Description

The return of the Indian raid (La vuelta del malón)

  • Artist: Della Valle, Ángel
    Nationality Argentina
    (Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1852 – Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1903)
  • Date: 1892
  • Acquisition: Sociedad Estímulo de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires)
  • Genre: traditions, historical
  • Support: On canvas
  • Dimensions: 186,5 x 292 cm.
  • Location: Room 24 - Arte argentino del Siglo XIX
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Reference 6297

Summary The return of the Indian raid (La vuelta del malón)

​From the moment it was first exhibited in 1892 in a storefront window on Florida Street (that of the Nocetti y Repetto hardware and paint store), La vuelta del malón (The Return of the Indian Raid) was celebrated as Argentina’s “first genuinely national work of art”. It was painted for the specific purpose of being sent to the world’s fair set to be held in Chicago to celebrate the fourth centenary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. The painting would be shown again in Buenos Aires that same year in the exhibition held prior to the envoy’s departure for Chicago. At the World's Columbian Exposition, it was awarded a medal (one single class) and when it arrived back in Buenos Aires, it was exhibited again at the second Salón del Ateneo in 1894. La vuelta del malón was Della Valle’s most celebrated work. It was the first time that a scene depicting a topic that so was essential to the long frontier wars against the indigenous populations of the pampa throughout the 19th Century had been presented in a large scale salon painting: the looting of frontier towns, theft of livestock and violence against and kidnapping of white women. The brushstrokes employed and handling of light are telling traces of Della Valle’s artistic education in Florence: not only what he had learned with Antonio Ciseri, but also his familiarity with the Macchiaioli group and the painters of the Italian Risorgimento. Some critics associated it with large history paintings by Spanish painter Ulpiano Checa, who had become famous for painting barbarians’ entrance in scenes from Spanish history and that of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Della Valle’s painting converged with a long tradition of Indian raids and captives represented in literary chronicles and tales on the topic, in addition to images representing the theme stretching as far back as the earliest romantic European travelers who toured the region during the first half of the 19th Century. During the 1870s, Juan Manuel Blanes had also produced several Indian raid scenes that appear as this work’s predecessors. Almost none of these had ever been seen by the public, however, given that their circulation had been quite restricted. As a result, La vuelta del malón was the first image dealing with an issue that had powerful emotive content in addition to unmistakably political and ideological significance to make its impact on the Buenos Aires public.According to Julio Botet, based on an interview with the artist in August of 1892, the painting’s theme was inspired by an Indian raid on an unnamed village led by Chief Cayutril, seconded by Caimán. Another commentary (in the newspaper Sud-América) situated the episode as having taken place at the 25 de Mayo settlement. Anecdotes aside, the painting seems to be a synthesis of the topics that circulated at the time as justification for Julio A. Roca’s 1879 “desert campaign”, effectively inverting the symbolic terms of conquest and plunder. The painting not only appears to be a glorification of Roca’s figure, but also implicitly suggests the extermination campaign as the culmination of the conquest of America in relation to the 1492 celebrations. Every element in the composition responds to this idea and is deployed with clarity and precision in their meaning. The scene unfolds at dawn, when a storm just begins to clear. The Indian raid appears to be equated with the unleashed forces of nature (another theme from frontier literature). The horsemen carry chalices, censers and other religious items indicating that they have looted a church. The Indians thus are imbued with impious and demoniacal connotations. The sky takes up over half of the composition, divided by a horizon line, barely interrupted by the warrior’s heads and lances. Against this dark sky, the cross that one carries and the long lance wielded by another are juxtaposed symbols of civilization and barbarity. Severed heads can be seen on the saddles of two of the horsemen, alluding to the raid’s cruelty. On the far left of the painting, one horseman is set apart from the rest of the group, carrying a semi-unconscious white woman as his captive, leaning against her captor’s shoulder, while he inclines over her. This passage of the work was the one that was most commented on, at times in a humorous tone, alluding to its erotic suggestion, or critically, citing certain incongruence between the woman’s pose and characteristics (too “civilized” and urban) and the rest of the composition.La vuelta del malón was taken to World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago by ophthalmologist Pedro Lagleyze, a friend of the artist, in the midst of an overall lack of organization and many difficulties surrounding the official envoy. It was exhibited in a manufacturing pavilion, as part of the Argentinean envoy, along with sacks of grain, wool and cowhides, etc. The few comments it did receive referred to the scene represented as one of the difficulties that Argentina had managed to overcome in order to become such a successful agricultural export nation. Ángel Della Valle painted a smaller version of La vuelta del malón as a gift that he gave to Lagleyze upon his return. Known as the “little Indian raid”, it has frequently been mistaken for a preliminary sketch. He later painted several isolated fragments from his grand canvas: the warrior group with the captive and the Indian flourishing the cross. Della Valle had begun to produce paintings on themes from the pampa during his stay in Florence. In 1887 he sent several works to Buenos Aires, among which figure an Indian on horseback (En la pampa (On the pampa)) and La banda lisa (The Plain Band) which seem to have been early approximations to La vuelta del malón.    The MNBA’s Director, Eduardo Schiaffino, requested the painting from the artist’s family following his death in 1903; the family opted to donate it instead to the Sociedad Estímulo de Bellas Artes, entrusted with selling it to the MNBA in order to establish an annual painting prize denominated “Ángel Della Valle” (1).Laura Malosetti Costa

Footnotes

1— Acquired by the Museum in 1909 for the price of $5,000-, by way of an open, regulated competition convoked in 1910. Cf. existing correspondence in the MNBA file on this work.

Bibliography

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