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López, Cándido (1840–1902)

López, Cándido (1840–1902)

An Argentine artist of considerable subtlety, Cándido López is principally known for series of fifty-eight panoramic paintings that depict scenes of battle and camp life during the 1864–1870 war with Paraguay. He was born on August 29, 1840, in Buenos Aires, where he studied drawing with the Italians Ignazio Manzoni (1797–1888) and Baldessarre Verazzi (1819–1896), and photography with the Argentine-born Carlos Descalzo (1813–1879). His earliest works show the influence of these three mentors and depict standard themes in a fairly derivative way, revealing little of his future promise. By the early 1860s López was working as a portrait painter in several of the smaller towns of the Bonaerense countryside. In that capacity, he attracted the attention of government officials, who in 1862 commissioned him to paint a formal portrait of President Bartolomé Mitre. The great turning point for López came in mid-1865, however, when he joined the San Nicolás Battalion of the National Guard as a second lieutenant and official campaign artist. In that capacity, he sketched scores of scenes of violence and devastation as the Argentine army advanced. He was an eyewitness at the August 1865 battle of Yataí and, then, after the Allied armies had crossed into Paraguay, at the engagements of Estero Bellaco and Tuyutí, both in May 1866. López had always intended to use his pencil sketches as models for later paintings. His efforts were interrupted, however, on September 22, 1866, when his unit was decimated by Paraguayan fire at the disastrous battle of Curupayty. López received a terrible wound in his right arm, and after evacuation to Corrientes, underwent an emergency operation in which doctors amputated the arm. His recovery, spent mostly in Buenos Aires, proved difficult and painful, and he only slowly adapted to the use of his left hand. In 1872 he married Emilia Magallanes, a widow with a child whose family provided the wounded veteran with work as a farmer and ranch manager at several estancias near Buenos Aires. The couple had twelve children of their own and evidently led a happy life together. The awful memories of the war never left López, however, and starting in the early 1880s he quietly began to paint again, now focusing almost exclusively on the war scenes he had witnessed as a young man. These paintings provide detailed images of military action, as in Batalla de Yatay. Agosto 17 de 1865, troop movements, as in Embarque de las tropes argentines en el Paso de los Libres, Agosto 23 de 1865, and life in the army camps, as in Campamento argentino en los montes de la costa del río Paraná, frente a Itapirú, Abril 12 de 1866. Friends soon learned of these dramatically rendered and colorful paintings and begged López to exhibit them in Buenos Aires, which he was finally able to do in March 1885. The exhibition featured twenty-nine works in oil and was an instant success. His work made a great name for him among veterans, who attested to the veracity of his many details, and to the power of the violent scenes that had been burned into their memories as well as his. General Mitre, who was still very active in his late sixties, remarked of López that his "paintings are veritable historical documents thanks to their graphic fidelity; they are destined to conserve the glorious memory of the events they record." On September 22, 1887, the twenty-first anniversary of the battle of Curupayty, the Argentine Congress authorized the purchase of the twenty-nine paintings and thus assured López's fame and financial stability in the twilight years of his life. He established a gallery within the precincts of the army's Cuerpo de Inválidos in Buenos Aires where he continued to paint similar war scenes, for a total of fifty-eight, most of which are currently divided between the collections of the Museo Histórico Nacional and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. He died in the Argentine capital on the last day of 1902. Interest in his work has revived among art historians throughout South America and Europe, and in 2005 the Argentine filmmaker José Luis García produced a documentary film about his life that has been shown in Rio de Janeiro, Asunción, Bologna, Berlin, and Paris as well as in Buenos Aires.

See alsoArt: The Nineteenth Century; Curupayty, Battle of; Mitre, Bartolomé; War of the Triple Alliance.


Fèvre, Fermín. Cándido López. Buenos Aires: Editorial El Ateneo, 2000.

Pacheco, Marcelo E. Cándido López. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Banco Velox, n.d.

Roa Bastos, Augusto. Cándido López. Parma, Italy: Franco Maria Ricci, 1976.

                                     Thomas L. Whigham

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