Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952

Francisco Oller y Cestero, Hacienda Aurora, 1898-99, oil on wood panel, Museo de Arte de Ponce, The Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc., Ponce, Puerto Rico

Through January 14, 2007

Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952, organized by the Museo de Arte de Ponce, is the first major exhibition in the continental United States devoted to Puerto Rico's three greatest masters: José Campeche, Francisco Oller, and Miguel Pou. The exhibition showcases select masterpieces from the Museo de Arte de Ponce's Permanent Collection and rarely seen paintings from private collections in Puerto Rico. Celebrating the art and artists of this Caribbean paradise, Mi Puerto Rico provides an extraordinary glimpse into the rich artistic heritage of this Commonwealth of the United States.

Mi Puerto Rico consists of forty two paintings including portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and genre scenes by José Campeche (1751-1809), Francisco Oller (1833-1917), and Miguel Pou (1880-1968). The exhibition explores how these three principal painters perceived and rendered their surroundings over the course of nearly two centuries. These works are particularly illuminating in the context of the Worcester Art Museum's important holdings of European and American paintings from the same periods, from aristocratic and colonial portraiture to impressionist landscapes.

Campeche was the official portrait painter of eighteenth-century Puerto Rico. His elegant, delicate, and refined renderings offer detailed testimony about the life of the ruling classes. Governors and their wives, officers of the garrison, bishops, and colonial officials commissioned him to paint their likenesses. Campeche was the son of a slave who had bought his freedom. Yet, from these inauspicious roots, Campeche became the best portrait painter in the Spanish America of his era and achieved an honored position within San Juan's ruling elite. Campeche did not limit his artistic talents to painting; he was also well known as an urban planner, architectural draftsman, musician, musical instrument craftsman as well as a fireworks maker. Because of his impressively broad range of talents, his mastery allowed him access to the pillars of Puerto Rican society: the Catholic Church, government, and the military.

The legacy of artistic excellence established by Campeche continued with Francisco Oller. Oller's paintings epitomized a new role for the artist, that of critic as well as chronicler of society. Oller studied abroad and brought back to Puerto Rico the new developments in painting heralded by the European avant-garde. He became an abolitionist, as well. His formal education began with trips to Spain and France, where he resided for a number of years. The influence of the Spanish master painters is evident in the still lifes Oller later created. In contrast to the European flora and fauna depicted by the Spanish masters, Oller's works feature the fruit and vegetation of his homeland. In Paris, he joined the vanguard of Courbet and Manet and became close friends with Pissarro and Cézanne. Along with his peers, he embraced the precepts of Realism and Impressionism, artistic movements that were changing the face of painting in the West. In the landscapes he painted after returning to Puerto Rico, he sought to capture the Caribbean's atmosphere through its tropical light and its intense, variable skies. He did not restrict himself to a single manner of painting, but, in the mode of the times, chose the styles that best served his purposes.

Miguel Pou, on the other hand, liked to portray what the artist called “regional types.” Pou studied in the United States at the Art Students League in New York and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, but his influences were the same ones that had been so important to his predecessor, Oller. He noted that he was indebted to the Impressionists for his sense of color; though in terms of subject matter, he wished to “reflect the soul of my people” and a way of life he feared was being “blown by the wind” of modernity. To this end, his best work was local, embracing the land, its people, and their customs.

Mi Puerto Rico also includes several works by contemporaries of Oller and Pou. These artists were likewise inspired by the island's majestic landscape, and they portrayed its inhabitants and especially the abundance of the natural world as symbols of pride and authenticity.

