from Bayamón, PR
Monday, June 17th, marks the 180th anniversary of the birth of Puerto Rican painter Francisco Oller de Cestero (aka Frasquito). Oller traveled to Europe and became the only Spanish-speaking artist to play a part, however small, in the French impressionist movement. He was a friend of Cézanne, Pissarro, and Manet, and a student of Gustave Courbet. In 1861, when he began to study under Courbet, 19-year-old Paul Cézanne arrived in Paris. Cézanne was living on a 125-franc monthly allowance sent to him from his father, a wealthy banker in Aix. Oller, who was poor, worked as a church sexton and sang baritone with an Italian opera company. Soon the two young men were studying together and often went to paint at Oller’s place in the village of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris.
A branch between the two friends opened when they submitted works to the jury of the Salon. Oller’s was in the new realistic mode of Courbet, and it was accepted. Cézanne, whose style as even more outrageously modern, was rejected. In the ensuing years, Oller traveled back and forth between San Juan, Madrid and Paris. In 1895, at the age of 62, Oller returned to France after a long absence, bringing with him what he considered his masterwork, El Velorio, a mural-sized canvas depicting a group of Puerto Rican country people at a wake for a young child. Oller’s work, done in a strong Courbetian style, was refused by the Salon, whose stylistic tastes had changed over the years.
One of his oils, “L’Étudiant,” is the property of Musée d’Orsay in Paris. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m planning on going sometime next week. Wanna join me ?