“Cuadros de una Exposicion” Paintings of an Exhibition
—by Mirta Mabel Scokin de Portnoy
Originally, they shared the same vocation, the Argentinean sky and the landscape of silver rivers. Today the circumstances of life make them share the same roof but under different latitudes.
I don’t know if it is a case of serendipity or coincidence, but I l know that I am writing this note due to the enthusiasm and fascinations that is found when one discovers something in a most unexpected time and place.
In the city of Philadelphia, lives the Ficher family. The owner of the house is Dr Ilda Ficher who I met personally. Dr Ficher had just moved in to a magnificent apartment on Locust Street in the famous Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. This corner of Philadelphia is well known for its dedication to the arts especially music. It is the home of Academy of Music which is the oldest building designed for performances of opera and is still in use today. A half block away is Broad Street better known as the Avenue of the Arts which houses the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Opera House, and several theaters.
On a beautiful sunny day in autumn, I arrived at Dr. Ficher’s beautifully styled apartment ont he thirtieth floor. Rays of light flowed through the ample windows highlighting the city and the Delaware River below. Although I was engrossed in our conversation which lasted about an hour, I noticed from the corner of my eye a painting of creole horses undoubtedly painted by Juan Carlos Castignino.
As I was saying my good byes and walking toward the door I noticed to my increasing surprise, an incredible collection of Argentinean art including paintings, sculptures and collages dating from the beginning of the 19th century to current times.
Upon returning to Mendoza, my fascination persisted and I began an exchange through the internet with Dr. Ficher.
The title of this note is also suggestive: Pictures of an Exhibition. I do not mean what Etiene Gilson said, that music and poetry are the art of time, and that painting, and sculpture are the art of space; nor do not mean what Kandinsky said about the lyricism expressed through color: Color being the key that the artist presses to cause vibrations in the spirit. The truth is that “Pictures of an Exhibition” reminds me of Musorsky who was inspired by it to write this difficult score. Maurice. Ravel wrote the orchestra score.
This collection to which I refer had it’s beginning in admiration, and through a sense of admiration one has the sensibility to appreciate beauty. Two men of different upbringing shared a love for something beautiful and the idea that without a public to enjoy it there would be no art. These two men initiated this collection. One of them was Jaime Grinblat Ilda Ficher’s father. Mr. Grinblat was a businessman, but he loved paintings and understood the daily hardships of those who dedicate their lives to the creation of art. His appreciation of a work of art and the possibility of earning money from this art translated into his desire to help artists and made him a well deserving patron of the arts.
But this was not his only pursuit he also sponsored the musician and composer Jacobo Ficher who later became his daughter’s father in law.
Jacob Ficher was born in Odessa, the capital of Ukraine in 1896. If we look at it from a cultural point of view Odessa was the western most territory in which Jews were permitted to reside. Jacobo Ficher studied at the conservatory of Saint Petersburg along with other outstanding musicians of the day. He graduated in 1917, the year of a civil war which led to the disastrous European war. Following the route of other immigrants, Jacobo Ficher relocated in Buenos Aires in 1922. He played violin in the theater and at the same time began composing. He was the director of the orchestra and one of the founders of the group Renovacion. The inspiration for his music came from Russian and Jewish melodies and bits of South American influences. It was the blood in his veins and the influences of his childhood and youth that motivated him in his work. His works received many awards both nationally and internationally.
The introduction of Jacob Ficher into the art world of Buenos Aires put him in contact with many artists. Many artists of this period made their marks painting portraits. Antonio Berni did Jacobo’s portrait in oil, Fidel Roig Matons, a Catalan painter who lived in Mendoza and who was also a violinist did an excellent portrait of Jacobo in charcoal in 1926. Jacob Ficher’s portrait was also done by Cecilia Benedetti, who besides being a great painter was also a musician of quality. Alejandro Vainstein, student of Emilio Petorutti also painted Jacobo. Horacio Juarez also did a bust of Jacobo Ficher.
Jacobo Ficher introduced Ilda’s father to the artist’s world and as the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, his children not only conserved his collection but increased it.
