Cándido López represented the Guerra del Paraguay (Paraguayan War, 1865-1870)—in which he fought until wounded at Curupaytí—by way of descriptive-analytic paintings derived from European military cartographic representations of different battles. This was a representational method that had been developed in the Río de la Plata, reaching its highpoint in the battle paintings known as the Victorias de Urquiza (Urquiza’s Victories, Palacio San José, Entre Ríos), painted by Juan Manuel Blanes in 1857.
López’s lack of professional training (he was a photographer, soldier, shoemaker and rural worker) in an era of “artists” brought him closer to a past of regional traditions, when “art” was a task that was also undertaken by craftsmen, soldiers, typographers and calligraphers. López certainly had acquired a cursory pictorial background formation in Buenos Aires during the 1850s, and given that he was unable to pursue his desire for further education and gain insertion as an artist, photography in military campaign settlements served as a viable commercial option.
Nevertheless, his decisions regarding style are not the result of his level of education but of his acceptance of the manner in which war was visually portrayed, already residual at the time he was producing his work. This formal selection allows the Guerra de la Triple Alianza (War of the Triple Alliance, as the Paraguayan War was also called) to be read as the civil wars’ final episode and at the same time, as the military conflict that decided where these nation-states’ boundaries were set. In this sense, his painting is the last link to regional tradition and the first to serve as a function of modern nationalism (1). The idea of representing the experiences of war has its origin during the campaign, as his sketchbook attests, but external factors such as the economic crises of 1876 and 1890 are what seem to have motivated the artist to complete the task with such intensity. The painting was an instrument essential to his claim, comparable to public actions undertaken by veterans demanding their wages and pensions; through painting he managed to establish himself within conservative power’s biased system of favoritism after his highly resonant exhibition in 1885 at the Club Gimnasia y Esgrima, which was sponsored by the Centro Industrial Argentino (two nationalist institutions at the end of the century). Both his solo exhibition and the fact that the State acquired all the works in it are cases of exception in the history of 19th Century Argentinean art. López presented 29 paintings at the show, exactly one year after the war: between August 13, 1865 and August 13, 1866. It is quite likely that his condition as an invalid had an influence on public reaction to his work: his was the case of a one-armed man who had trained his unskilled hand, like a phenomenon from the spectacles that were popular during the 19th Century.
Many of the paintings were elaborated on the basis of sketches and notes the artist had taken during the war (Album of drawings n° 2, MNBA) and they were accompanied by texts that explained the scenarios, troops and events (2). Transposing drawings from his sketchbook to a painting format implied the application of color, which the drawings lacked. He had no choice but to turn to emotive memory and what he had learned from the Italian painters as a youth regarding how to think of color based on visual models in black and white.
The majority of his paintings posterior to the 1885 exhibition pertain to a group of works that entered the MNBA collection in 1968, which means that the most significant part of his production is now patrimony of the State. Among these, a series of nine paintings about Curupaytí done between 1893 and 1902 deserve special mention. Certain mannerism can be observed in his painting during the early nineties, as if López were aware of the fact that his distinctive manner of representing the war was a way of radically differentiating himself from academic painting, that is to say, by allowing anecdotal details to predominate over a single unified topic centered on a virtuous example. Anecdotal literature dealing with the Guerra del Paraguay may have increased the desire to continue with visual accounts. In this sense, López voiced his interest in illustrating episodes narrated by José Ignacio Garmendia. The painter had also consulted early literature about the war of Paraguay, specifically books by León de Pallejá and Thompson, in addition to Paraguayan texts by Juan Silvano Godoi and Juan Crisóstomo Centurión.
