NY Times review: Francisco Oller, Core of ‘Impressionism and the Caribbean,’ at the Brooklyn Museum, co-curated by Edward Sullivan

2 Oct



“The School of Master Rafael Cordero” (circa 1890), an oil by Francisco Oller. Credit Ateneo Puertorriqueño, San Juan, P.R.

Francisco Oller, Core of ‘Impressionism and the Caribbean,’ at the Brooklyn Museum

“The School of Master Rafael Cordero” (circa 1890), an oil by Francisco Oller. Credit Ateneo Puertorriqueño, San Juan, P.R.

The painter Francisco Oller (1833–1917) was the most celebrated Puerto Rican artist of the 19th century. If he’s not more widely known today, it’s for complicated and not entirely unfair reasons. He was a good painter and, at times, an inspired one. But for most of his career, he was a facile imitator, bouncing back and forth across the Atlantic, spending a total of nearly 20 years sojourning, at different times, in Madrid and in Paris, where he studied with Courbet and hung out with Impressionist painters like Pissarro, Monet and Cézanne.

It wasn’t until he settled down in San Juan, at around the age of 60, that he came into his own, producing a number of haunting landscapes and a handful of mysteriously powerful still-life paintings that can plausibly be called great. Those and other late works are highlights of “Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World,” an absorbing but problematic exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.

The show presents 40 paintings by Oller and 45 by other artists, including his European and American contemporaries and his Puerto Rican predecessors. Therein lies the problem: There are too many pieces by other artists, and they interrupt and confuse your sense of Oller’s evolution. In a section devoted to his extended stays in France, Oller’s modestly adept plein air landscapes are interspersed among considerably more assertive paintings by Courbet, Corot, Millet, Pissarro, Monet and others. In this major-league company, Oller fades away, his most memorable piece being a small, muddy 1864 rendering of Cézanne painting outdoors under a white umbrella.


“Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas” (1856). Credit National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

“Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas” (1856). Credit National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon
The show was organized by Richard Aste, the museum’s curator of European art, and Edward J. Sullivan, author of “San Juan to Paris and Back: Francisco Oller and Caribbean Art in the Era of Impressionism” (Yale University Press, 2014).

In his book, Mr. Sullivan makes no exaggerated claims for Oller. He describes him as “a model for the artist as explorer of the liminal, a miner of the interstices of aesthetic trends, and a creator of a distinctly Caribbean form of Modern art.” This approach works well in Mr. Sullivan’s writing, which ties together a lot of different strands into a coherent narrative. But Oller’s story is not so clearly told by an exhibition that mixes his works with so many others that are more or less compelling in their own right. It’s especially confusing because Oller’s oeuvre is such a mixed bag. At different times, he was a realist, an Impressionist, an academic portrait painter, a history painter and a social realist.

Born in San Juan into an upper-middle-class family of Spanish extraction, Oller took to painting and drawing in boyhood. At 18, he went to Madrid to study for two years. Then, in his mid-20s, he began a seven-year stay in Paris (1858–65), where two paintings of his, now lost, were accepted into the Salons of 1864 and ’65. Back in San Juan (1865–73), he painted portraits of prominent Puerto Ricans, married and had two daughters, and established the first of 10 short-lived art schools he would eventually found. He usually offered free tuition to those who couldn’t pay and encouraged young women and minorities to attend.

In 1870, the king of Spain appointed Oller royal gentleman of the Order of Carlos III and, two years later, painter to the royal chamber. Hoping to capitalize on those honors, Oller spent seven years (1877-84) in Madrid. On spec, he produced a history painting called “The Battle of Treviño” (1879), one of the oddest paintings in the exhibition: a wonderfully tumultuous, loosely painted picture of scores of tiny, toylike figures of soldiers on horseback and foot converging on a hill amid much smoke and dust. It didn’t elicit the commissions he was angling for. As Mr. Sullivan notes in his book, “It represented one of several significant misturns in his career.”


“Paul Cézanne Painting Out of Doors” (circa 1864). Credit Collection of Dr. Luis R. de Corral and Dr. Lorraine Vázquez, Puerto Rico

“Paul Cézanne Painting Out of Doors” (circa 1864). Credit Collection of Dr. Luis R. de Corral and Dr. Lorraine Vázquez, Puerto Rico
Back in Puerto Rico in the late 1880s and the ’90s, Oller made the best, most personal paintings of his career. Among these are two landscapes depicting the buildings and environs of sugar plantations. These have haunted, abandoned atmospheres attributable partly to the decline of the Puerto Rican sugar industry after the abolition of slavery in 1873. (Oller was a lifelong abolitionist.) But you may also sense that Oller was projecting in these soulful images a sadness of his own as he came to grips with advancing age and his frustrated ambitions.

