo Schiaffino organized for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, where it also received extensive coverage in the press, was reproduced in several publications and obtained the Grand Prize (the maximum distinction available) in that competition. De la Cárcova did not continue to work along the lines of this painting (although he did make some sketches of a port scene toward the end of his life), but quickly changed direction: he lightened his palette and made several symbolist nudes, portraits and a number of noteworthy still lives. He also had an important production of medals to his credit, but above all he concentrated his efforts on teaching and public administration in diverse areas (he was councilman, a member of the Academy and of the Comisión Nacional de Bellas Artes, Patrono de Becarios en Europa, etc.) In 1923 he founded the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes, an institute that would bear his name following his death.     ​Laura Malosetti Costa


1— This information comes from the report elaborated by the artist’s widow for his file at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes (Expedient letter D nº 37, year 1939), though attempts to locate the work at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Turin have not been successful.
2— Jacinto Oddone, Historia del socialismo argentino. Buenos Aires, Talleres Gráficos La Vanguardia, 1934, vol. 1, p. 199-201.


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1901. El Sol, Buenos Aires, a. 4, nº 106, 8 de enero, reprod. tapa.
1904. The Saint Louis Republic, 16 de agosto. — Official Illustrations of selected Works in the various national sections of the Department of Art with complete list of awards by the international jury, Universal Exposition, Saint Louis. Grupo IX (pintura), nº 7, reprod. p. 301. — GORSE, Samuel, “The ‘labour problem’ picture at the World’s fair-Carcova’s remarkable painting, ‘Without bread and without work’ fascinates the public with its grim significance-It says, ‘I am the strike’- One of the great works in the Argentine section”, St. Louis Post Dispatch, 6 de noviembre, p. 2. — STEVENS, Walter, The Forest City. The Official photographic views of the Universal Exposition. Saint Louis, H. D. Thompson Publishing Company, reprod.
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