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In this text, Austrian historian and critic Walter Engel, who lived in Colombia starting in 1938, discusses the suspension of the Salón Anual de Artistas Colombianos from 1947 to 1949. He observes that during that period “historic” events took place that helped to advance a group of progressive artists. Indeed, some artists—among them Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, Luis Alberto Acuña, Alipio Jaramillo, Édgar Negret, Enrique Grau Araujo, Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, and Julio Abril—gained international recognition during this period. According to Engel, “new Colombian painting” is forged by artists who formulate “a personal message in a language of these times” without resorting to imitating foreign trends. He mentions in particular the Salón de Artistas Jóvenes held in 1947, the Salón de los 26 held in 1948, and the Salón de Arte Moderno held in 1949, all of which he deems significant events that took place during the period that the Salón Anual de Artistas Colombianos was not held. In Engel’s view, the conception of the 8th edition of the Salón Nacional de Artistas was weak in comparison with the vitality of those other exhibitions. He then goes on to remark on certain works featured in the salon.


In this text, Viennese historian and critic Walter Engel (1908–2005) identifies a number of phenomena underway at the time. He asserts the great importance and “historic” nature of certain art events, as opposed to the waning vitality of the Colombian Salón Nacional. The events that Engel mentions were initiatives of artists, such as poets Luis Vidales Jaramillo (1900–1990) and Jorge Gaitán Durán (1924–1962) in the case of the Salón de los Jóvenes; Alejandro Obregón in the case of the Salón de Arte Contemporáneo; and Catalan artist Rosés in conjunction with Colombian artist Julio Abril (1912–1979) in the case of the Salón de Arte Moderno. Faced with the lack of a government-sponsored salon that provided a forum for democratic debate, visual artists and writers decided to organize group shows in a questioning avant-garde spirit whose curatorial vision was greater than that of the seven earlier editions of the Salón Nacional, an event characterized by its mild and panoramic nature. 


Engel also discusses the poor quality of the works exhibited in the salon and the fact that that event had been discredited. This edition of the salon—held after a three-year break—was organized by officials of President Laureano Gómez’s extremely conservative administration (in power from 1950–53); he was the successor to Mariano Ospina Pérez and a fellow member of the Conservative Party. Engel states that, for him, the question of the prizes awarded “continues to be a puzzle,” suggesting foul play. He cites two specific issues. First, it seems that the jury—whose members included the Ambassador of Spain under Franco—decided to award prizes by lot. The “losers” of the first prizes—Pedro Nel Gómez (1899–1984) and Josefina Albarracín de Barba—were not awarded second prizes but rather taken out of the running. Second, with no real justification, the sculpture prize was awarded to Moisés Vargas for a bust of President Laureano Gómez, whose government witnessed the heights of liberal-conservative violence.

Carmen Maria Jaramillo
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of the Engel/ Marks Families, Ontario, Canada
Courtesy of Casa Editorial El Tiempo, Bogotá, Colombia