Perhaps no other painter has better captured the spirit of the gaucho than Juan Manuel Blanes. Blanes' gaucho paintings celebrate the traditional way of life led by those on the open pampas of America's southern cone. Fiercely independent, rugged and virile, the gaucho, like the cowboy in the United States or the charro in Mexico, embodies a “Wild West” persona from a bygone era that has become tied to national identity. While gauchos still roam the expansive plains of the Río de la Plata region, the push for progress and industrialization that began in the latter half of the nineteenth century greatly reduced their numbers. Indeed, by the time Blanes painted his first gauchos in the 1860s, modernization had already begun to transform the pampas. Over the following decades, Blanes returned repeatedly to the subject of the gaucho, yet his paintings reveal no signs of the railroads, telegraph poles and formal ranches that had lacerated the countryside. Rather, Blanes' gauchos inhabit a world of pristine prairies and clear vast skies, far removed from the pressures of urban life experienced by both the artist and the cosmopolitan audience for whom these works were made. It is no doubt this romantic lyricism of Blanes' work that has continued to resonate with viewers from the nineteenth century to the present day.
In Aurora, a lone gaucho mounted on a horse turns around to look directly at the viewer as if inviting us into his Arcadian world. A favorite compositional motif of Blanes', this single engaging gaucho appears completely at ease in his virtual solitude, save for a pair of skittish birds and a few men tending their herds on the distant horizon line. Enveloped in Blanes' signature glowing golden light, the scene evokes the essence of daybreak: quiet tranquility mixed with the promise and possibility of what lies ahead. For this gaucho, the new day will likely bring many challenges as he weathers the elements and herds his cattle alone on the desolate plains. Yet, these struggles are his defining strength he seems to tell us as he looks over his shoulder at us as if to say:
A son am I of the rolling plain,
A gaucho born and bred...
I was born on the mighty Pampas' breast,
As the fish is born in the sea;
Here I was born and here I live
That I take away with me.
And this is my pride: to live as free
As the bird that cleaves the sky...1
1 J. Hernández, El gaucho Martín Fierro, edition trans., C.E. Ward, (State University of New York Press, 1967), 26.
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Eduardo Luciani Araújo and dated 23 July 2014.
We are also grateful to Roberto Amigo for his assistance cataloguing this work.