The earliest Chilean art was, of course, ecclesiastical, evident in museums such as the Museo de Arte Colonial in Santiago’s 17th-century Iglesia San Francisco. With independence, the tendency was toward pompous portraits of military men such as O’Higgins and their contemporaries in the war against Spain, and most provincial museums contain dreary works of this sort.
Nevertheless, there is adventurous contemporary work in Santiago’s Museo de Bellas Artes, Museo de Artes Visuales, Castro’s Museo de Arte Moderno, and Providencia’s open-air Museo Parque de las Esculturas, on the Mapocho’s banks. One of the most noteworthy sites is Chillán’s Escuela México, its library walls adorned by murals by the famous David Alfaro Siqueiros and his contemporary Xavier Guerrero.
Northern European influences began to appear with landscapes by 19th-century Englishman Thomas Somerscales (1842–1927), who spent 23 years in Valparaíso and vicinity. The most influential modern painter, also a sculptor and engraver, is the late surrealist Roberto Matta (1911–2002), who lived mostly in Paris but also in Mexico and New York. The versatile Mario Irarrázaval (born 1940) erected the roadside sculpture Mano del Desierto (Hand in the Desert) on the Panamericana south of Antofagasta; he is also the sculptor of the Tabernáculo (Tabernacle) at the Templo Votivo de Maipú, a pilgrimage site in Santiago, and the painter of El Juicio (The Judgment), a harsh portrayal of military “justice.”
Chilean photography is not widely known, but Marcos Chamudes (1907–1989) joined the U.S. Army in World War II and photographed the European theater before returning to Chile for the rest of his life.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition