Francisco Oller y Cestero UPR Museum of History, Anthropology and Art collection
Artist, Painter and Educator
Francisco Oller y Cestero was the first Puerto Rican painter educated in Europe. He was a pioneer in Latin America in impressionism and realism styles. He is known as one of the most famous Puerto Rican artists of all time. He was able to capture the reality of his era and comment through his art on the society in which he lived.
Oller was born in San Juan on June 17, 1833, to a wealthy family. He began to study painting at 11 years of age with Juan Cleto Noa. At age 14, he painted a reproduction of a portrait that Campeche had done of his grandfather. A year later, Governor Juan Prim offered him a scholarship to study in Rome, but his family would not let him go because of his young age. At 18 years of age, however, he left for Madrid to study at the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts under the tutelage of painter Federico Madrazo. Two years later, he returned to the island, but he soon went back to Europe, this time to France, to continue his studies. At various times, he lived and studied in Paris: 1858-1865, 1873-1876 and 1895-1896. In Paris, he studied with Thomas Couture and Gustave Courbet and attended the Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre academy. Others educated at these institutions include artists of such stature as Manet, Renoir, Whistler and Monet.
Oller returned to Puerto Rico in 1865 and three years later he married Isabel Tinajero. In 1868, he opened an art school that he called Salón Washington, where he offered free art classes. The following year he published the first edition of “Essential Knowledge for Drawing Nature and Elements of Perspective Within the Reach of Anyone.” In 1872, he was named painter for the Royal Chamber in Madrid by King Amadeo I of Spain. He lived in Spain from 1877 to 1884. His works “El coronel Contreras en Treviño” and “Un mendigo” date to this time. In 1884, he founded an art school for women in Puerto Rico. Although he received various prizes and titles (Knight of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Charles III and Painter of the Royal Chamber, etc.), and displayed his work in various countries, Oller was able to live comfortably on his income from his art alone.
He returned to Puerto Rico for good in 1896.
He kept up to date on the island’s political development and opposed social injustice, including slavery in Puerto Rico. This awareness was due in part to his friendship with Ramón Emeterio Betances and Román Baldorioty de Castro, whom he met in Europe.
Francisco Oller was one of the pioneers of impressionism in the Americas. This style is obvious in his French landscapes. The works he created in Puerto Rico, however, tend toward realism. One of these, “El velorio,” is his most famous painting. It measures 8 feet by 13 feet. It shows the scene of a wake for a child in a rural home. The dead infant lies on a table, surrounded by flowers, and among the other fourteen people at the wake, only one appears to show sadness over the death. It’s said that the joy of the other people, who are seen drinking, playing musical instruments and looking at a roast pig hanging from the ceiling, is because the wake is a celebration, as the dead child is an angel returning to heaven, where he will look out for those who remain on Earth. The work is preserved at the University of Puerto Rico Museum of History, Anthropology and Art in Río Piedras.
Oller was a professor in the beginnings of the Normal School at the University of Puerto Rico in 1903 and 1904. His artistic and pedagogical work contributed to the formation of painters of the early 20th century. Oller died on May 17, 1917, in San Juan.
Delgado, Osiris. “Francisco Oller y Cestero (1833-11917. Pintor de Puerto Rico”. San Juan: Centro de Estudios Superiores de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, 1983.
Delgado, Osiris. “Notas en torno a la pintura de Oller a los cuarenta”. Libro de exposición “De Oller a los cuarenta”. Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte. Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1988.
Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte, Universidad de Puerto Rico. “Reflejos de la historia de Puerto Rico en el arte: 1751-1950”, Biografías de artistas. Río Piedras: UPR, 2015.
June 17, 1833
San Juan, Puerto Rico
May 17, 1917
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Author: Alejandro Carpio
Published: September 4, 2014
Revisión: Dr. Lizette Cabrera Salcedo, January 8, 2021