Undoubtedly, the figure of León Pallière occupies a central place in the story of the history of Argentine art. Unlike Monvoisin and Gauthier, who did not favor the development of local art with their work due to their short permanence in the national territory, Pallière influenced with his work in the consolidation of the pictorial genre of rural customs with his almost eleven years of stay, between 1855 and 1866. We will try to interrogate here some pieces of his vast production with the care of pointing out the modifications that he introduces in the treatment of the genre, the residual aspects that his paintings and lithographs conserve and the emerging aspects that they induce.
During the five years of residence in Europe, Pallière toured not only Italy and France but also the limits of the Mediterranean grand-tour, so dear to traveling artists and romantic erudites: Spain and Morocco, that is, societies and landscapes obligatory for the orientalist painter; this traveling spirit will last long in his long American stay. Pallière arrived in Buenos Aires in December 1855, as Julio E. Payró has shown (1); curious choice when his training had been financed by Brazil (that is why he had sent his academic copies and study paintings to Rio de Janeiro). Without a doubt, in addition to meeting his fellow student Gauthier, he must have weighed the idea of ??less competition in a modernizing posrosista (after Juan Manuel de Rosas government) city. Although it is unknown, as Ribera points out, what was done in the years 1856 and 1857 (2) is likely that he made a trip together with the aforementioned schoolmate. Yes, the one made between March to October 1858 is documented by his Diary; the route was Rosario, Mendoza, Santiago, Valparaíso, Cobija, Salta, Tucumán, Santiago del Estero and Córdoba to return through Rosario to Buenos Aires (3).
The brief and hyperbolic description is a habitual resource in the painter's writing, from its very first pages ("Buenos Aires is the least forested country in the world: it has no trees"), which accompanies the romantic excess of his feelings towards nature: "I am alone on the bridge until midnight, thinking sadly of the friends I left behind. The sky is starry. The grandeur of nature mitigates all sorrows”. However, the perception of the environment can also be understood through visual and literary memory, in some cases laughable as when faced with the damage of the steam over the Parana, it states: "Anyway, a true shipwreck of La Medusa". If here is Gericault's painting, the next reference will be literary: before the rise of a steamed priest he writes: "The first chapter of Sterne's Sentimental Journey came to my memory". Pallière can understand the landscape not as a naturalist traveler would, but also from artistic memory; for example: "The most beautiful sky in the Claude Lorrain style illuminates our departure from the post of the Three Crosses" or then before the children on a ranch: "it is a true Tenniers”. Painting and literature, then, is what builds the perception of the American environment; the two initial references to his journey are significant: the first relates him to romantic painting, the second to eighteenth-century travel literature. Moreover, we can suggest that if traces of romantic painting only survived in his eclectic style, in his writing he aspired to elaborate a story like that of the Irish Laurence Sterne: affirmed in sentimental observation, often trivial.
On the other hand, as a good traveler, he carried books in his suitcases that placated the sentimental will for the descriptive one with an air of scientificity: Felix de Azara. Thus, he transcribes: “The life of the gaucho is completely linked to that of the horse. Here is what Azara says, leaving nothing to add: «The gaucho on foot is indolent and apathetic; but on horseback man and animal seem to form a single being; it would seem that the same fire circulates through the veins of both »“. Thus, he was concerned –although not centrally– with the description of social types, houses, animals and plants: sketches and studies aimed at the margin of writing. This level of descriptive observation will be the substratum of most of his work since it was the basis of a visual archive to which he will freely resort to additively compose his oils, watercolors and lithographs, which are the result of the sum of unitary elements previous. To the baggage contributed by paintings and books, Pallière adds a way of understanding the strange marked by its cultural origin: his diary is crossed by Asian references. For example, in tune with Sarmiento, whom you have probably already read:
[…] All these national militia leaders were armed at the head of diverse groups, spread over a vast country, a true desert of prairies, under an authority not lacking in analogy with that of the tribal chiefs, as we have seen in Algeria. The similarity is all the greater since the only industry in the country, modified only a few years ago, was the breeding of cattle and horses.
