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In his letter to the art critic Carlos Solari (alias “Don Quijote”), the painter José Sabogal expresses his appreciation for kind words about his work, but challenges two points made by Solari. The first concerns the impression that he is a student at the Escuela de Bellas Artes, whereas he is actually a professor there: “The academy influence is actually the other way around; I have given a great deal of myself, and those who give cannot receive.” The second is a defense of his “artistic persona,” which he believes has been distorted by Solari who sees him as a product of the school, influenced by its director Daniel Hernández. “I acknowledge no influence from anyone,” he says. “I have studied sincerely and hard. When I paint I don’t think about anybody, not even myself.” The critic reiterates his opinion, and claims that absolute originality does not exist, pointing to Michelangelo and Ignacio Zuloaga as proof that references and precedents can be found in the work of all the great artists. Regardless of the specific role that Sabogal played at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, the school in general, and Hernández in particular, have influenced his work, “refining his expression and harmonizing his use of color,” which does not imply any imitation.


In this column, the art critic Carlos Solari (alias “Don Quijote”) responds to a letter from the founder of indigenist painting, José Sabogal (1888–1956). The artist had written to the newspaper to protest the critic’s remarks, published in the same newspaper on July 8, 1921, about Sabogal’s second exhibition in Lima, at the Casino Español, during the celebrations honoring the first centenary of Peru’s independence (July 1921).


Indigenist painting flourished in Peru from the 1920s to the 1940s as part of a broader movement that sought to redefine Peruvian identity in terms of indigenous elements. Although at some points, it was entirely focused on the “indigenous” story and the Inca past that was considered to have been glorious, it also championed a mestizo identity portrayed as a result of the integration of “native” and “Hispanic” cultures. The main ideologue and unchallenged leader of the indigenist movement in the visual arts was José Sabogal (1888–1956), whose profound interpretation of the concept of “being rooted” was deeply influenced by regional art movements in Spain (Ignacio Zuloaga [1870–1945], among others) and in Argentina (Jorge Bermúdez (1883–1926), to mention one of them); these were countries where Sabogal spent many of his formative years. When he returned to Peru in late 1918, he settled in Cuzco, where he produced almost forty oil paintings of people and scenes of the city; these works were subsequently shown in Lima (1919) at an exhibition that is considered the formal beginning of indigenist painting in Peru. Sabogal’s second solo exhibition, at the Casino Español (1921), established his reputation. He joined the faculty at the new Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1920, where he was eventually appointed director (1932–43). There he trained a group of painters who joined the indigenist movement, such as Julia Codesido, Alicia Bustamante (1905–68), Teresa Carvallo (1895–1988), Enrique Camino Brent (1909–60), and Camilo Blas (1903–85).


[There are many articles about this artist in the ICAA digital archive, including the following written by Sabogal: “Arquitectura peruana: la casona arequipeña” (doc. no. 1173340); “La cúpula en América” (doc. no. 1125912); “Mariano Florez, artista burilador de ‘mates’ peruanos, murió en Huancayo: José Sabogal su admirador y amigo, le rinde homenaje” (doc. no. 1136695); “Los mates burilados y las estampas del pintor criollo Pancho Fierro” (doc. no. 1173400); “Los ‘mates’ y el yaraví” (doc. no. 1126008); “La pintura mexicana moderna” (doc. no. 1051636); and “Sala de arte popular peruano en el Museo de la Cultura: selecciones de arte” (doc. no. 1173418)].

Gabriela Germaná Roquez, Gustavo Buntinx
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Carlos Solari, 1921