Monday, June 28, 2010

(Social) Realism: Puerto Rico

Francisco Oller (1833-1917)

Francisco Oller is one of the masters of Puerto Rican art, whose portraits tell the stories of rural Puerto Rican life in the 19th century. Oller was the born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on June 17, 1833. He began painting early, at age 11, under the tutelage of Juan Cleto Noa who ran a studio in San Juan. By the time he was 15, Oller showed such artistic promise that the governor of Puerto Rico thought he should study in Italy. Oller’s mother rejected the invitation, fearing that her son was too young to make such a long trip.

At 18, Oller finally traveled to Europe. This time it was not to Italy, but to Spain, where the young painter studied at the Royal Academy of San Fernando. From there, he studied at the Louvre in Paris. His instructor was Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet, a painter who led the realism genre of paiting. Gustave Courbe was interested in social issues, particulary those that related to peasant farming. This would also come to influence Oller’s work. Throughout his lifetime, Oller was highly critical of slavery and colonialism. By 1859, Oller was exhibiting next to renowned artists like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Oller returned to Puerto Rico, where he opened the Free Academy of Art of Puerto Rico. Oller died in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 17, 1917. His works still graces the walls of museums around the world, including the Louvre.

Ramón Frade (1875–1954)

Ramón Frade (1875–1954) was one of Puerto Rico's most renowned visual artist and architects. His realist style of painting captured the life of the typical Puerto Rican in the twentieth century.

Frade painted portrayals of the life of the Puerto Rican campesinos (country people). What is considered as his masterwork, El Pan Nuestro de Cada Dia (our Daily Bread) (1905), represents a "jibaro" farmer carrying plantains. In his painting he shows what is an old barefooted man who is poor but proud, serious, dignified, clean. This "jibaro" is supposed to represent Puerto Rico at the beginning of the century. Other works by Frade include: La Planchadora (The ironing lady) (1948), El Niño Campesino (the country child), Ensenada, La Poza, Reverie, and La Inmaculada (The Immaculate) and many others.

Rafael Tufiño Figueroa (1922 – 2008)

Rafael Tufiño Figueroa (1922 – March 13, 2008) was a Puerto Rican painter, printmaker and cultural figure in Puerto Rico, known locally as the "Painter of the People". Rafael Tufiño was born in Brooklyn, New York. At age 10, he moved with his grandmother to Puerto Rico where he started painting. He served in the Army Signal Corps in Panama during World War II, and afterwards studied art in Mexico at the Academia de San Carlos. He moved to New York in 1956 to continue his studies after receiving a Guggenheim fellowship. He spent most of his later life traveling between Puerto Rico and New York.

Rafael Tufiño's painting included portraits, landscapes and images of Puerto Rico daily life. His work is among the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the U.S. Library of Congress, the Galería Nacional in Puerto Rico, and the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico. During the 1950s, he was part of the "Generación de los Cincuentas" (the Generation of the Fifties), a group of artists who tried to create a new artistic style and aesthetic identity for Puerto Rico.

Tufiño dedicated his later life to foster art and related studies in Puerto Rican barrios and communities, such as founding a workshop and art cooperative named Taller Boricua in 1970 and advocating for the creation of El Museo del Barrio, both in East Harlem. Until 1963, he contributed to the Puerto Rico Department of Public Instruction (now the Department of Education) various paintings, posters, and advertisements to help bring government-sponsored literacy and hygiene programs to poor and illiterate communities in Puerto Rico.
[click on link for details of mural]

World (Social) Realist Art (Index of Countries)
This blog page is part of an ongoing project by artist and part-time lecturer Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin ( to explore Realist / Social Realist art from around the world. The term Realism is used in its broadest sense to include 19th century Realism and Naturalism as well as 20th century Impressionism (which after all was following in the path of Courbet and Millet). Social Realism covers art that seeks to examine the living and working conditions of ordinary people (examples include German Expressionism, American Ashcan School and the Mexican Muralists).

Click here for (Social) Realist Art Definitions, World (Social) Realism and Global Solidarity, Art and Politics, Social Realism in history and Country Index.

Suggestions for appropriate artists from around the world welcome to

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