Composition (Composición)

  • Artist: Torres García, Joaquín
    (Uruguay,Montevideo,1874 – Uruguay,Montevideo,1949)
  • Date: 1937
  • Acquisition: Torcuato Di Tella (Foundation and Institute), 1971
  • Genre: constructive universalism
  • Support: On cardboard
  • Dimensions: 50 x 40 cm. Frame: 57 x 47 x 3 cm.


Composition (Composición) Enlarge
Reference 7829
Work not on display

Summary Composition (Composición)

Upon his return to Uruguay in April of 1934, Joaquín Torres García made an attempt to establish an art school along the lines of the aesthetic and philosophical tenets that he had managed to consolidate in Paris between 1929 and 1931. His plan for an Escuela del Sur (a term coined in a conference he gave in Montevideo in February, 1935) was first applied at the denominated Asociación de Arte Constructivo (AAC, Constructive Art Association), founded in Montevideo in 1934. During the six years between that date and 1940—covering the aforementioned Association’s active lifespan—he published several books, among which Estructura (Structure, 1935), La tradición del hombre abstracto (The Tradition of Abstract Man, 1938) and Metafísica de la prehistoria indoamericana (Metaphysics of Indo-American Prehistory, 1939) are particularly noteworthy. In addition to being the year that he produced Composición (Composition), 1937 was a key year in a period when the Escuela del Sur’s supposedly deep social and cultural roots were being put to the test. The compartmentalization of the flat plane and the incorporation of figurative-sign elements inside the grid were devices that Torres García had initiated during his stay in Paris in 1930, although he continued working on the process until it definitively matured during the first few years he spent back in Montevideo. In 1930 he wrote: “Dans le Plan Cosmique une forme a une valeur symbolique” (One form’s symbolic value on the basis of a Cosmic Plan) (1). From the following year on, single numbers or letters would appear with increasing frequency in his paintings, especially the letter A and the numbers 1 and 5 (2), as symbolic representations of origin, unity and harmony.This “constructivist system” behaves like a magnet, capturing symbols that originate in other systems: from hieroglyphic language to Mason iconography, by way of religious, cabalistic and zodiac cosmography. 1937 was also the year that Monumento cósmico (Cosmic Monument) was constructed, which registers the majority of the constellation of symbols that he had meticulously inventoried and placed in order on several sheets of text and drawing in Paris in 1930 (3). On these pages he distributed graphic symbols in accordance with three fundamental planes: the intellectual plane (governed by the sign of the triangle), the emotional or magnetic plane (governed by a heart sign) and the physical plane (governed by the sign of a fish), which is in turn divided into the vegetable, animal and mineral planes (4). Each of these strata corresponds to a wide variety of iconic elements that are reiterated in drawings, paintings and lithic sgrafitti in addition to being present in the painting referred to in this catalog entry.This is the case of the half-open hands, the ladder, the bell, the hammer, the Pythagorean star, the sun, the scales, the fish, the heart, the skull, the dove and the equilateral triangle, among many other schematic drawings that intervene in the painting Composición. The hands allude to feelings opposed to moral attitudes that pertain—as the bell, the scales and the heart do—to the magnetic, that is to say, basically emotional cosmological level. On the other hand, the sun, the Pythagorean star and the equilateral triangle are attributes of intellectual cosmology, symbols of the “unity of the spirit”: in neo-Platonic terms, The One.In the paintings from the highpoint of constructivist doctrine—the series to which Composición pertains—Torres García combines his sought-after equilibrium between reason and nature and between life and abstraction, dualities that are not presented as large, schematic divisions but rather as iconographic syncretism and intersections of meaning within the painting’s structural map. The hammer, for example, is understood to be an intermediating instrument between the spiritual and the material, but also as a representation of the idea of law and work (5), where the term “law” is assigned with the meaning of rule, in other words, an adequate instrument for achieving compliance with universal reason, operating beyond all contingent reality.           In one of the “Inventory sheets” (6) the “bell” scheme is accompanied by the word “Call”, while the Pythagorean star is accompanied by a “Guide” label, in such a way that the star, the compass and the Cardinal directions function with similar meanings, extending links between the intellectual strata and the magnetic strata, where the ladder is an element that symbolically realizes meaning’s vertical transit. One of the most singular symbols in Composición is the swastika that appears in the upper right part of the work. This is an element found in archaeological ruins dating back to ancient times, but Torres García assigns it a literal meaning associated with the idea of “action” and “eternal movement” (7). The skull, the temple, the dove and the latin (or Christian) cross comprise the four elements that symbolize the Gospel that Torres García repeats in several of his paintings from this period, granted hierarchy on the cover he made for the book of poems by Esther de Cáceres in 1939 (8).    ​Gabriel Peluffo Linari


1— “En el Plan Cósmico una forma tiene valor simbólico.” Manuscript with drawings, Museo Fundación Torres García, Montevideo.
2— The importance of the number 5 is explained in his hand-written book Père Soleil, dated in Paris, July 29, 1931 (“5 Armonie”, “Septenaire: Règle de l’existence”).
3— There are five manuscripts that Miguel Battegazzore denominates “tablas mnemónicas” (mnemonic tables) or “hojas de inventario” (inventory sheets) in: Miguel Battegazzore, Joaquín Torres García, la trama y los signos. Montevideo, Impresora Gordon, 1999.
4— Battegazzore, op. cit., p. 115-126.
5— Joaquín Torres García, Universalismo constructivo. Madrid, Alianza, 1984, p. 489.
6— Battegazzore, op. cit., p. 125.
7— “Hoja de inventario”, ibid.
8— Esther de Cáceres, Cruz y Éxtasis de la Pasión. Montevideo, 1939.