Even more arresting are two of several still lifes, close-up views of coconuts in one and of green plantains in the other. Harking back to European still-life painting of the 17th and 18th centuries, they are intensely realistic and have a strangely imposing, nearly surrealistic monumentality.

Around the same time, he painted a large posthumous portrait of Rafael Cordero (1790–1868), a free black man who founded the first school for male children of slaves and freed slaves in Puerto Rico. Painted with impeccable academic craftsmanship, “The School of Master Rafael Cordero” (1890–92) shows the aged teacher, surrounded by rambunctious boys, looking out at the viewer with a kindly, tired expression.

While “The School” represented Oller at his most idealistic, his ultimate masterpiece, “The Wake” (circa 1893), allegorized the social degradation in Puerto Rico that he felt should be overcome. Measuring 8 by 13 feet, it depicts a raucous funeral party for an infant in a lower-class rural home, a crowded, unruly scene populated by frolicking children, barking dogs and clergymen of doubtful moral stature.

Oller felt so strongly about “The Wake” that he took it with him on one last trip to Paris, intent on showing it in the Salon of 1895. But while it was listed in the catalog, no one knows for sure whether it actually appeared in the exhibition.

Unfortunately, that painting isn’t in the show, but is represented by a large photographic reproduction. Considered a Puerto Rican national treasure, it’s not allowed to travel from its home in the Museum of History, Anthropology and Art at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus.

“Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World” runs through Jan. 3 at the Brooklyn Museum; brooklynmuseum­.org, 718-638-5000.

A version of this review appears in print on October 2, 2015, on page C29 of the New York edition with the headline: Soulful Painter of Puerto Rico . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Round-up of art-related events this weekend, courtesy of the Fine Arts Society.

2 Oct

Hi Everyone,

Here are some fun activities happening this weekend around the city!
**I would check the events’ website for any Sunday events because there may be changes due to Hurricane Joaquin.**

  • Friday Oct. 2nd: College Night at the Frick (free entry, but RSVP required). 6-9pm
  • MET Fridays: Gallery talk on the portraits of Francisco de Goya + other events.
  • The Whitney: Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist opens today!
  • Sam Falls & Hart of Gold: September Spring will be showing their last performancesSaturday at the Kitchen. Performances are at 12pm, 3pm and 5pm. Be sure to arrive at least 10 minutes early.
  • The Kitchen will also be hosting on Saturday at 7pm,  Art Mystery: An Evening with Mayo Thompson
  • Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park. This festival will be held around the Cloisters onSunday, Oct. 4th. http://whidc.org/festival/
  • Come with FAS to see Picasso Sculpture @ MoMA! Saturday Oct. 3rd & Sunday 4th at 10:30am. Bring your ID’s!! (The trip on Sunday may be canceled due to the impending hurricane, we will keep you posted).

Have a great art filled weekend!



1 Oct

Professor Guy Walton with Art I students visiting Hatshepsut at the Met circa 1965.unnamed-1

Professor Kathryn A. Smith to speak at the New York Comics and Picture-story Symposium (Parsons/The New School for Design) tonight!

29 Sep
Kathryn A. Smith
Crafting the Old Testament in the Queen Mary Psalter:  Image, Text, and Contexts in Early Fourteenth-Century England.

[above] Scenes from the lives of Saul and David, Queen Mary Psalter, c. 1310-20 (London, British Library Royal MS 2 B VII, fol. 52).

“Crafting the Old Testament in the Queen Mary Psalter:  Image, Text, and Contexts in Early Fourteenth-Century England”
Ms. Smith will speak on one of her current projects — an unusual captioned Old Testament picture cycle in a lavishly illuminated psalter made in England c. 1310-20

Kathryn A. Smith is Professor of Medieval Art in the Department of Art History, New York University.  She is the author of Art, Identity, and Devotion in Fourteenth-Century England (2003), The Taymouth Hours: Stories and the Construction of the Self in Late Medieval England (2012), and numerous articles, essays, and reviews on early Christian and late medieval art.  She is currently working on several projects concerning image-text relationships in medieval manuscripts and the roles of images, including manuscript illuminations and sculpture, in late medieval religion and culture.

