An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (New Directions Paperbook)
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An astounding novel from Argentina that is a meditation on the beautiful and the grotesque in nature, the art of landscape painting, and one experience in a man's life that became a lightning rod for inspiration.
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is the story of a moment in the life of the German artist Johan Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858). Greatly admired as a master landscape painter, he was advised by Alexander von Humboldt to travel West from Europe to record the spectacular landscapes of Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Rugendas did in fact become one of the best of the nineteenth-century European painters to venture into Latin America. However this is not a biography of Rugendas. This work of fiction weaves an almost surreal history around the secret objective behind Rugendas' trips to America: to visit Argentina in order to achieve in art the "physiognomic totality" of von Humboldt's scientific vision of the whole. Rugendas is convinced that only in the mysterious vastness of the immense plains will he find true inspiration. A brief and dramatic visit to Mendosa gives him the chance to fulfill his dream. From there he travels straight out onto the pampas, praying for that impossible moment, which would come only at an immense pricean almost monstrously exorbitant price that would ultimately challenge his drawing and force him to create a new way of making art. A strange episode that he could not avoid absorbing savagely into his own body interrupts the trip and irreversibly and explosively marks him for life.
ambition came from Humboldt, who had designed the procedure as a universal knowledge machine. But that pedantic automaton could be dismantled without giving up the array of styles, each of which was a kind of action. Within ten days they were back in Mendoza (a journey of one hundred and fifty miles): they rode the same horses along the same route and passed the same carts, accompanied by the same guide and the same cook. The only thing that had changed was Rugendas’s face. And the direction.
Germans were intending to do; they could be useful either way, going along or staying behind. This conversation, interrupted by shouts and orders (and energetic gestures), took place in the middle of the yard, where the men were already gathering with their guns. Krause, still half asleep, was of two minds, and went back to see if his friend had returned to the room . . . but no, there he was, using a hat to cover his face, still as a tree. He gave a violent start when Krause took him by the
bedroom to the library, from the laundry to the balcony, all full of noisy, happy, more or less drunk guests, looking for a place to cuddle or trying to find the host to ask him for more beer. Except that it was a house without doors or windows or walls, made of air and distance and echoes, of colors and landforms. This stream could have been the bathroom. The Indians wanted to charge but they were retreating; the white men wanted to retreat, but in order to do so they had to charge (in order to
size of ants appeared in silhouette on a ridgetop path, moving at a star’s pace. The mules were driven by human intelligence and commercial interests, expertise in breeding and bloodlines. Everything was human; the farthest wilderness was steeped with sociability, and the sketches they had made, in so far as they had any value, stood as records of this permeation. The infinite orography of the Cordillera was a laboratory of forms and colors. In the meditative mind of the traveling painter,
of ice, lakes, rivers, impenetrable forests. “That’s what you should be painting . . .” It was not the first time he had heard this sentence. People had been repeating it for decades, wherever he went. He had learnt to be wary of such advice. How did they know what he should paint? At this point in his career, within reach of the vast emptiness of the pampas, the art most authentically his own was, he felt, drawing him in the opposite direction. In spite of which, Godoy’s descriptions set him