On June 6th, our recently acquired painting by Francisco Oller (1833-1917), the most important Puerto Rican artist of the nineteenth century, will go on view in the Museum’s 3rd-floor Beaux-Arts Court alongside Impressionist landscapes by Oller’s Paris masters and peers, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, and Alfred Sisley.
Hacienda La Fortuna is the second Oller painting to enter a New York public collection—the first, his sublime still life Platanos Amarillos, was acquired by the Museo del Barrio in 2009. Brooklyn’s newest acquisition is, however, the only Oller hacienda painting (he executed six in total) to enter any collection, public or private, outside of Puerto Rico. Brooklyn acquired the Oller, as well as a colonial Mexican folding screen inlaid with mother-of-pearl, with funds from last year’s sale of Vasily Vereshchagin’s Crucifixion by the Romans. I am currently pursuing additional key acquisitions for the Museum’s European and Spanish colonial collections with these funds.
Francisco Oller was a privileged member of Puerto Rico’s upper middle class. As was common practice with young men of his social status, he traveled to Europe to complete his formal education, first in Madrid’s Royal Academy of San Fernando and then in Paris in the studios of Thomas Couture and Charles Gleyre. In Paris Oller also studied informally at the Académie Suisse, where he painted and drew alongside Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne. It was in fact Oller who would later introduce Cézanne to Camille Pissarro, a fellow Caribbean-born painter of the Paris avant-garde. In France the young Puerto Rican painter exhibited at the Paris Salons as a “disciple of Courbet” and at the Salon des Refusés of 1875 before returning to San Juan, where he introduced Realism and Impressionism through several art academies he would establish in the island’s capital.
Oller is at his most Impressionistic in Hacienda La Fortuna, which he painted when the avant-garde movement was still at its height in Paris. Here, the artist deftly captures nature’s fleeting effects of light and atmosphere, including in the foreground the morning mist of a Puerto Rican winter, with quick, broken brushstrokes. Oller completed this painting in the winter of 1885 for the Barcelona émigré José Gallart Forgas, who had commissioned him to paint portraits of all five of his Puerto Rican sugar mill complexes. Oller completed only this one, and the local painter and freed slave, Pío Casimiro Bacener (1840-1900), painted three: La Reparada, La Luciana, and La Serrano. Oller’s early morning view of Hacienda La Fortuna features the planter’s colonial mansion, his warehouse at left, and his sugar mill with a smokestack at right. It was in such mills that sugar cane was semi-processed into raw sugar and then shipped off to Brooklyn, which since 1860 was the world’s leading center of sugar refining. Throughout the second half of the century New York’s “sugar barons” traded extensively with both Puerto Rico and Cuba, by then Spain’s only remaining colonies in the Americas. Puerto Rico and Cuba would remain colonies through the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Oller painted Hacienda La Fortuna in Puerto Rico in early 1885, thirteen years before the island was liberated from four centuries of Spanish rule. By October of that same year Gallart had taken the painting back with him to Barcelona, where it remained with his descendants through 2004. That year the family sold Oller’s hacienda painting through the Barcelona auction house Balcli’s, and Brooklyn acquired it from the private collector that had purchased it in that sale.
When you come to the Museum, you will be able to fully experience Oller’s Hacienda La Fortuna in both its French avant-garde and Spanish colonial contexts. The painting will first go on view June 6th on the Museum’s modern French landscape wall in the European gallery as a masterwork of high Impressionism. And in September 2013 it will join 160 works of art from several Brooklyn and New York collections in the Museum’s Behind Closed Doors Spanish colonial exhibition.
Stay tuned for more on Brooklyn’s future European and Spanish colonial art acquisitions.