The last Moments of Atala

Luis Monroy

Museo Nacional de Arte

Museo Nacional de Arte

The oeuvre of the academic artist, Luis Monroy, was mainly produced during the last third of the XIXth century. The painting entitled The Last Moments of Atala was executed in 1871 and shown at the San Carlos Academy´s XVth Exhibition, later being among the Mexican works on show at the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876 and at the Chicago Exhibition in1893. The work was inspired by De Chateaubriand´s novel, Atala ou les amours de deux sauvages dans le désert ("Atala or the Loves of two Savages in the Desert") which, published in 1801, was a huge hit with French society. Basing itself on a religio-historical topic, the piece tells the story of a love that was impossible in the atmosphere of the time, when spiritual valúes had, perforce, to transcend passion. Atala, the daughter of a Spanish settler in North America and a native woman conver to Christianity, falls in love with an Indian boy. She prefers to die rather than lose her virginity, since she has promised her mother that she will remain chaste and faithful to Christianity. The artist depicts the indescribable suffering of the young Chactas, a warrior of the Outlalissi tribe, at the moment when the funeral rites are being celebrated in a cave. The stricken, pain-distorted face of the kneeling lover, who is holding a cross and weeping inconsolably at the feet of his beloved, is very tellingly rendered, while the stooping figure of Father Aubry, who is kindling a light that appears to represent the hope that will carry Atala's soul to God, is the very embodiment of resignation. Highlighted in the center of the canvas, the figure of the dead girl is the most striking one in the composition. Monroy was indubitably inspired by the work of the French painter, Anne Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824), who exhibited a work on the same subject, entitled Atala au tombeau (Atala at the Grave) at the French Academy's 1808 Salon, to the great acclamation of the critics of the day. The acute sensibility of Girodet, who had always loved literature, led him to paint a picture filled with ambiguous eroticism that broke with academicist tenets. He sought to give voice to an aesthetic ideal that was at the point where poetry and painting met, marking the transition from Academic Neoclassicism to Romanticism. This work, which came from the National Center for the Conservation and Registration of Mexico's Artistic Heritage (CNCRPAM), entered the MUNAL as part of the latter's founding endowment in 1982.

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  • Title: The last Moments of Atala
  • Creator: Luis Monroy