The Oxford English dictionary defines eclecticism as being a derivative of the word eclectic, which means to derive ideas or style from a wide range of sources (Oxford Dictionary, 281). Eclecticism is also defined as a noun meaning a tendency in architecture and decorative arts to mix various historical styles with modern elements, with the aim of combining the virtues of many styles or increasing allusive content (Unabridged Dictionary, 1). The term originated in Greece in antique philosophy and was revived in the 18th century by Denis Diderot. This was in connection with Enlightenment attitudes (Muthesius, 1). During the eighteenth century, the philosopher Victor Cousin rejected the repetitive search for new ideas. Cousin suggested instead that philosophers carefully select from and merge the principles that currently exist (Muthesius, 1). A search began for a style that was not an imitation of the past but a new expression. Eclecticism offered a solution to this problem. Eclecticism could fulfil the demands of modernity for all types of buildings if we skilfully combine the best features of the styles of the past (Muthesius, 1). Eclecticism can be applied to many practices including philosophy, art, and architecture.

The term started to be used in Latin American countries when art and architectural styles were coming over from Europe. Many Latin American artists, for example Diego Rivera, travelled to Europe and brought many art techniques and styles back with them. Many European artists and architects moved to Latin American countries and applied many classic styles and art forms, for example; the baroque, impressionism, and realism. Many of the Latin American countries adopted separate styles from each other. Rio de Janeiro adopted Haussmann’s Paris style, while Sao Paulo in Brazil adopted the architectural style of Art Nouveau. Sao Paulo’s aristocratic landowners visited Europe annually, brining back contemporary art and the latest aesthetic ideas that were quickly dispersed throughout Latin America (Mesquita, 203) [1]. Eclecticism can be applied in a few ways in terms of Latin American art and architecture. It can be applied in terms of all Latin America art as a whole. It can be seen in the combination of popular styles in the continent as a whole entity. For example, Brasilia was constructed in the modernist architectural style of Oscar Niemeyer, which is in contrast to Sao Paulo, which assumed the European born style of Art Nouveau (Mesquita, 203) [2]. Eclecticism can also be applied to individual pieces in Latin American countries. It can be adapted in the combination of past styles in one particular art or architectural piece.

Many Latin American artists embraced these new European styles and techniques, but in addition added their own aspects. Several Latin American artists are applying eclectic principles by using past art styles and adding their own cultural characteristics. It can be looked at as a fusion of styles. Latin American modernist artists adopted French cubism, Italian Futurism, and German expressionism [3]. Artists combined these styles with their national elements such as local colour, light and landscape (Mesquita, 205). Brazilian artists also utilized these same styles but added their own cultural archetypes to express an awareness of Brazilian identity (Mesquita, 205). Anita Malfatti unleashed the modernist movement in Brazil [4]. Her work was at times inspired by the cubist and futurist structuring of space. In addition to these adopted styles, Malfatti added in some pieces, Latin American colours and subject matter to create a fusion of the styles in one painting. This is seen in her work “A Boba (The Fool)” where she applies cubist structuring of space with bright Brazilian colours and impressionist brushstrokes (Mesquita, 203).

Many movements had varying styles and principles within them. One case would be the Abstract Expressionists in Mexico. Many of these artists took varying approaches to abstract expressionist principles. Lilia Carrillo took a poetic and confident approach to the painted surface, Manuel Felguerez’s work was characterized by hard edge abstraction, and Vicente Rojo made use of colour signs (Traba, 88) [5]. These artists can exemplify an eclectic arrangement of approaches to the same artistic movement.

Latin American architecture demonstrates eclectic virtues in terms of past styles combined to produce a building, but also in terms of the diverse style buildings intermingling together. A superior example of diverse buildings intermingling in a particular vicinity would be in Buenos Aires. A combination of styles is seen ranging from modernist, to art deco, and brutalism. Victoria Ocampo’s house, constructed by architect Alejandro Bustillo in Buenos Aires, is in a style of simple modernism with little ornamentation. While the Buenos Aires National Library is represented in the brutalist mode. The Kavanagh building in Buenos Aires is eclectic by itself, combining part rationalist style with an art deco approach. Architect Antonio Camponovo, who is active in Bolivia, combines the fundamentals of Romanesque, Renaissance, Arabic, and Neo Classical styles to create a hybrid fashion in the Palacio de la Glorieta in Sucre (Gisbert, 1) [6]. Many homes in Latin America and especially Mexico use an eclectic manner of decoration and construction [7]. An example is the private home of Marco and Helga Baroci in Mexico. The home was constructed with cross brick vaulted ceilings, which are derived from the medieval style and combined with accents of Flemish decoration and Dutch furnishings (Shipway, 79). Due to many home owners travelling, receiving heirlooms, and having a mixture of cultures in their families, many private homes were decorated in an eclectic manner.

Carly Childs

Spring 2010



[1] Mesquita 203

[2] Staubli

[3] Mesquita 205

[4] Mesquita 203

[5] Traba 87- 96

[6] Gisbert, 1

[7] Shipway 75- 85


Works Cited

Gisbert, Teresa. “Camponovo, Antonio.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. (2007).

16 Oct, 2009 < r/article/grove/art/T013539&gt;.

Mesquita, Ivo. “Brazil.” Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. New York: Phaidon Press Limited, 2006, pg 203.

Shipway, Verna and Warren Shipway. Houses of Mexico. New York: Architectural Book Publishing Co, 1970.

Staubli, Willy. Brasilia. New York: Universe Books, 1966.

Traba, Marta. Art of Latin America 1900- 1980. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1994.

This entry was posted in Alejandro Bustillo, Anita Malfatti, Art Nouveau, Brazil, Buenos Aires, decoration, eclectic, Mexico, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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