sitio web de Fernando Savedra Faget
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He was born in Montevideo in 1861. His father, Juan Figari de Lazaro, from Santa Margherita Ligure, emigrated to Buenos Aires, but the ship sunk before getting there, and he was able to swim to Montevideo, where he stayed, married Paula Solari, a townfolk, prospered, and had a numerous family. During Pedro’s youth they often inhabited a farm in what now is downtown Tres Cruces, with a shore on the bay, which was later filled and urbanized. In this almost rural area Figari had views of a part of society that were later many of the subjects of his paintings: afroamerican comunities (emancipated slaves), army barracks, slums.
In 1886, and in a few hours, he graduates as a lawyer, marries María de Castro, and they sail to Europe, on their honeymoon, for many months, which is important in his artistic upbringing. They return to Montevideo, where their first daughter is born, which is followed by five other girls and two boys.
He performs as a lawyer privately and for public enterprises, is active as a politician in parliament, in journalism and as adviser to twice President Batlle y Ordóñez. His successful campaign against the death penalty is outstanding, as is his defense of Boatswain Almeida, unfairly accused of murder, but in spite of acquital, this performance damages his financial situation and his prestige.
He is very successful as Director of the School of Arts and Crafts, previously within the armed forces, but that success makes the school politically important, and the ensuing discussion disappoints him and he gives it up.
He dedicates then all his efforts to painting, which he had always practiced as an amateur, and in 1921 he sends some pictures for a show in Buenos Aires. It has little comercial success, only one picture is sold, but the cultural community receives him warmly, so he stays and continues to paint. In 1925 he repeats the procedure with Paris, but this time the success is also commercial, so he sails and goes on painting in Paris until 1933, when he sails back to Uruguay, where he arrives in 1934.
He doesn’t paint any more, but keeps the brushes fresh, so as to be able to add the signature to a picture, and goes on opening shows, even one in Buenos Aires a few hours before his death in Montevideo in 1938.
He compulsivelly writes thousands of pages in his small handwriting, about everything that he deals with:
-The Almeida case.
-A Treatise “Arte, Estética, Ideal” (Essai de Philosophie Biologique).
-“Historia Kiria”, a utopic treatise wonderfully illustrated with his own drawings.
-“El Arquitecto”, fables and poetry, a homage to Juan Carlos, Architect, his son and right arm, who died in Paris in 1927 at 33. He also illustrates this book.
-short stories, short drama.
-a lifelong correspondence with family, politicians, artists, philosophers.
Godofredo Sommavilla teaches painting to his young wife, and there Figari gets his first technical notions. During years he paints academic watercolours and oils, from life, after photos, copying prints for his children. He’s an excellent draftsman, according to sketches and caricatures in court during the Almeida case, even self caricatures.
Later, for a period, he paints oils on canvas, mostly landscapes, often nocturnes, for the last time without human figures or: rocks or animals to which in the painting or when adding a title he ascribes human attitudes or emotions. The exception can be the scenes from Venice, a large series, where if there is a gondolier, he isn’t essential. Near 1919, his pictorical maturity starts, painting almost exclusively oils on a cardboard that always appears between brushstrokes, with its straw colour, and the choice of subjects doesn’t seem to have a limit. You can notice the absence of sports or games (there is bowling, or bullfights), and of children or youths, except some baby on his black mother’s lap. Amost every rural or city activity is there, and many evocations of historical episodes.
Titles themselves deserve special attention: they most often add something to the picture, generally sense of humour or irony, even if the subject is mournful, like in burials, wakes or funerals, or religious, like ceremonies or vestry scenes; though always with the due respect.
That respect might prove an evolution from his atheistic and anticlerical youth, when after he paints crucifixes, altars, religious ceremonies. Like when at the end of “El Arquitecto” (1928), referring to his late son, he writes: “… will our cells meet again in the eternal path; and recognize themselves, I hope”.
He recalls: youth, customs, history, but always intemporally, bringing happenings near, making them seem everyday, like horizons that in his landscapes don’t seem faraway, they appear in the same foreground as protagonists, like the light that most often appears through doors and windows in a back curtain a that is no longer back. Perhaps that’s a reason why he has been called an “intimist”.
And characters almost never cast shadows, so it’s been said they are spirits, not real beings; unless the shadow is in itself a protagonist, due to a determinate light that produced it, like a candle, lamp or lantern, or a noon sun.
As to the illustrations in his books, one could thing they are absolute creations, but they most surely evoque some memory of events or characters.
He was certainly self taught in a way, but he certainly didn’t “start painting at 60”. He rather gathered strength during his first 58 years. One or another painter can have ended his career writing a teatise on his craft. Figari mastered the theory first, and crowned it with his paintings. No wonder, when Barradas, already well established, in 1911, draws caricatures of some outstanding citizens, he titles Figari’s: “Dr. Pedro Figari, art critic”; and he only became a proper painter many years later.
Adding to his upbringing were also frequent tertulias like at the painter Blanes Viale’s, at the gallery of Moretti-Catelli, at the collector Milo Beretta’s (his collection of European paintings included a “Stagecoach” by van Gogh). In his house in Montevideo, Buenos Aires or Paris, such visitors were usual as painters, sculptors, musicians, philosophers, writers, either Uruguayan or foreign, and many Argentines, his loyal and qualified Mecenas all along.
The six offspring who outlived him inherited some 2.400 paintings. Considering that during about twenty years he had sold and given to relatives and friends, it is not unwise to estimate his production in about 4.000 oils.
All this springs from family oral tradition, so it may be subject of very welcome revisions, mostly now, when such qualified authors go on studying Figari’s life and works.
Fernando Saavedra Faget.