by Edward J. Sullivan. Yale University Press, October 2014. 208 p. ill. ISBN 9780300203202 (cl.), $60.00.
Reviewed May 2015
Lindsey Reno, Acquisitions Librarian/Subject Specialist for Fine Arts, Film, Theater, and Music, University of New Orleans, Earl K. Long Library, firstname.lastname@example.org
From San Juan to Paris and Back: Francisco Oller and Caribbean Art in the Era of Impressionism, by Edward J. Sullivan, is not an exhaustive monograph, but is meant to be a selective presentation of Oller's seminal works. Each of the chosen works is given an in-depth treatment by the author. Sullivan is careful to provide much historical and political context to the narrative.
Francisco Oller came from a privileged upper middle class family in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and went on to be the most internationally recognized Caribbean artist of the nineteenth century. The author provides a chronicle of Oller's travels from Puerto Rico to Europe and the forces that influenced his work in both San Juan and Paris. The author begins by describing Oller's early life and setting up the visual and cultural influences of the Caribbean, including what the author describes as the "heritage" of West African slavery in the Caribbean. Another strong theme in the monograph is that of pedagogy; Oller was a teacher throughout his career, influencing many future artists, but also depicted pedagogy in his own work. The author devotes an entire chapter to an analysis of one of Oller's critical works, The School of Master Rafael Cordero, and the artist's deep interest in pedagogy. There is also a chapter devoted to Oller's many still life paintings. Sullivan examines the portrait of United States President William McKinley that Oller painted in 1898 and speculates as to the motives and implications of this portrayal that was made shortly after the United States gained control of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American war. The author finishes the volume with a brief survey of Oller's influence on modern and contemporary art.
The monograph is clearly written, has an extensive bibliography, and is profusely illustrated. It offers a valuable example of the artist-as-teacher. The historical and political context that the author provides makes this a unique resource that allows the reader to study the connections between Puerto Rico, Europe, and the United States during this time period through Francisco Oller's work. It would be most appropriate for colleges and universities teaching art history, art education, and painting at the undergraduate level and, while it is written as an art historical text, the book may be of interest to a wider audience.