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Dynamic & Rare Lithograph of a Gaucho

By Argentina’s First Important National Painter

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427.     [MOREL, Juan Carlos (artist)]. Gaucho y sus armas [below image at right] Lit Argent. N.p., n.d. [Buenos Aires?, ca. 1839]. Lithograph on thin blue wove paper, depicting a virile equestrian gaucho dominant in the foreground of a vast pampa, riding on a horse at full gallop and swinging his bola with his left hand while giving his horse free reign with the right. Image: 25.4 x 30.5 cm; image, title, and imprint: 26 x 30.5 cm; overall sheet size: 28 x 42.6 cm. Some light chipping and browning to blank margins (not affecting image), overall light wrinkling and a few short tears (mostly confined to blank margins, but one affecting a letter of title), otherwise a fine copy of a fragile image lithographed on delicate paper. Very rare.

     This beautifully and historically accurate rendering of a gaucho on a handsome steed exhibits fine detail, including gaucho attire, tack, equestrian equipage and accoutrements (bombachas, botas de potro, calzonzillos blancos, chiripá, rebenque, etc.). The confident, sweeping skill of the artist and his rapport with his subject is marvelous, resulting in a very lively composition. The tiniest details are executed in rapid, sketchy strokes that convey imagery with remarkable economy, such as an humble rancho in the distant background, the structure of which is portrayed almost magically. Overall, this is a wonderfully dynamic image.

     Artist Carlos Morel (1813-1894), Argentine painter and lithographer, was his country’s first important national painter and the first to be trained within its borders. After studying drawing with Josef Guth at the University of Buenos Aires (1827-1830), he created miniatures and portraits and made his first lithograph in 1838. In 1841, he published eight lithographs depicting regional customs and manners as part of a large series printed by the firm of Gregorio Ibarra. Morel traveled to Rio de Janeiro in 1842; upon his return in 1844, he collected his lithographs of gaucho scenes in the exceedingly rare Usos y costumbres del Río de la Plata (1844-1845), published in Buenos Aires by Luis Aldao’s Litografía de las Artes.

     Morel is best known for his scenes of gauchos, Native Americans, and local customs in the late 1830s and early 1840s, but he also painted portraits of dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas and his mother. Among Morel’s important paintings, Cavalry Battle during the Regime of Rosas and Charge of the Cavalry Division of the Federal Army, together with the watercolor Gaucho Cavalry (1839-1840), reveal his considerable skill as a painter of both historical subjects and local customs. Morel’s period of artistic productivity was very brief, spanning only about fifteen years. Unfortunately, Morel’s brilliant artistic output was cut short early; the last fifty years of his life were characterized by depression and seclusion (likely the result of the aforementioned Rosas’ cruel persecution of his family). In addition, much of his art work disappeared, causing him to be overlooked by critics and art historians for some time. Fortunately, Morel’s artistic reputation has since been rehabilitated, and he is now considered to be Argentina’s “first important national painter” (Leslie Bethel, The Cambridge History of Latin America, From Independence to c. 1870, Cambridge University Press, 1985, Vol. III, p. 810).

     The romantic icon of the U.S. cowboy has its parallel in Argentina, where the gaucho serves as that nation’s symbol of virtue, virility, and national identity. See Richard W. Slatta, Cowboys of the Americas (Yale University Press, 1990, esp. pp. 31-35 & 196-201), who comments: “The gaucho is more important to Argentina than the cowboy figure is in any other country.” (p. 196).


Sold. Hammer: $600.00; Price Realized: $720.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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