Although the theme portrayed, Después de la batalla de Curupaytí, brings the chronological narration of the military episode to its end, it was painted in the midst of an initial group of works from 1893, along with Asalto de la 3ª columna argentina a Curupaytí (Assault of the Third Argentinean Column at Curupaytí, inv. 7129) and Trinchera de Curupaytí (Trench at Curupaytí, inv. 7118), while Asalto de la 2ª columna brasileña a Curupaytí (Assault of the Second Brazilian Column at Curupaytí, inv. 7125) was produced the following year. The narrative is quite closed, with fundamental events already represented: the unsuccessful attacks by the allies, Paraguay’s defense and the cruel image of defeat. He painted the rest of the works episodically, completing representations of each of the four columns that intervened in the attack and the squadron bombarding enemy fortifications: in 1897, Asalto de la 1ª columna brasileña a Curupaytí (Assault of the First Brazilian Column at Curupaytí inv. 7119), in 1898 Asalto de la 4ª columna argentina a Curupaytí (Assault of the Fourth Argentinean Column at Curupaytí, inv. 7123); in 1899 another Trinchera de Curupaytí (inv. 7126), in 1901 Ataque de la escuadra brasileña a las baterías de Curupaytí el 22 de septiembre de 1866 (Attack of the Brazilian Squadron on the Batteries of Curupaytí, September 22, 1866, inv. 7117) and curiously enough, the last one, from 1902, is the first episode: Marcha del ejército argentino a tomar posiciones para el ataque a Curupaytí, el 22 de septiembre de 1866 (March of the Argentinean Army to take up Positions for the Attack on Curupaytí, September 22, 1866), once again an early view of the war similar to the series painted between 1876 and 1885. An interesting note is that the time lapse between the two groups of works on Curupaytí coincides with the years when the Álbum de la Guerra del Paraguay (Paraguayan War Album) made its appearance, an illustrated bimonthly publication edited between 1893 and 1896, containing images of the conflict produced by other artists (3).
The choice of giving priority to Después de la batalla de Curupaytí among other paintings with similar plastic qualities is in order to underline its singular narrative: it is the first episode in which the artist shifts away from his role as witness, and at the same time it relates the tension suffered by a wounded man under enemy fire; he might well have been one of the corpses being looted. From among all of his works, this image especially represents the war’s devastation, after the armed conflict and without moral accusations (in the Tuyutí series at the Museo Histórico Nacional, for example, the bloody details are part of the military action). This work stands apart, therefore, within a war narrative that shows the camps’ everyday details (as in the stupendous Vista interior de Curuzú mirado de aguas arriba, (Interior View of the Curuzú, seen from Upstream, 1891, inv. 7128, MNBA) and the movements involved in troop landings and river and stream crossings.
Cándido López would write descriptions of the episodes he represented, and for Después de la batalla de Curupaytí, the text he wrote is one of the shortest: “Obeying the order to retreat, the troops initiate the movement without being pursued by the enemy. When not a single allied soldier remained within the cannons’ reach, the members of the 12th Regiment of the Paraguayan infantry came out of their trenches to gather the loot” (4).Roberto Amigo
1— Cf. Roberto Amigo, “El alba con la noche” in: El alba con la noche, exhib. cat. Asunción, Centro de Artes Visuales- Museo del Barro, 2009, p. 6-14.
2— Catálogo descriptivo de la colección de cuadros históricos representando batallas, campamentos y episodios por el pintor argentino Cándido López exhibidos el año 1885 bajo la protección del Centro Industrial Argentino y Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima. Ofrecida al Honorable Congreso Argentino con un testimonio del general Bartolomé Mitre y varios artículos de la prensa. Buenos Aires, printing and lithography by Stiller & Laass, 1887.
3— See: Roberto Amigo, “Representar la Guerra Guasú: Cándido López, Adolf Methfessel, Modesto González, José Ignacio Garmendia” in: La épica y lo cotidiano. Imágenes de la Guerra Guasú, exhib. cat. Corrientes, Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Dr. Juan R. Vidal, 2008, p. 10-17.
4— Transcription of the document found in Dujovne, 1971, p. 33.
1949. PAGANO, José León, Cándido López. Buenos Aires, Ministerio de Educación, Subsecretaría de Cultura, il. 63.
1971. DUJOVNE, Marta y Marta Gil Solá, Cándido López. Buenos Aires, Asociación Amigos del MNBA, p. 33, il. 8.
1982. Cándido López. Inauguración Sala Permanente. Buenos Aires, MNBA, folleto [nº 7].
1984. ROA BASTOS, Augusto y Marta Dujovne, Cándido López. Milano, Franco Maria Ricci, p. 159, reprod. color detalle p. 107.
1993. GLUSBERG, Jorge y Patricio Lóizaga, Cándido López: fragments and details / fragmentos y detalles. New York/Buenos Aires, New York University/Fundación Banco Crédito Argentino, p. 65, reprod. color detalle. — Cándido López. Portraits. Vida y obra de artistas eminentes. Buenos Aires, Americana de Publicaciones, reprod. color.
1998. PACHECO, Marcelo E., Cándido López. Buenos Aires, Banco Velox, p. 300-307, reprod. color.