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The critic Carlos Solari (alias “Don Quijote”) reviews about thirty works that José Sabogal, the founder of Peruvian indigenist painting, brought to Lima after spending several months in Cuzco (c. 1925). In Solari’s opinion, the painter is still developing along the lines of the works he presented at his first exhibition in Lima in 1919. The image of “strapping native models and the vibrant colors of their traditional clothing was a little much for eyes unaccustomed to viewing realistic portrayals that made no attempt at all to stimulate the imagination or the senses.” The result was “art whose regional nature and flavor” hinted at Sabogal’s taste for “modern Spanish Expressionism.” The critic speaks of “the powerful, emotional canvases painted in Cuzco,” and notes the painter’s skillful use of color and his understanding of racial types. Solari also speaks very highly of the new prints Sabogal has produced with wooden blocks.
From the very outset, a number of newspaper articles remarked on the enormous cultural and political interest stirred up (in some quarters) by indigenist painting. It is interesting to note that in this review, Carlos Solari mentions some of the concerns expressed earlier by those who attended Sabogal’s first exhibition in Lima, where he showed his paintings of “ugly Indians.”
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).
Sabogal returned to Cuzco from time to time to recharge his creative energy. In 1925, he stayed there for several months, making notes for a series of important works that he later exhibited in Montevideo and Buenos Aires in 1928 (a collection of seventy-six oil paintings and prints). The positive reception these works received in the Río de la Plata region fueled expectations in Peru, and Lima newspapers reprinted articles that had appeared in the Buenos Aires press.
[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)].