I will now present a time line of Argentinean art…
Alberto Maria Rossi: An oil painting on canvas (66cm x 46cm) entitled Circo (Circus).
The artist is of Italian origin and was born in Bolonia in 1879 and died in Buenos Aires in 1956. He learned his trade from his father a decorator named Dioisio, who came to Argentina to work in some of the residences of Buenos Aires. Alberto Rossi studied under Ernesto de la Carcova and Eduardo Sivori and at the age of 20 his father sent him to Paris. He also studied in Rome. In the beginning of the twentieth century he became a member of the group Nexus,(1907-1908) a group dedicated to the promotion of national art and artists. Other members of this group were Pio Collivadino, Justo Lynch, Carlos P. Ripamonte, Fernando Fader, Cesaris Quiros, Arturo Mendez Texto and the sculptor Arturo Dresco. They presented expositions together in group with each one reflecting their individual orientation. The exhibitions also reflected the contrast of the times and Italian realism. The apex of Rossi’s career was during the Hundred-year Exhibition of 1910, where he was awarded the gold medal. In 1919 he received the National Grand Prize for his painting En pleno trabajo.
The Circus belongs to Rossi’s humoristic period. He liked to represent circus people. For him they represented social synthesis. His talent lay in his representation of comic scenes and amicable people as seen in the works El Palco and Los Negocios. He preferred to use soft hues especially hues of gray. His humorist paintings were not caricaturing nor were his writings as seen in his piece Camisa de once varas. which he wrote in 1932. Rossi was also a violinist and a vibrant and outspoken person.
Paisajes– Oil on Canvess by Eugenio Daneri (57.5×47.5) 1958
Eugenio Daneri was born in Buenos Aires in1881 and died in 1970. He studied in the renowned Bellas Artes along with Giudice, Sivori, Della Valle and De la Carcova. He was influenced by Martin Malharro, who tried to bring an understanding of impressionism to Argentina with little public success except for a small group of young artists followers. He had two artistic influences, naturalist and impressionism which were dominate forms at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. This work was not well received in Argentina or in Europe since at this time post impressionism became popular with artist such as Ramon Silva, Valentin Thibon, Walter de Navazio y Eugenio Daneri. Daneri won the bronze metal in the International Hundred-year exposition, and in 1948 he won the Palanza prize. Daneri painted port scenes of harbors, deltas and rivers of La Boca, the Maciel island , Palermo where he lived, and some corners of San Isidro. Ilda believes that the Paisaje that she possesses is from this region. In this landscape the forms are defined unlike the usual style of the impressionists in which the forms were usually vague and lacking in precision. Never the less, Daneri was not a rigorous follower of this form. He painted using blobs of colors. It takes form through density, weight and volume. This technique is laborious, repetitive and sound in a grey golden hue.
Jorge Larco “Figura de Joven”, acuarela 34 x 45 cm.
Jorge Larco was born in Buenos Aires in 1897 and died in 1968. Despite his Spanish beginnings under the tutelage of artists Julio Romero de Torres and Alejandro Ferrant, Larco was more influenced by The School of Paris founded by such foreign artists like Chagall, Modiglimi, Soutine etc. These artists were not expressionists or surrealists, Fauvistas, cubists, or constructivists however Larco took advantage of these techniques incorporating them in his paintings with conceptual liberty and accents of modern art in both his form and color.
This water color demonstrates the outstanding aspect of this prolific artist, his spontaneity and flexibility. His exuberant temperament supports his ability to transform his elements at will.
Jorge Larco received various awards and his paintings are displayed at the museum of Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires.
Juan del Prete “Mujeres danzando en el campo” ( Women Dancing in the Countryside) Oil on Wood (101x91cm) 1939
Juan del Prete was born in Chiete Italy and died in Buenos Aires in 1987. He arrived in Argentina at the age of 13. Self – taught and experimentational he worked with Emilio Petoruti, Miro, Picaso, Matisse. He was friends with Joaquin Torres Garcia, and Arp Vantongerloo. He was the winner of the Palanza in 1958.
