With the unveiling of The Battle of Treviño, by Puerto Rican painter Francisco Oller y Cestero (18331917), the Museo de Arte de Ponce
celebrates the acquisition of a nineteenth-century masterpiece that has never before been exhibited publicly a painting whose very existence, in fact, was unsuspected until just a few years ago. The work was part of a private collection that had been in the hands of a single family in Spain for over 130 years.
We are celebrating the arrival in Puerto Rico of The Battle of Treviño, a masterpiece by the islands most talented and beloved nineteenth-century painter. It is a source of great pride for our institution that we are able to give both scholars and the public in general access to this important work, which now becomes a part of Puerto Ricos artistic patrimony, said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, director and chief executive officer of the Museo de Arte de Ponce.
The Battle of Treviño represents a very significant historical moment. During much of the nineteenth century, Spain was in the midst of a series of civil wars, the Carlist Wars of Succession, waged between the supporters of Isabel II (the Isabelino Liberals) and the supporters of Infante Carlos (the Carlists) over who would succeed Ferdinand VII, the father of Isabel and brother of Carlos. On July 7, 1875, during the third Carlist War, Liberal troops fought for control of the town of Vitoria, south of Bilbao. Colonel Juan Contreras y Martínez, with fewer than a hundred lancers against the many-times-greater Carlist army, attacked the enemy troops on the left flank of a mountain and overcame the powerful battalion. The victory in the Battle of Treviño became a rallying point and propaganda coup for the Liberal government of Spain and opened the door to Col. Contreras appointment as King Alfonso XIIs aide-de-camp.
Stylistically, the painting represents Ollers mature style. The subject matter and mood of the work are clearly inspired by aspects of Spanish Realism, while the loose, rapid brushwork and the atmospheric qualities of the scene suggest Ollers assimilation of the principles of Impressionism. All this creates a style that reflects Ollers desire to capture on canvas the visual aspects of action, the imbalance between the contending sides, and the immediacy of the chaotic moment.
This painting is the last of the four versions of the battle done by Oller; it is recognized as the finest, and certainly the largest, of the four. The third version, in a smaller format, was painted by Oller in 1877 and, now hanging in the collection of the Royal Palace in Madrid, is considered part of Spains national heritage. Although it is true that the choice of subject by Oller may have been motivated by his desire to
be named official painter to the court of Alfonso XII, it should be noted that Oller and Contreras were contemporaries, and that they had been friends since 1855, when Contreras father had been second-in-command of the Spanish forces in Puerto Rico. Oller knew and enormously admired Contreras, the hero of this battle, and with this painting he paid homage to his friend while at the same time showing his loyalty to and support for the newly-proclaimed king of Spain.
The unveiling of this work took place in a moving ceremony at the Museo de Arte de Ponce with lectures by Haydée Venegas, art historian and Oller specialist, and Dr. Edward Sullivan, who holds the Helen Gould Sheppard Chair in Art History at New York Universitys Institute of Fine Arts. The titles of their presentations were, respectively, Oller and the Battle of Treviño: A Visual Genealogy and Preparing for the Battle: Ollers Studies and Sketches for The Battle of Treviño.
Ollers monumental Battle of Treviño is an extraordinary piece, and quite unusual in the career of this master of Realism and Impressionism, whose main subjects were still-lifes, landscapes, and portraiture. This painting presents a challenge to those who wish to study the precedents, influences, and meanings of the artists complex career. It exhibits many similarities to works by Ollers contemporaries such as Mariano Fortuny, and even to French artists that Oller admired, such as Ernest Meissonier, noted well-known historian Edward Sullivan.
Professor Haydée Venegas called The Battle of Treviño a revelation of the enormous talent of Francisco Oller, who here demonstrates his gift for handling subjects, forms, and ideas simultaneously.
Doctor Arteaga in turn, shared with the audience the great enthusiasm felt by the Museo de Arte de Ponces entire staff, for after the long and intense process of acquisition, we have finally managed to repatriate this painting to Francisco Ollers homeland, to the delight of all Puerto Ricans. The Battle of Treviño continues the Museo de Arte de Ponces long tradition of supporting and promoting Puerto Ricos artistic heritage and adds to the impressive list of seven hundred new acquisitions by the Museum over the last five years. We invite the public to visit us, and to discover this museum that belongs to all of us, and to continue to celebrate and share the islands artistic legacy.
The Francisco Oller y Cestero Collection at the Museo de Arte de Ponce
The Museo de Arte de Ponce owns ten other works by Francisco Oller, among which, à propos of the unveiling of The Battle of Treviño, is a portrait of Colonel Francisco Enrique Contreras painted in 1880, a year after The Battle. The other paintings by Oller in the Museums collection are Cats Playing (ca. 189293), oil on wood panel; Hacienda Aurora (189899), oil on wood panel; Governor George W. Davis (ca. 1900), oil on canvas; Portrait of Governor Beekman Winthrop (ca. 1905), oil on canvas; Hacienda Esmeralda in Santa Isabel (ca. 188688), oil on dinner plate; Monte de las Cabras (ca. 188688), oil on dinner plate; The Ponce Ceiba (ca. 188788), oil on canvas; Portrait of José Pratts (n.d.), oil on canvas; and Still Life (n.d.), oil on canvas.