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This article records a polemical debate over Argentinean national artistic and literary practices that took place in 1894 between three Argentinean artistic figures: poet and playwright Rafael Obligado; painter, critic, and scholar Eduardo Schiaffino; and poet and essayist Calixto Oyuela. In the text, Oyuela and Schiaffino respond to comments made by Obligado during this conference on the topic of the national art of Argentina. Obligado asserts that despite military gains and efforts at nation-building, Argentina lacks a defined and independent national character, and is therefore merely a cultural satellite to Spain, and he also criticizes Schiaffino’s publicly-expressed opinion that “the beauty of the [Argentinean] pampa is purely literary.” Oyuela responds to Obligado’s speech by asserting that despite Argentina’s irrefutable ties to Spain, and to other Spanish-speaking countries, Argentina must not necessarily maintain a subjugated position with regard to Spain. On the contrary, according to Oyuela, Argentina possessed the potential to become the center of the Spanish-speaking world. This article also includes Shiaffino’s response to Obligado’s criticism, which was published in the newspaper Ateneo, in which he defends the progress of the national art scene, and calls into question Obligado’s admiration of the pampa as a pictorial landscape. Schiaffino asserts that Argentina already possesses a unique character and personality that distinguishes its artistic production from that of Spain. Schiaffino also contends that the nature of Argentinean art stems not from the treatment of Argentinean subject matter, such as the gaucho and the pampa, but rather from the fact that the art is made by Argentinean artists, and therefore reflects the interests and preoccupations of the nation and the unique “moral physiognomy” of the artist.
Argentinean poet and critic Rafael Obligado (1851–1920) was known as the Poeta del Paraná, or the Poet of the Paraná River, a river that runs through Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Obligado used traditional and sophisticated poetic style to treat gaucho or autochthonous Argentinean themes. His poem Santos Vega recounts the life of a gaucho-troubadour and incorporates themes of nature and nationalism.
Calixto Oyuela (1857–1945) was an Argentinean scholar, literary critic, and diplomat. He was the first president of the Academia Argentina de Letras, and the Buenos Aires Atheneum. He wrote and published Canto al arte (1881), Eros y cantos (1891), Cantos de otoño y Cantos nocturnos, Elementos de teoría literaria argentina (1880), Apuntes de literatura castellana, siglos XVIII y XIX (1886), Estudios literarios (1915), and Antología poética hispanoamericana. Oyuela is known for defending the necessity of a uniquely Argentinean lexicon able to reflect national interests; he also however believed that the use of the Spanish language was essential to the character of Argentinean literature and poetry.
Argentinean painter and art critic Eduardo Schiaffino (1858–1935) wrote various studies on the Buenos Aires art scene in newspapers, such as El Diario, Sud-América, El Tiempo, and La Nación. As a painter, Schiaffino followed the Symbolist movement and was inspired in part by the artists with whom he studied while abroad, including Pierre Puvis de Chavanne. At the age of eighteen, Schiaffino founded the Sociedad Estímulo de Bellas Artes, which later became known as Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes. In 1892, he became the first director of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Argentina, and is credited with promoting the development of the fine arts in Argentina.
This article reflects important debates among Argentinean intellectuals and artists over what constituted a national art. Especially salient to this discussion are the questions of whether Argentinean art should focus exclusively on Argentinean subject matter, and how to distinguish Argentinean art and literature from that of Spain.