The exhibition is organized by the Museo de Arte de Ponce—located in Ponce, Puerto Rico—whose permanent collection of 4,000 objects encompasses both European Old Masters and modern and contemporary Latin American art. Curators of the exhibition are Marimar Benítez, Director of the School of Fine Arts, San Juan, and Cheryl Hartup, Chief Curator of the Museo de Arte de Ponce. Marimar Benítez, a critic and art historian, has written extensively on the contemporary art of Puerto Rico and has previously organized exhibitions on José Campeche and Francisco Oller for the Museo de Arte de Ponce. She was also the curator of the Puerto Rico section of the Bronx Museum of the Arts' exhibition The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States 1920-1970. Cheryl Hartup was curator at the Miami Art Museum, where she was part of the curatorial team that produced Miami Currents: Linking Community and Collection in 2002.


A 104-page soft-bound bilingual catalogue featuring full-color illustrations of all works in the exhibition will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. Geared to both general and scholarly audiences, the catalogue will include a forward by Agustín Arteaga, Director of Museo de Arte de Ponce, essays by the curators of the exhibition, brief biographical information on the artists, and an exhibition checklist.


Preview Party
Saturday, October 7, 2006, 7-10PM
RSVP to Special Events, x3105, 508.799.4406. Featuring music by Manolo Mairena and Curubande, as well as Annette and Ray of Salsa Storm. Food from the island, cash bar. $10 Museum members, $20 nonmembers. RSVP by calling 508.799.4406, x3105.

Curator Talk: Marimar Benitez, Guest Curator
Sunday, October 8, 2PM
Join Mi Puerto Rico Curator Marimar Benitez for an informative talk about three of Puerto Rico's leading master painters: José Campeche, Francisco Oller, and Miguel Pou, as well as the history of Puerto Rico from Spanish colonial times through World War II. In addition to co- curating this exhibition, Benitez is the Director of the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Free with Museum admission. LOCATION: United Congregational Church, Institute Road.

Gallery Talk: Community Perspectives with Jose Rivera
Sunday, November 5, 2PM
Join members of the Worcester Puerto Rican community in exploring the exhibition Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters from the Island, 1780-1952. This informal gallery talk will be led by Jose Antonio Rivera, the World Boxing Association Jr. Middleweight World Champion, and Angel Navedo. Don't miss this exciting event. Free with Museum admission.

Family Day
Sunday, November 19, 1-4:30PM
Discover the art and culture of Puerto Rico at the Museum! Held in conjunction with the exhibition Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952, take part in this adventure for all ages through art-making activities, performances, and much more! Family Day is sponsored by Bank of America. Free with Museum admission.

Gallery Talk: Community Perspectives: Puerto Rico
Sunday, December 3, 2PM
Join members of the Worcester Puerto Rican community, Isa Bayon and José Massó, in exploring the exhibition Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952. This informal gallery talk will take place in the galleries, and will be a time for community to gather and reflect on memories of the island. Free with Museum admission.

3 Kings Day Celebration
Saturday, January 6, 1-3 PM
Celebrate Three Kings Day at the Museum! Planned in conjunction with the exhibition Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952, guests of all ages will enjoy traditional Puerto Rican food, performances, a special Santos carving demonstration, and a few surprises. Free with Museum admission. Held in collaboration with Centro Las Americas. This event is supported in part by a generous grant from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Audio Tour
Delve into Mi Puerto Rico: Master Painters of the Island, 1780-1952, with a self-guided audio tour in Spanish or English. Available for rental at the Salisbury Street entrance in a choice of formats: CD ($1) or iPod mini ($3). Approximate time: 30 minutes.


The Art of Salsa and More with Ray & Annette Gonzalez: 9/26-10/25 and 11/1-12/6, W 5:30-6:30PM
Caribbean Medley with Maru Fuste, mixed media class, 9/26-10/24, T 6-8:30PM
An Emerald in a Sea of Blue: The Art of Puerto Rico with Maru Fuste, 10/31-11/28, T 6-8:30PM
Courting Esmeralda with poet and writer Adelle Leiblein, reading and writing class, 10/23-11/27, M 4-6PM
Teachers Workshop: The Art & Culture of Puerto Rico, 10/8, 1-5PM

Space is limited; registration required. Call 508.799.4406, x3007 or 3129 for more information or to register; or visit us online.

Select Images from the Exhibition