September 29, 2015 at 7pm
Please note: There is no meeting on Sept. 22nd.

The 128th meeting of the NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 at 7pm at Parsons The New School for Design, 2 West 13th Street, in the Bark Room (off the lobby). Free and open to the public.

NYU’s Grey Art Gallery Seeks DAH Delegate for its Student Friends Committee (SFC) for 2015–16

29 Sep

Please note: Applicants must be available on Thursday evenings

Founded in fall 2009 and now in its sixth year, the Grey Art Gallery’s Student Friends Committee (SFC) is composed of a dozen members, each representing a different NYU art-related department. The SFC meets once a month during the academic term, on Thursday nights, to learn about the Grey’s exhibitions and public programs, and to brainstorm on strategies to help attract NYU students, both undergraduate and graduate, to the Grey’s exhibitions, programs, and other events. The first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 22, 6:30–7:30/8:00 pm. Refreshments are served at the meetings, which may also include walkthroughs of the Grey’s current exhibition/s, previews of upcoming shows, and guest speakers. The SFC also serves as a sounding board, to help the Grey better serve the needs of NYU students.

At the meetings, SFC members are asked to help distribute to fellow students information about Grey shows and events—both in hard copy and via email listservs, departmental and club websites, and social-networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. Members are invited to contribute posts—reporting on their experiences in the art world—to the Grey Art Gallery’s Tumblr blog. In past years, SFC members have organized a panel discussion in conjunction with a Grey show, created a visitor survey, organized a spring social, and led NYU gallery crawls.

To apply, please send your letter of interest and current c.v. to: greyartgallery@nyu.edu

Grey Gallery Event

28 Sep
Grey Art Gallery

Wednesday, September 30, 6:30 pm
Grey Art Gallery, New York University
100 Washington Square East

Gallery Conversation

With Thomas Drysdale, associate professor of Photography & Imaging, NYU, who will discuss the experimental techniques used by photographers in the Grey’s exhibition For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968–1979.

Free of charge, no reservations.


Offered in conjunction with the exhibition For a New World to Come: Experiments
in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968–1979,
 presented in New York City in two parts:
at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University (September 11–December 7, 2015)
and Japan Society Gallery (October 9, 2015–January 10, 2016).

For more information on the exhibition,
please visit www.nyu.edu/greyart


Grey Art Gallery, NYU:
Tuesday/Thursday/Friday: 11 am–6 pm
OPEN LATE Wednesday: 11 am–8 pm
Saturday: 11 am–5 pm
Closed Sunday/Monday/Major holidays
www.nyu.edu/greyartgreyartgallery@nyu.edu, 212/998-6780

Japan Society Gallery:
TuesdayThursday, 11 am–6 pm
OPEN LATE Friday: 11 am–9 pm
with free admission 6 pm–9 pm
Saturday–Sunday, 11 am–5 pm
Closed Monday/Major holidays
www.japansociety.org, 212/832-1155

For a full roster of the Grey’s many upcoming public programs, visit our website at

Join the conversation!
Use @NYUGrey @japansociety_NYC

Facebook page

The gallery is accessible to people with disabilities.
For best access, please call 212/998-6780 before visiting.

Most of the Grey’s public programs are free of charge,
made possible by our generous supporters. Please make a gift today
to help us continue to provide engaging educational programs.
Click here to make your gift online:

Image: Daido Moriyama
Lips, 1970
Gelatin silver print, 7 1/16 x 10 3/4 in.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,
museum purchase funded by Morris and Ann Weiner, 2001.363
© Daido Moriyama

See the “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition with the Fine Arts Society this coming weekend!

28 Sep

We are having out first event the first weekend of October! Saturday the 3rd and Sunday the 4th we will be going to see Picasso Sculpture exhibit at MoMa. We will be meeting at MoMA at 10:30am each day to do our best to avoid the crazy weekend crowds. Seeing as this is a very popular exhibition we will be going on both days so everyone can make it to one!

PLEASE BRING YOUR IDS! You need your NYU ID in order to get in for free :)

The first 7 people to arrive at MoMA on time will get a free lunch on us! Everyone is welcome to come to lunch with us afterward!

If you would like to join us at MoMA please RSVP for Saturday or Sunday to op422@nyu.edu.

Address: 11 West 53rd Street
Subway: BDFM to 47-50 St/Rockefeller Center, EM to 5 Ave/53 St

Keep a look out for upcoming events in October including a Street Art Walk of Bushwick and our student-run Internship Panel!


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