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A number of years after the death of Colombian painter Epifanio Garay, an exhibition comprising forty of his portraits was held at the Academia de la Lengua. In this text, critic Gustavo Santos Montejo asserts that the quality of the work in the exhibition varies from excellent to downright bad. The poor work fails due to a complacent attitude; they attempt to construct an image on the basis of the desires of the subject’s relatives rather than careful attention to the figure. This approach yields merely commercial portraits. Santos Montejo argues that other portraits, especially those of female figures, stand out due to the quality of the painting, and the ability to capture the psychology of the subject. The critic also asserts that some of the work contains errors in drawing due to unclear resolution of the forms. Santos Montejo bemoans the fact that despite generally excellent painting, and his work as a teacher, Garay did not have any disciples.
Gustavo Santos Montejo (1892–1967), the author of this article, was a diplomat, a journalist, and an art critic who wrote on a more regular basis than most of his fellow Colombian critics. He created the magazine Cultura and often contributed to a number of other publications.
This article discusses an exhibition of portraits by painter Epifanio Garay (Bogotá, 1849–1903), who had died two decades earlier. Santos Montejo praises the fact that Garay—who was one of the most outstanding academics at the turn of the century—produced portraits rather than mere copies of nature; he went beneath the surface in his work, and did not attempt to satisfy notions of correct technique. In this sense, Santos Montejo shared the position of other contemporary critics who praised the psychological portrait on the basis of the belief that genuine art entailed the ability to discover and show something hitherto unknown about the reality represented.
Santos Montejo’s concern with the “blurriness” of some of these works is startling, even though he believes that this defect is more than offset by the way a hand or another body part suddenly appears. It seems contradictory that a traditionalist critic would defend creative freedom and possible deviations from accurate depiction.
Significantly, Santos Montejo also points out that the existence of an art market led painters as talented as Garay to produce art that was complacent. Compelled to satisfy their clients, it was common—especially at the turn of the century—for painters to work from blurry photographs.