An extremely rare genre painting from the viceroyalty of Peru and formerly in the collection of a descendant of the Peruvian counts of Guagui has been purchased by the Brooklyn Museum
The work, A Merry Company along the Banks of the Rimac River was painted in Lima in the late eighteenth century for conspicuous display in an elite home, where it would have served as a visible demonstration of the owner's power and privilege within the Spanish empire. The painting was officially accessioned by the Museum's Board of Trustees on June 21, 2012, acquired with funds from the proceeds of the sale of Vasily Vereshchagin's Crucifixion by the Romans (1887), which was sold last November at auction to benefit the Brooklyn Museum's Acquisitions Fund.
A Merry Company is an unusual glimpse of private life and luxury in colonial Latin America. Although the vast majority of surviving Spanish colonial painting is religious in subject matter, colonial inventories reveal several secular paintings such as this one in elite households throughout Spanish America. Here, on the grounds of a country estate, a multi-racial group of Spaniards, Africans, mestizos, and Native Americans drink, dance, and flirt along the banks of the Rimac River, western Peru's principal waterway.
By the late eighteenth century, Spanish Americans were among the world's wealthiest people, because of huge profits derived from the region's thriving market economy, which was fueled in large part by cattle ranching, silver mining, and the cultivation of sugar, tobacco, cacao, indigo plants, and coffee. Brooklyn's new acquisition includes several elite social markers from the colonial period: solid silver decorative art objects, fine clothing, richly dressed servants, elaborate carriages, and expensive real estate. This extraordinary work will be a highlight of Behind Closed Doors: Power and Privilege in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898, a major exhibition organized by Richard Aste, Curator of European Art at the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be on view September 20, 2013, through January 12, 2014, before traveling to three additional U.S. venues.
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