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In this text, the Austrian art critic based in Colombia, Walter Engel, discusses the exhibition by the painter, Cecilia Porras, at the gallery El Callejón in Bogotá (July 1955). Engel begins by remembering 1948 as an important year in terms of artistic activity, especially evident at the Escuela de Bellas Artes [School of Fine Arts] where the faces of the artists, Cecilia Porras and Lilian Peñuela, tended to be “the preferred models for several young painters.” The writer states that it was when the exhibition opened at El Callejón that the work of Cecilia Porras was first known in the Colombian capital. Regarding some of the works shown, he explains that they are evidence of the influence exercised on her by Enrique Grau, especially in terms of her formal solutions. However, these works are not imitative and have “sufficient personal elements.” He goes on to comment on some of the works in the exhibition such as, Yo y Cartagena [Cartagena and I], Arlequín sentado [Seated Harlequin], Pez azul [Blue Fish], Niña del gorrión [Girl with Sparrow], Casas y murallas [Houses and Walls], Callejuela [Alley], Cartagena [Cartagena], Mujer dormida [Sleeping Woman] and Espera [Hope]. Engel emphasizes his admiration for the purely pictorial elements used by Porras to execute her works: “color and composition, movement and expression, all come together into a great visual harmony.” He praises her use of color, the way she applies the oil paint, and the composition and construction strategies of the paintings. Finally, Engel recalls that, shortly after the opening of Cecilia Porras’s show, the papers were signed to establish the Museo de Arte Moderno [Museum of Modern Art] of Bogotá, in a ceremonial event at the Hotel Tequendama (1955). Given this background, he states his desire that the dream of the artists and the art-viewing public come true: that there will truly be an institution of this kind in the capital, a museum that could be so beneficial to the work of a young artist like Cecilia Porras.


This document was written by the critic from Vienna, Walter Engel (1908–2005), based in Colombia as of 1938. His subject was the first individual exhibition held by the artist, Cecilia Porras (1920–1971), which opened on July 27, 1955, at the gallery El Callejón in Bogotá. The author is emphatic about pointing out the formal elements that make up the paintings and drawings shown, as well as the artist’s command of her trade. At the time, foreign critics such as Engel, the Pole, Casimiro Eiger (1911–1987) and the Argentine, Marta Traba (1923–1983) followed the work of young Colombian artists. These critics took it upon themselves to disseminate information about their achievements and talents under the assumptions of Modern art, basing their arguments on a formalist point of view.


We must also consider that Porras was one of a group of female artists that included both Judith Márquez (1925–1994) and Lucy Tejada (1920–2011). Starting in the 1950s, this group participated actively in national and international exhibitions as well as social gatherings of intellectuals. They worked as professional artists, following the postulates of Modern art, which essentially sought to use strictly visual art elements.


It is interesting that the writer of this text names the artists, Alejandro Obregón (1920–1992) and Enrique Grau (1920–2004), as figures that were influential on young artists. The first wielded his influence as director of the Escuela de Bellas Artes, and the second was an inspiration in Porras’s work. Though they were not necessarily older than the other artists, Obregón and Grau enjoyed early recognition in the art world based on their respective ways of interpreting their environment. They did this through new pictorial languages, in such a way that other young artists openly adopted some elements of the working methods of both Obregón and Grau.

Nicolás Gómez
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of the Engel/ Marks Families, Ontario, Canada