Sarmiento elaborated his analogies with a territory and society that the pampa did not know - although he didn’t know the pampa either - when he wrote El Facundo, on the contrary Pallière could refer to his experience: “Many poorly dressed women, with an Arab and bohemian appearance, come to sell us mugs of milk, melons, watermelons and many peaches ”; “… Its inhabitants are in the street, sitting on the ground; they have a striking Arab or Bedouin appearance ”; "... the Indians I wanted to draw on the street escaped like the Arabs in Africa in similar circumstances." In a town in Salta, when a woman asked him to heal her sick son, "this reminds me that similar requests are made to European travelers in the East"; describing the people of Santiago del Estero: “Half the population, at least, is Indian, being different from what I have seen so far; it's completely Egyptian type”. The analogy can be transformed into a feeling of nostalgia stimulated by the memory of the military brother in campaign for Algeria:
At the first stop I think about my brother's letters, who are making an expedition through Algeria. This plain that we cross reminds me of Blida; and the mountains to our right, as far as the gorge to which we are heading, transport me as in dreams to the road from Blida to Miliana, before entering the Chilpa gorge. […] I think of Africa, our beloved Zuavo. The white stones resemble ambush Arab bathrobes and I can imagine the hiss of bullets.
Thus, Pallière's writing is determined by the analogy between the gaucho and the Arabic, a topic of liberal discourse, which stimulates fantasy and the gaze for aesthetic creation. The writing of the memories, after all, implies the expectation of return: beyond the long time that transforms the traveler into a resident, the imagined reader is always European.
Pallière's diary assumes the French conservative view of the rural world, as a territory uncontaminated by the evils of civilization. This aspect collaborates in the displacement of the descriptive naturalistic representation that had defined the pictorial image of the rural towards a literary model, for this reason the subjective narrative tends to complement the mass of descriptive information that is usual in travelers' books (4). For example, the issue of the cradle in the ranches (dealt with in watercolor, oil and lithography variants) is mentioned in the diary: “Next to him is a child in a suspended cradle; nothing more simple or charming”. In the same sentimental way, he elaborates the image of the gaucho, whose songs are "naive, loving and rustic". In Pallière's work singing does not presage crime, it is simply a primitive singing whose goal is conquest of love or hospitality. When we talk about the literary influence in Pallière's work, we are referring to a gaze that loses the descriptive, documentary intention, to build an image of the gaucho and of the rural sustained in narrative and sentimental aspects to produce emotion for the viewer.
In some cases the relationship is close: Manuel Mújica Lainez and Bonifacio del Carril (5) have pointed out that the lithography La pulpería (The grocer's shop) corresponds to the tenths of Anastacio el Pollo, according to news from the newspaper La Tribuna. More notable is the case of Creole Idilio, studied in an exemplary way to corroborate its attribution by Julio E. Payró.
The main figures in this oil painting are a couple in love at the door of a ranch. On a rustic bench the guitar and the spindle rest on a cloth; the spinning wheel fallen to the ground, like the horsewhip. Other rural objects appear under the eaves: the spurs, the saddle and the reins wrap the mortar of the corn crusher woman. Pallière presents the masculine and the feminine based on the objects of this "gaucho still life". In the shadows of the ranch, an older couple looms, the parents of the young countrywoman. Payró was concerned to point out the documentary deficiencies of the clothing and some elements that do not correspond to the Pampas plain, a minor aspect that is the result of the artist's work system. In Idilio Criollo Pallière tightens the rope of banal symbolism: the pair of doves reproduce the love flirtation of the characters, like the rooster and the hen, next to the dog of marital fidelity.
Is it the moment that precedes the concerted kidnapping that Pallière represents? Some narrative elements seem to suggest it: the “gauchita's” doubt about entering the ranch (the gesture stopped in the hand that leans on the entrance post to the family universe) the spindle and the spinning wheel of the maiden's work lie abandoned, the horse on the pole, the guitar that has just stopped playing. Pallière repeatedly affirms in his diary his fascination for love without the faults and taboos of the West (another orientalist image): "I have not seen any ranch without a couple with the appearance of happiness and indolence - I would even say - almost in love" and as a voyeur adds:
Strolling near the ranches, I contemplate couples tenderly linked; and if this does not go beyond the last limits of what is lawful, at least they check that they are not detest. Nothing seems extraordinary to them; neither neighbors nor passers-by are inconvenient to them. The beloved of one of those lovely couples was searching for bird nests in the bushy head of her Romeo (6).