Mujeres danzando en el campo combines color with the sensation of dimension and a definition of form and silhouettes. His dancing women have a flexible cadence, and are spontaneous and dynamitic. The rhythm of their dance is simultaneous with chromatic music. Prete and other artists such as Antonio Berni, Demitrio Urrachua, Enrique Policastro y Juan Carlos Castagnino, demonstrated their social concerns and humanistic tendencies through their art. These artists are represented in this collection.
Dr. Antonio Berni:” Cabeza de niño “( A Child’s Head)(15×22.5 cm) Oil on card board 1941
“Figura de nino” ( Figure of a Child) (30x39cm) Oil on canvess 1940-1950
“Retrato de Ilda Ficher” ( Portrait of Ilda Ficher) Drawling 1952 – A matrimonial gift.
Antonio Berni was born in Rosario in 1905 and died in Buenos Aires in 1981. He worked in Paris with Andre Lhote and Othon Friesz. Lhote was his teacher who advised and guided his students to find their own path of expression. Due to Lhote’s influence, Berni turned his back on the “isims” and defined himself as a neo- realist. He was gifted in drawing. His talent can be appreciated in the drawing in which with sparse lines he accurately depicts his model and achieves an efficient and realistic expression. Although he prioritizes his model, he controls the psychological perspective and the concrete content.
His work during the 1920’s is one of the most original chapters in the history of Argentinean art. He is known by even those who are unfamiliar with the world of art.
Demetrio Urruchua “Cabeza de mujer” ( Head of a Woman) 1957 pastel (35×54 cm) 1957
Demitrio Urrachua was a painter, ingraver and muralist. He was born in Pehuajo, providence of Buenos Aires in 1902 and died in Buenos Aires in 1978. He studied at the society of Bellas Artes and in 1924 he travelled to Paris. In this painting Cabeza de mujer, example of human dignity, he worries not only about the form/volume but also about the form/color. He achieves in this feminine portrait, sensitive vibrations and a precise expression. But his most fundamental work is mural painting with allegorical and symbolic details and in his series of copies in which he represents the pathetic battle of man for his liberty, denouncing of the horrors committed by the endless human perversions. These copies were exhibited in the principal cities of the United States, Buenos Aires and in Rome. Together with Antonio Berni, Juan Carlos Castagnino, Lino Enea , Spilingbergo y Colmeiro, he painted the dome of the “Galeria Pacifico” in Buenos Aires. In the Women’s University of Montevideo he also painted five large panels.
Enrique Policastro “ Nino Jugando” ( Child Playing) 23×30 cm Oil on wood 1946
“Pareja en carruaje” ( Couple in carriage) Ink (21×29 cm)1954
“Carniceria de campo” ( Countryside butcher) Oil on wood (25x41cm) 1957
The self-taught artist was born in Buenos Aires in 1898 and died in 1971. He was an extremely neo-realistic painter. These paintings share the pain and drama of humanity, the fate of his creatures that live in poverty and exhaustion. In search of the ample perspective of light he goes out into the countryside, but the tone of his work is dark and dramatic. He is admirably able to re-create the environment, but always in an oppressive manner.
A similar style of art was also represented in 1939/40 by the artists Juan Carlos Castagnino Juan Battle Planas, Luis Seoane, and Orlando Pieri.
Juan Carlos Castagnino: “Caballos” (Horses) ( 45x60cm)Water color
This work speaks to us of his constant search of earthly expressions. He was a sensitive and emotive and watercolors were his method of expression. His creole horses with their heads held high and their manes whipping in the air, their swollen nostrils, happily breath in their freedom.
Juan Carlos Castagnino was a precocious sketcher. He was born in Camet Village in 1908 and was raised near the Bristol Beach in Mar del Plata amongst pure bred horses that his father who was a blacksmith attended to. His primary school teacher recognized him as a future artist, but his artistic abilities was truly discovered by Carlos Ripamonte. Ritomonte recognizing Catagnino’s talent permitted him to enroll in the national Academy. That is why Castagnino dedicated himself to architecture and his innate vocation, painting. He goes to Paris for two years but leaves Europe due to the outbreak of the World War II. But his time in Paris was fruitful. Although he worked in murals, oils and drawings, he excelled in watercolors and his preoccupation led him to write a book on this art form.
