Overview

Prior to embarking on his artistic career, Uruguayan painter Pedro Figari (1861-1938) also worked as an attorney, a writer, and a politician. Shortly after deciding to pursue art full time (at the age of 60), Figari moved to Paris and encountered the work of French post-impressionist painters Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. Many scholars cite Bonnard and Vuillard as Figari’s primary technical references due to their shared simplification of forms and figures, loose handling of paint, and textured surfaces. Different from his French colleagues, however, Figari did not paint the cloistered, hushed lifestyles of the European bourgeoisie but instead derived his subject matter from personal memories of his childhood in Uruguay.

Works
En busca del difunto, 1932
Biography

Pedro Figari (1861-1938) is an accomplished Uruguayan painter who, prior to embarking on his artistic career, also worked as an attorney, a writer, and a politician. While Figari began painting in 1890, he did not pursue it full time until 1921, when he relocated from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. 

In 1924, Figari moved to Paris where he encountered the work of post-impressionist French painters Pierre Bonnard (1864-1947) and Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940), and likely met the two artists in person. Many scholars cite Bonnard and Vuillard as Figari’s primary technical references. Indeed, their characteristic simplification of forms and figures, loose handling of paint, and textured surfaces produced by way of varied brushstrokes can also be identified in Figari’s work. Like the French painters, Figari disavowed linear perspective, and his forms and colors seem to serve an emotional rather than descriptive function. Additionally, the scenes Figari depicts are – like those illustrated by his French colleagues – are highly intimate and often focused upon the various facets of human nature.

Different from Bonnard and Vuillard, however, Figari did not paint the cloistered, hushed lifestyles of the European bourgeoisie. Scholars concur that Figari derived his subject matter from personal memories of his childhood in Uruguay. Indeed, Figari employs imagery native to the River Plate region throughout his oeuvre: rural pampas landscapes, the quotidian activities of gauchos, the festivities of the white upper class, and the rituals of African and Afro-Uruguayan populations. His figures actively engage with one another and with the viewer. They are often moving, recently paused, or about to take off. They are also highly expressive, communicating joy, affection, tranquility, and mourning through their bodies.  Regardless of a particular painting’s tone, Figari generally underscores the agitation or movement of his figures through his quick, loose, and lively brushstrokes. Together, the figures and brushstrokes evoke the aforementioned idea that Figari’s illustrations are the result of flawed and fleeting human memory, which is both continually dissolving and colored anew by nostalgia. Figari’s images, rather than serving as historical documentation, show ways of life that no longer (or perhaps never) existed.    

Whereas in Uruguay and Argentina Figari’s paintings were initially dismissed on account of his imagery being “inaccurate” or “out-of-date,” in France his work was held in high esteem. During the nine years that Figari spent in Paris, he exhibited his paintings both in Europe and in Latin America. He returned to Uruguay in 1933, and lived there until his death.

Publications