In a lithograph of the album from 1864, the artist returned to the subject of Creole Idilio, relating it to a tenth by Ricardo Gutiérrez (7). The image becomes the soul of an emblem of rural love invented by literate society, final acceptance of the hegemony of the literary over descriptive customs. Thus, it is the gaucho literature that offers the artist another conceptual model from which to represent rural affairs, a model compatible with orientalism that was also sustained in romantic literature (8). Pallière's work is, then, a transition point between the descriptive model and the literary model (9). The latter will be the hegemonic in the following years due to the impact of the Creole newsletter on the painting of rural customs.
1. Payró, Pallière ..., p. 18. See Alejo B. González Garaño, Pallière. Ilustrador de la Argentina 1856-1866, Buenos Aires, 1943. Separata from the Anuario de Historia Argentina, III (1941), Buenos Aires, Argentine History Society, 1942.
2. Rivera, “La Pintura” …, p. 278.
3. León Pallière, Diario de viaje por la América del Sud, Buenos Aires, Ediciones Peuser, 1945. Introduction, translation and notes by Miguel Solá and Ricardo Gutiérrez. These researchers have wisely proposed 1869 as the date of the writing of the Preface, by reference to the Count de Beauvoir's book on Australia published on that date and quoted by Pallière. His departure must have encouraged Pallière to order his papers to think of a publication for the European public. Unless otherwise indicated, the following citations refer to this reference.
4. See Adolfo Prieto, Los viajeros ingleses y la emergencia de la literatura argentina, 1820-1850, Buenos Aires, Sudamericana, 1996.
5. Bonifacio del Carril, El Gaucho, Buenos Aires, Emecé Editores, 1993, p. 99 and following. Between May 1864 and August 1865 Pallière gave the Buenos Aires public a series of lithographic prints of urban and rural customs with uneven quality. The plates covered a wide territory from Brazil to Chile, passing through several Argentine provinces. As indicated by its title Album Pallière. American scenes. Reduction of paintings, aquarelles and sketches, is the passage to the stone of the artist's previous works from various periods made in Pelvilain's lithography.
6. La Tribuna (03/27/1861) publishes a comment on the painting exhibited in the Casa Fusoni, reproduced in the aforementioned book by Payró, which completes the meaning: “… La gauchita (the gaucho lady) thinks deeply, her face resting on her hand, and seems ready to give; you can see that his mouth says no, and his heart does, and that very soon both will agree - about what? - we do not know, but our readers will perhaps guess better than we what a gaucho can ask to a gaucho lady so urgently. […] And the painter has represented with her most scrupulous fidelity the Sunday outfit of this class of our society with customs so strange and so little known outside our country.”
7. The poetry is as follows: Do not go, born light / In my desolate night / Carrying in each footstep / A piece of my life. / My saddened hope / Like a touch of prayer, / To buy the ambition / Of this immense love without calm, / It brings you a heaven in your soul / And a world in your heart!
8. It is interesting that we find a greater persistence of the "orientalist visual model" when it represents the gaucho-soldier. The watercolors on the Urquiza’s federal soldiers are good examples of this look, like Lanceros de Urquiza. Compared with those carried out on the National Guard, Pallière's agreement with Buenos Aires liberalism is transparent: see Departure of the National Guard towards Pavón and Patrol in the Plaza de la Victoria. If one of the central ideas of federal customs was the identification of the gaucho with the soldier, both in scholarly art and in popular art, under Buenos Aires liberalism another guiding idea prevails: that of the citizen soldier, which includes the civilian but considered from its citizen quality, that is to say urban. The most notorious image of this new iconography is precisely Patrol in the Plaza de la Victoria. On the contrary, the federal soldiers of Pallière are embedded in barbarism, in the antifederal discourse of Buenos Aires, it is the visual transcription of Sarmiento's description in the Campaign of the Big Army: they are Arabs. Confront Roberto Amigo, "Images of history and political discourse in the State of Buenos Aires (1852-1862)". Arte Argentino de los siglos XVIII y/o XIX. Special Mentions. Telefónica Prize for Research in the History of the Arts Plastics, 1998. Buenos Aires, FIAAR, 1999, pp. 9-57.