Untitled / Sin título, c. 1927–1929
Armando Reverón, Venezuelan, 1889–1954
Oil on canvas
33 1/2 × 28 in. (85.1 × 71.1 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the Alice Pratt Brown Museum Fund
Habits of Mind
- OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Born in Caracas, Armando Reverón came from a wealthy family. He studied art from 1908–11 at the conservative Academy of Fine Arts in Caracas, the country’s premier art school. To expand his artistic education, he moved to Europe from 1912–15, where he studied art in Barcelona and Madrid. After the outbreak of World War I, he returned to Caracas and joined the Circulo de Bellas Artes (Circle of Fine Arts), the first group of artists and writers in Venezuela to challenge the staunchly traditional approaches taught at the Academy of Fine Arts. In Europe, Reverón admired French Impressionism, and after his return to Caracas began to integrate techniques of Impressionism into his work.
In 1920, Reverón moved permanently to Macuto, a small fishing village on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. He built a hut on the beach and lived in it for more than 30 years, until the year before his death, when he was institutionalized for mental illness. Though friends from Caracas visited him periodically, he lived in relative isolation with his life-long companion, Juanita Ríos, who served as the model for many of his paintings. In Macuto, he painted his most famous works, the nearly monochromatic landscapes and portraits of his “White Period” (1926–35) and “Sepia Period” (1936–49).
Set outdoors, a faintly outlined, female figure appears in the foreground, stepping languidly between the trunks of two trees. Featureless, her body is little more than a ghostly trace that dissolves into its surroundings. Above the figure on the left, flecks of paint create the impression of light flashing off of leaves in a stirring breeze. The blinding light of a tropical sun obscures all other forms.
This painting is from Reverón’s “White Period,” named for the predominant use of white in his limited color palette. Reverón worked on unprimed canvas made of burlap or agave fibers, used all-natural pigments for his paint, and made his paintbrushes out of sticks and goat hair. The forms of the female and trees are defined by thinly applied darker pigments which stain the unprimed canvas, adding to the haunting effect of this painting. Much of the canvas is filled with flecks of mostly white paint and some pastels, particularly pale blue, which creates the effect of light as it hits objects. The short strokes of thicker paint, in contrast to the darker and extremely thinned pigments, sit on the surface of the canvas, creating a rich texture. Reverón applied little paint in some areas, so that the canvas itself, with its rough weave and natural sepia color, becomes a visible element that helps unify the composition.
Reverón paradoxically arrived at modernism in his work by fleeing modern urban life. He must also have been escaping from the constraints of the extremely traditional society of Venezuela, with its mostly rural economy, caudillo (strongman) politics, and provincial way of life. The spirituality and simplicity he hoped to reach in his art, with its emphasis on light and its reductive quality, was matched by all aspects of his “primitive” life in Macuto. Before beginning a painting, he followed a complex ritual: stuffing cotton in his ears to eliminate distractions and tightly tying a rope around his waist to separate his mind from his sexuality. He always painted barefoot to be in contact with the earth, and shirtless so that the colors of his clothing did not interfere with his vision of the canvas. Reveron touched his paints before use to expand his perception of them beyond the visual. These measures helped him arrive at a trance-like state of concentration. When he painted, it was with a dance-like rhythm, and he would attack the canvas with lunges, comparing the act of painting to a bullfight.
- Talk about the color of the painting. Students’ first answers might be white and brown/beige, but press them further. Look closer; give them a minute of silence to really pick out the details. There should be flashes of blue, pink, and green visible, perhaps others.
- Now that you’ve looked at it closely, what is this an image of? Ask multiple students, and press them to identify the specific shapes that make up their arguments. Can the group reach a consensus?
- What techniques does Reverón use when he paints to create the image? Describe the methods of applying paint you think he might have used.
- How does this painting compare to other paintings you have seen? How is it similar or different to them?
- Where is this scene taking place?
- When do you think this could have been made? Would you say it’s a modern-looking painting, or does it look older? What makes you say that?
- Even though the style of this painting, and even the materials used to make it, are rustic, this was made in the late 1920s, well into the modern age. Why do you think Reverón chose to do it this way? What does that say about his beliefs?
- What are the benefits of modern life? What dangers or drawbacks did Reverón avoid by living in rural isolation? Which lifestyle would you choose, if you had all the necessary skills and resources?
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.