The politically and socially turbulent years from 1934 to 1945, impacted the visual arts worldwide. In Venezuela, landscape painting of the Escuela de Caracas, held a dominant place in a country long deprived of genuine artistic expression due to the iron rule of a dictator. The death of the tyrant Juan Vicente Gómez, ushered an era of hope for the nation and the possibility of democracy after long years of repression and frustration. Immersed in the social climate of their times, artists rebelled against the artistic status quo to reflect the very essence of their historical moment. The Mexican Mural Movement and its leading figures--Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco--proved to be of great influence throughout South America; the muralist project would be reinterpreted to celebrate various regional styles.
Héctor Poleo who studied with Rafael Monasterios and Marcos Castillo, is considered a master of a new realism--one which is sensual and lyrical and shares affinities with both Piero della Francesca in his translucent tonalities and with Pierre Bonnard in his refined palette. The artist would leave Venezuela by 1930 to study with the great muralists in Mexico; there, he would grow as an artist and develop his own artistic choices. Poleo's figures like the figures that fill the Mexican murals, are farmers, factory workers, the poor--but unlike the vibrant casts that march and protest throughout the various Mexican mural cycles, his figures are silent, solemn and stoic.
In Campesinos, we are immediately drawn to the luminous composition of figures that are barely there--they have been depicted without features and seem to be ghostly perhaps alluding to the harsh reality that the poor are often "unseen" politically and socially. However the entire surface of the canvas radiates with the glow of the sun and the glimmer of hope. The figure of the man with the heavy bundles leads us into the world these women and men occupy--they work and live and their harsh existence is born with simple humility and grace.