Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this essay Francisco Miró Quesada Cantuarias discusses La gran Pietà—the painting by Lajos d’Ebneth, the Hungarian artist who lived in Peru—that was shown at the exhibition at the Galería de Lima in August 1950. The author explains the work’s symbolism, exposing “what cannot be immediately perceived by the senses” (that is, the “being”). According to Cantuarias this canvas catapults painting into a new phase that he calls “metaphysical painting,” the crowning achievement of its evolution. Whereas classical painting only depicted what could be perceived by the senses, several twentieth-century movements sought to free form and color from “the tyranny” of established canons of representation. The struggle to achieve its most recent mode of expression involved a new arrangement of painting materials that could plumb the deepest, most radical levels: “the maximum use of expressive power.” Cantuarias believes that, by managing to express “being,” La gran Pietà replaces the Surrealist “psychological verticality” with an “ontological verticality” and forges ahead.     

Annotations

The Hungarian painter Lajos d’Ebneth (1902–82) arrived in Lima in 1949—preceded by his reputation, which was bolstered by a career that included time spent at the Bauhaus and high praise from North American art critics—and became very influential in the local art world. His international prestige, and the esoteric image that he cultivated, earned him the admiration of most Lima intellectuals. His donation of an important sculpture to the city, and the robbery of another, helped to stoke his incipient fame. In August 1950, however, he took a controversial step when he exhibited his Madonna azul, a Renaissance inspired canvas whose aesthetic merit was hotly debated by the critics. Shortly thereafter d’Ebneth showed his final piece, a work of symbolic expressionism that Francisco Miró Quesada Cantuarias (b. 1918), who was obsessed by the essential being of art, dubbed an “ontological painting” [see the following article in the ICAA digital archive, “Arte, metafísica y prejuicio” (doc. no. 1138547)]. Expanding on his elaborate praise of the Madonna, Cantuarias said that it was the crowning achievement of modern formal expression because it addressed the “expression of being.” As a result of all this, d’Ebneth’s figurative and symbolic painting was considered (by some local intellectuals) to have taken the debates between “art purists” and “social realists” to a new level, a landmark event in the country’s involvement in modern art. In response to those arguments, the writer Jorge Falcón (1908–2003)—with all the force of his communist militancy and his devotion to the indigenism of the Andes region—fiercely rejected both the Hungarian artist’s work and the critical discourse that sought to justify it [see “Meta fija de los artepuristas y metafísicos” (doc. no. 1138686)].

Researcher
Ricardo Kusunoki / Gustavo Buntinx
Team
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Credit
Courtesy of the private archives of El Comercio, Lima, Peru