The stunning natural beauty and rich culture of Puerto Rico are responsible for much of the island's appeal to travelers. But tourists aren't the only ones who have been captivated by this diverse location. Painters and sculptors also find themselves drawn to capture the island in a variety of visual arts.
When the Spanish arrived to settle the island, they brought with them more than just material comforts. Ideas about artistic themes and design also crossed the Atlantic, eventually influencing artistic styles in the colony. These European schools proved particularly influential to Puerto Rican artists, who studied the techniques without losing their own tropical identity.
In the 18th century, San Juan-born artist José Campeche became the first native artist to gain international attention. The son of an immigrant and a freed slave, he was known for creating religious works and portraits in the Spanish Rococo style. Campeche's achievements caused the artistic world to acknowledge Puerto Rico, but it was not until Francisco Oller y Cestero began his work in the 1850s that a recognizable dialogue emerged between Europe and the Caribbean. Oller was fascinated by the school of Impressionism that was developing around this time, and he quickly adapted that school's interest in color and light to the unique landscape of Puerto Rico. His works show the people of the island in the midst of its gorgeous scenery and are still highly regarded today.
Sculpture was always present in some form on the island, as evidenced by the abundance of santos, tiny carved figures of saints and other religious icons. But Puerto Rico was not known for producing large, formal statuary until relatively late. In the 20th century, native son Tomás Batista began creating works that paid tribute to the people of the island – everyone from the Puerto Rican farmer to the tribal leaders first encountered by settlers. These pieces can be found all over the island today.
The artistic legacy of Puerto Rico is twofold. The island has produced a number of incredibly talented artists, and the lands and the people themselves have also been the subject of many works of art.
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