Cándido López was trained as a painter in Buenos Aires. Shortly after the start of the Triple Alliance War (1864-1870), in which Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay opposed Paraguay, he joined the Argentine army as a volunteer soldier. In his sketchbooks, as if he had been a war chronicler, he recorded different moments of the campaign, which later got transferred to paintings.
The series of works on the War of the Triple Alliance painted by Cándido López was donated by the artist's descendants to the National Museum of Fine Arts of Argentina in the 1960s.
Inside View of Curuzu Looking Upstream (1891) by Lopez CandidoMuseo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Argentina
In this work, Cándido López records the allies' preparations during the day of September 20, 1866, some days before confronting the Paraguayan army in Curupaytí. The painter was wounded in this battle, on September 22, and it was there where he received first aid.
The scenes collected in the series which belongs to the National Museum of Fine Arts are faithfully presented in a landscape format, which allows the artist to incorporate numerous figures and include the diversity of objects used in combat. Using the high point of view, Cándido López narrates in detail the daily activity in the camp, bordered by the waters of the Paraguay river.
The Curuzú fort was located in the Paraguayan territory, next to the Paraguay river. Cándido López described the fortress of Curuzú as a “quite solid earth trench with a pit in front, armed with thirteen cannons of different calibers; its right flank leaned on the river ravine, and its left flank on a vast lagoon with a small palisade. Inside the walled enclosure there is a sparse forest in which high curupay trees prevail”.
In this space, the artist highlights the presence of the Brazilian army, commanded by Viscount Porto Alegre. The military man appears seated in front of a tent with striped awning, a design that sets him apart from the rest of the white tents and indicates his rank. You can also see the flag of Brazil and, further back, that of Argentina.
In the river, you can observe the masts of the battleship Rio de Janeiro, which the Paraguayan army had sunk with two torpedoes a few days earlier. Most of the crew, including the captain, died during the attack.
The representation of the trees with tall trunks helps to clear the vision in the lower plane, while highlighting the small scenes and figures.
The camp, which had belonged to the Paraguayans, shows signs of the battle won by the Allied army, such as the lookout ladder about to break, at the foot of the wall, and the trunks of broken trees.
The artist depicts thatched-roof ranches abandoned by the Paraguayans, blankets drying in the sun, men carrying bags, bosses giving directions, bonfires, and companies of Black Bazano men who were rarely seen on land.
A cemetery was arranged in the camp to bury Paraguayan officers killed in combat.
In Cándido López's work, the human figure is dwarfed by the magnitude of the landscape. The artist does not stop to detail the physiognomy of the characters. Each soldier is a repertoire of clothing (that distinguishes their ranks and tasks), and of attitudes, movements, occupations.
At the same time, the figures do not decrease in size as they move away from the foreground of the composition. Regardless of which sector of the canvas they are located, Cándido López paints all the characters in a similar size or varies the proportions in an unconventional way. These licenses in the representation are based on the artist's intentions to document the events that he experienced during the Paraguayan War.
Cándido López notes in his notebooks the lively and picturesque aspect of the Paraguay River: “A very large number of ships moved in different directions, there was a large Brazilian squad, also the few Argentine ships and their chartered transports. A large number of commercial vessels, of various dimensions and shapes, added to that. On the other side of the island of Curuzú, there was an endless line of flagpoles with flags of different nations, most of them being Italian.”