Juan Battle Planas Figuras (Figures) (71×52.5cm) Pastel
In Castagnino we found the search for earthly expression, in Battle Planas Figuras we find the search for realism and metaphysics. He is considered the first South American realist. This painting represents the head of a women, wearing a black turban, laying with her head upon her hand. Battle Planes concentrates his strength of expression on her head. This artist thought that his paintings could not be separated from the artistic collaborations of the twentieth century. For this reason, without resigning the meaning of the symbolism his painting is a bridge of communication to the public.
Raul Soldi “Cabeza de mujer” ( Head of a Women) Drawing
The subtle visual poetry of Raul Soldi is presented in this collection with a drawing consisting of bland contours accomplished with indecisive circles trapped in dynamic and “arabesque” style. This painter captivated his public with his enchanted and enchanting characters free of ugliness and woe, whose enigmatic facial expressions resemble one who is dreaming. He worked in drawings murals, scenery, and theatrical costumes. He was deserving of accolades but perhaps more importantly to him, was the public’s recognition of his work.
Orlando Pieri:“La escultura de banista desconocido” (Sculpture of an Unknown Bather )
In 1939 OrlandoPieri excels in the group Orion. Pieri was born in Buenos Aires 1913. He studied the school of Bellas Artes and travelled to Europe in 1937. Upon returning he founded the group Orion but he abandoned surrealism when he returned to Paris in 1946. He studied with Andre Lhote. His work was varied and rich. Towards the end of his life his passion for nature grows and he paints the oil on wood entitled Flores (Flowers) ( 39×29 cm) in 1954. In this piece unlike his previous work the emotions dominate. In the environment of luminous mystery the rich chromatic scheme and the romantic spirit stand out. His sculpture La escultura de banista desconocido (Sculpture of an Unknown Bather ) was turned into a hundred- peso stamp in 1977. In his final years Pieri turned towards a more romantic vein, painting lilies and sunflowers. His self portrait is found in the gallery Degli Uffizzi in Florence in the collection of artist’s self portraits which was formed on the one hundredth birthday of this gallery.
Luis Seoane “Tres Pescadores” (Three fisherman) Oil on wood (27.5×22-5) 1947
Luis Seoane was an easel painter, muralist, sketcher, engraver and writer. He was one of the most multi-talented artists of his generation. He was born in Buenos Aires in 1910 and died in La Corunia in Spain 1979. He spent his childhood and youth in Galicia. He studied law in and practiced his profession in Santiago de Compostela. He returned to Argentina when the Spanish Civil war broke out.
In his painting Los tres Pescadores, he remembers his years in Galicia. This painting is impregnated with motive and purpose in which he communicates a feeling of tenderness and nostalgia for this” land of sailors”. Simple but filled with expression it defines its contours with a quiet rhythm. Its color is plain but potent, much like the colors of the stained´- glass windows that he so admired in San Copostela.
Others member of the group Orion were Santiago Cogorno and Carlos Torrallardona. They did not concentrate on surrealism or metaphysics but instead on form and meaning. Cogorno made a pastel painting entitled Mujer acostada (Reclining Women) (59x45cm) 1956. Torrallardona made an oil on wood painting entitled Estacion de ferrocarril (Train Station)
( 52.5×37.5) 1958.
Satiago Cogorno was born in Satiago in 1915. He arrived in Italy with his parents in 1923. He spent years alternating between life in Argentina and Italy. In Italy he studied in the Brera Academy of Milan. Although he is associated with expressionism and faubism, due his preoccupation with colors and tactual values his work is not considered to be in the French style. The truth is that his temperament, sensuality, and education are essentially Italian. In the pastel he demonstrates himself to be a dedicated abstractionist. His figures are melodic and colorful allusions of the reality. Cogorno received the Palaza.award.
Carlos Torralladona was born in Buenos Aires in 1913 and died in 1986. He was one of the most lucid painters of his generation in the search of form and content. He cultivated all the modern “isims”, but he never lost his sense of realism as we can see in this painting “Estacion de Ferrocarril.”
