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This is a letter written by Francisco Barrera, a columnist at La Unidad in Bogotá, to Laureano Gómez, in response to his opinion on the best paintings at the Salón de Arte de 1910 [1910 Art Salon]. As his first choice, Barrera chooses and describes in minute detail the work by Jesús María Zamora, El paso de los Llanos, 1819 [Crossing of the Plains, 1819], in which the Liberation Army is shown crossing the Eastern Plains. The writer concludes that this is one of the most representative paintings in the exhibition, primarily due to the fine composition of an historic event. Second, the columnist talks about the work of the Colombian painter, Pablo Rocha, highlighting one of his landscapes based on its painstaking attention to detail. In third place, he points out two portraits: one by Ricardo Acevedo Bernal and another by an artist identified as “Velásquez from Antioquia.” In Barrera’s judgment, both portrait artists provide good examples of the correct use of both the drawing and the range of colors. After listing these works and artists, the critic states his belief that a painter’s work must be the result of “good taste” and technical ability. In the writer’s opinion, at the Exposición del Centenario [Centenary Expo], there are paintings that show the acquisition of these elements by the artist; however, others bear no such evidence. In conclusion, Barrera mentions the absence of artistic anatomy studies, which are the basis for a precise apprehension of nature.
La Unidad, the newspaper published by the conservative politician, Laureano Gómez (1889?1965), was a favorable scenario for the defense of an aesthetic directly related to the academicist ideas predominant in Colombia since the late nineteenth century. In this way, during the 1910 Salon, various art criticisms appeared on the newspaper’s front page, legitimizing artworks based on certain specific preferences. La Unidad favored idealization of the themes represented, solemnity, harmony in an artwork’s range of colors and an orientation toward aesthetic principles such as beauty, goodness and truth. It was no surprise that the art critic, Francisco Barrera, deemed works by the Colombian painters, Jesús María Zamora (1871?1948) and Ricardo Acevedo Bernal (1867?1930) to be among the most outstanding in the exhibition. In addition to easily meeting the criteria listed above, in the opinion of columnists at La Unidad, both artists faithfully represented painting’s general commitment to represent Colombian history, especially, the heroes who fought for Colombian independence.
At the 1910 Salon, the works exhibited were by artists with a significant body of work, such as Acevedo Bernal (mentioned above) and Epifanio Garay (1849–1903). There were also numerous landscapes done by artists such as Ricardo Borrero Álvarez (1874?1931), Fídolo Alfonso González Camargo (1883?1941), Eugenio Peña (1860?1944), Ricardo Gómez Campuzano (1891?1981), Roberto Páramo (1859–1939), Eugenio Zerda (1878?1945), Domingo Moreno Otero (1882?1948), and even oil paintings by the distinguished painter, Margarita Holguín y Caro (1875–1959). In this way, the Salon amassed a concentration of the major painters and sculptors of the time. Undoubtedly, these made up the first group of Colombian artists to emerge from the recently founded Escuela de Bellas Artes [School of Fine Arts] (1886). A separate chapter would be appropriate for the artist from the city of Bogotá, Andrés de Santamaría (1860–1945); in addition to being in charge of the Expo, this artist exhibited his own work in the Salon. However, the criticism of his work was harsh, even passing it over completely; there was no reference to it in the articles published in La Unidad, much less any praise for his artistic talent. Just as had happened at the 1904 Salon, the figure of Santamaría represented precisely those modern ideals that were so frightening to art connoisseurs, whose [response/attitude] was to criticize them caustically. This would be this painter’s last exhibition in Colombia, since a year later, he would take up permanent residence in Europe. In fact, the distance he established from the country would completely extinguish any new form that any of his closest disciples might have experimented with. With his departure, the basic discussion on Modern art seemed to be postponed; this debate would only take place upon conclusion of the full art-history cycle under way in Colombia at the time.