An episode in the life of a landscape painter by Cesar Aira

An episode in the life of a landscape painter by Cesar Aira

Argentinean fiction

Original title – Un episodio en la vida del pintor viajero

Translator – Chris Andrews

Source – personnel copy

I can’t believe I hadn’t till now cover Cesar Aira on the blog ,I have a few of his books and Thought I had reviewed one before now well  as I just missed the end of Spanish lit month being off work on holiday I need to catch up so here we are Cesar Aira Has lived in Buenos Aires since 1967, he is a prolific writer his books tend to be short but he has been writing them at the rate of two to three a year for a number of years a number of his works have been translated into english. This was first published by New directions but later in a three vol version from Penguin mine i the new direction edition.

Rugendas was a genre painter. His genre was the physiognomy of nature, based on a procedure invented by Humboldt. The great naturalist was the father of a discipline that virtually died with him: Erdtheroie or la physique du monde, a kind of artistic geography, an aesthetic understanding of the world, a science of landscape. Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an all-embracing scholar, perhaps the last of his kind:his aim was to apprehend the world in its totality

Humboldt was the last of the gentlemen scholars of the great age of discovery and in the eyes of someone like Rugendas a hero .

This is the tale of two real life characters that did meet in real life . But this is an episode that never happened except in Cesar Aira mind. The two characters are Johann Moritz Rugendas , he was one of the best landscape painters of his time known for his work on expeditions. He has been told by the famous explorer Alexander Von Humboldt  to go back to Latin american and record the nature and Landscapes around Chile and Argentina .This is a man driven by his own history his grandfather also a renowned painter of battle scenes . He is driven to record nature at its worst in his painting this is what leads to an event that leaves him scarred after a lightning strike in the Pampas whilst he is painting a scene  and struggling to recover he is a changed man.

They hurried on and , as they approached, saw him move yet remain face down, as if kissing the earth; the flicker of hope this aroused was quenched when they realized tat he was not moving himself, but being dragged by the horse’s blithe little browsing steps. They dismounted, took his foot from the stirrup and turned him over.. The horror struck them dumb. Rugendas’s face was a swollen, bloody mass; the bone of his forehead was exposed and strips of skin hung over his eyes.The distinctive aquiline form of his Augsburg nose was unrecognizable, and his lips, split and spread apart, revealed his teeth, all miraculously intact .

After the lightening strike he is never the same man as before

The book harks back to an age of adventure and a time when painters could be at the forefront of the new world that were being uncovered and in Rugendas Aira has chosen a painter that was considered the best documentary painter.He also had a life worthy of a novel on his return to Latin America after his meeting with Von Humboldt to do a full work on latin america which is where this novel is set , but he also later got involved in a coup in Mexico . This is a gem of a book at 87 pages long it is a perfect summer evening .

Have you a favourite book about Artists ?

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. JacquiWine
    Aug 02, 2016 @ 12:35:54

    Lovely review, Stu. I’ve tried a couple of novellas by this author (Ghosts and Literary Conference) only to stumble at the mid-way point with both. This one, however, sounds a little more like my kind of Aira. Luckily I have it as it came as part of a set of three, so I shall give it a go at some stage. I’m encouraged by your response to it.

    Reply

  2. Amateur Reader (Tom)
    Aug 02, 2016 @ 13:36:44

    That lightning strike scene is so good.

    Reply

  3. Séamus Duggan
    Aug 11, 2016 @ 16:37:29

    Hi Stu, we both managed this for SpanishLitMonth! Snap! I reread this in order to write about it and possibly enjoyed it even more second time around.
    My favourite book about Artists has to be William Gaddis’ massive debut novel The Recognitions.

    Reply

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