Commentary on A stop in the countryside (Un alto en el campo)
The newspaper La Tribuna published commentaries most likely by Miguel Cané (Senior) about the painting Un alto en el campo (A Stop in the Countryside) under the accurate title of La paz en el rancho (Peace on the Ranch): “legitimate porteños [inhbitants of the port area of Buenos Aires] born and raised in Lomas de Morón, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, before carriages, buses and steel rails had arrived to empty our suburbs of poetry” (1). Along the same lines he added, “every personage, the children, the elderly, the women, everyone, are marked effortlessly and without monotony by the twofold stamp of family and racial resemblance”. This canvas by Prilidiano Pueyrredón is an emblematic work of Argentinean art from the 19th Century, and was thus pointed to even in its own time as a representation of identity. The adjective ‘legitimate’ simultaneously declares its antonym, even more so when the consequences of progress are mentioned in the same paragraph: immigration, just beginning at that time, altered similarities of family and race. Read in this way, the work falls within the parameters of an issue that was quite present in the artist’s production: social change as a product of immigration (for example in paintings from 1865, El naranjero (The Orange Seller) and Esquina porteña (Buenos Aires Corner), both in private collections).In Un alto en el campo, the horizontal format commonly used in regional painting allowed the artist to add minor anecdotal stories to the two, typical elements that balance the composition, marked by the road’s strong diagonal line: the covered wagon and the ombú tree. From the forties on, Pueyrredón created a compendium of motifs established to represent the rural countryside that were distributed by way of lithographic albums: the wagon trail, the rural family, amorous courtship, gauchos in their Sunday best, settlements with ombú trees, mate being served by a country woman or encounters between country folk on horseback (2). The excessive collection of so many local customs and the register of different costumes on one canvas may have been due to the fact that it was destined to “decorate the drawing room of an affluent English family”, as the aforementioned article in La Tribuna pointed out. Pueyrredón possessed distinctive qualities in his dominion of naturalist painting, solidly rooted in brushstrokes with a scantly loaded brush, conventional use of color and a firm hand for resolving figures in harmoniously inter-related groups. Taken together, El rodeo (The Roundup, inv. 3189, MNBA) and Un alto en el campo comprise a duo that narrates the rural world: work and leisure. The principal group in the first canvas is displaced to the left and includes three figures and their different colored horses: the owner, the foreman and the ranch hand. This represents a rural hierarchy which in the absence of conflicts is what allows for the “peace on the ranch” that appears in the second painting. Both works suggest a recent past; for example, separating cattle was a traditional practice when the advance of the wool revolution had already modified rural production in Buenos Aires; in the same way it was a “poetic” scene of countryside sociability. It is feasible to consider that Pueyrredón represented the end of the federal era’s civil wars—the result of the pax rosista described by Domingo F. Sarmiento. The painting represents a rural world lost in modernization’s forward march, as stated in La Tribuna, “the old ways and customs of our countryside are disappearing from day to day”. This moralizing message was in accordance with the genre of rural customs, even more so when representing their more historical aspects. Pueyrredón was a man of Buenos Aires in ideological terms, politically active during a period of proto-state autonomy just after he had arrived there in 1854. Furthermore, in 1861 he painted a portrait of Bernardino Rivadavia, one of his very few historical portraits, and the following year he made the sketch for his only attempt at history painting: Solemne Juramento de la Bandera Argentina por el ejército del Gral. Belgrano (General Belgrano’s Army Solemly Swears to the Argentinean Flag, currently in the Complejo Museográfico Enrique Udaondo in Luján). Both Rivadavia and Belgrano were heroes in the founding of the state of Buenos Aires’ liberal discourse, and of Bartolomé Mitre’s historiographic work in particular. In other words, there were powerful motivations underlying representations of the past during the early 1860s that cut across different pictorial genres: costumbrism, portraits and history painting. Accordingly, Un alto en el campo heads up a long series of paintings involving rural customs in Argentinean art that delve into the past century with the aim of demonstrating that for the modern nation, there is a reservoir of imagined Argentinean identity to be found in the rural world.
by Roberto Amigo
1— La Tribuna, Buenos Aires, August 7, 1861.
2— The watercolor Un domingo en los alrededores de San Isidro (Sunday on the Outskirts of San Isidro, inv. 3165, MNBA) is a variation of Un alto en el campo (A Stop in the Countryside) containing fewer elements, which grants increased presence to the landscape, bringing it closer in line with landscape paintings of the pampa and Buenos Aires’ riverside area.
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