Primaldo Monaco was born in Italy in 1921 and since childhood lived in Argentina. His oil on wood “Figura de mujer” (Figure of a Women)(32.5×54) 1952 forms part of this collection. He studied in the National School of Bellas Arts Prilidiano Pueyrredon. His paintings have been exhibited in national galleries since 1950. In 1965 he received the Grand Prize of Honor in the National Gallery. He was a member of the group Los Veinte. He also worked in non- figurative art with the group Arte Concreto Invencion which was led by Tomas Maldonado in the exhibition of 1945. In “Figura de mujer” one can appreciate an excellent drawing based on accented style and exemplary composition. He renews the Italian style depicting young women filled with grace and candor, enveloped in mystery and in a dreamlike state.
Sofie Olibesky Sabsay was born in Buenos Aires and studied with Emilio Centurion. From this artist with a marked tendency for cubism, there is a vision of the city with its tall building covered in mist.
Mario Mollari “ Nino con barrilete” Child with a Keg” Oil on Wood (58x68cm)
This painter was born in Buenos Aires in 1930, he was self-taught. He formed the group Epartaco whose name indicates it position of cultivating social paintings, which has always been and important tendency in Argentinean art. Mollari’s figures are large and frontal and give the impression of having been engraved into a block of stone. He also worked on murals a tendency that began in Argentina since the Mexican artist Siqueiros visited in 1933.
Celia Adler was born in Warsaw Poland 1925 and resided in Argentina since 1930. She was an integrant of the group Espartaco and her style is an expressive realism with themes of countryside and city. The piece from this artist that is found in this collection was created 1963 and it represents two women dressed in long tunics, reminiscent of Japanese art.
Zdravo Ducmelic “Figuras abstractas” (Abstract Figures) Oil on wood (25×41 cm)1960
In this piece by Zdravo Ducmelic a nationalized Argentinean there is a clear abstract style. By removing contours he reduces his forms progressively to rhythmic and suggestive forms and his liberal use of colors organize themselves in chords of pure hues.
Josefina Mazzaglia “Naturaleza muerta” (Dead Nature) 1960
Argentinean contemporary painter, engraver and sketcher participated since 1958 in National and provincial galleries. She won the Miguel Carlos Bictorica prize in 1958. This painter’s style was considered to be lyrical abstract or intuitive which opposed the sterile aesthetics of the more concrete artists that existed in Argentina 1945 after the publication of Arturo magazine. In her painting Naturaleza muerta she uses a geometric effect, mixing form and colors, without constraints and with complete liberty in her design.
Hugo Irueta was born in Buenos Aires in 1928. The Iruetas ( his brother Arturo was also a painter) were active from the year 1958 in the group Buenos Aires. The members of this group had already worked in the frontlines of impressionist and post-impressionist. Hugo Irueta had painted “Natuarleza muerta whose cubism was easily understood due to the more informal form he used in his latter years.
Two important sculptors are represented in this collection, Antonio Pujia and Horacio Juarez. Of Pujia there is a sculpture in iron. Pujia was born in Italy in 1929. He was a sculptor and created scenery for the Teatro de Buenos Aires from 1956 to 1970. Among his awards are the Agosto Palana which was awarded to him in 1964.
Horacio Juarez was born in Cordoba in 1901 and died in 1977. In 1952 he was awarded the Gran Premio Adquisicion Palanza. He was a restless inquirer of new form that brought him to conceive free flowing figures with vibrant use of cast and cement. This piece was also given to Ilda and Miguel Ficher as a wedding present. It was commissioned by the Ministry of France and represents art and literature. It is a woman sitting with a quill in one hand and a lyre in the other. Here there is a new concept of realism separated from the immediate reality and traditional academia. There is a rhythm to the figure and a warm expression on the face.
These are the “Cuadros de una Exposicion” Paintings of an Exhibition. A world that transcends the common world. A cosmos where each work stands alone, where there are no expired formulas but instead a constant willingness for animated renovation for poetry, idealism, and objectivity.