The lost work of abolitionist Francisco Oller

oller negro

Below is a translation of a fascinating piece by Edwin Velázquez Collazo for Puerto Rico Art News. In this article, he discusses the work of iconic Puerto Rican artist Francisco Oller as part of the abolitionist movement in 19th century Puerto Rico. He identifies “El negro flagelado”—that translates as “The Flogged Black Man” or “The Flagellated Negro”—as the lost work of the abolitionist artist.

Historical evidence reveals that when Oller returned to Puerto Rico in 1866 he found a social environment still permeated by slavery, racial, economic, and social prejudice. Very different from the airs of freedom that he experienced in Europe at that time.

As a result, Oller joined the struggles for Puerto Rico’s abolition of slavery, which was granted in 1873. Between his arrival in 1866 and 1874—the date of his second trip to France—the artist made a series of works where he expressed his denunciation of the institution of slavery.

Among the works executed under that abolitionist thinking is a lost work of Caribbean and Puerto Rican impressionist master Francisco Oller y Cestero (1833-1917) entitled “El negro flagelado” or “Un boca arriba” (c.1872) [Translator’s note: This translates as “The Flagellated Negro” or “A Face-up Punishment,” but it looks more like a “face-down” punishment…] —shown in the photo above—of which there is only a photograph now in the collection of the Archives Photographiques Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France. According to data from catalogs and books, it was exhibited at the Salon des Refusés [Hall of Rejects] of 1875, in Paris, France.

Some data obtained indicate that several of his works made in this era that reflect his respect for the dignity of man are: “El castigo del negro enamorado” [The punishment of the black lover], “Una chula” [A wench], “La lavandera” [The Washerwoman], “Un pesetero” [A money-counter], “El almuerzo del pobre” [The poor man’s lunch], “El almuerzo del rico” [The rich man’s lunch], “El picapedrero” [The stonemason], “La mulata Pancha” [Pancha the mulatress], “Una madre esclava (La recompensa por la nodriza)” [A slave mother (The reward for the wet nurse)], and “La negra méndiga (Libre a los sesenta años” [The black beggar (Free at sixty years old], which was accepted at the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1867.

As we can observe, Oller as an abolitionist was committed to the development of an art that transmitted a moral philosophy that denounced the injustices suffered by the slaves.

Translated by Ivette Romero. For original article (in Spanish), see https://www.puertoricoartnews.com/2019/06/el-negro-flagelado-la-obra-perdida-del.html?  [You may contact the author at velazquezarte@gmail.com]

[Francisco Oller, “The flogged black man” or “The Flagellated Negro” (1872). Reproduction of a photo from the Archives Photographiques Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France.]

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