Xul Solar – Intimism

Defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica Intimism was a 19th-20th century painting style made popular by Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. the Intimist style utilized the impressionist broken-colour technique of “capturing the light and atmosphere of the fleeting moment”[1]. Unlike traditional Impressionist painting Intimism used exaggerated and distorted colours to emphasize on mood rather than on form or setting.  Instead of the meaning solely dependent on the figures and atmosphere, added emphasis was put on colour. Although Intimism was considered an Impressionist style of painting predominately practiced by French Impressionist , Argentinean Avant-Garde artist Xul Solar (Alejandro Agustin Schulz Solari) exhibited Intimist tendencies in his use of colour articulation in his compositions.

Oscar Alejandro Agustin Schulz Solari (1887-1973) was born in Buenos Aries Argentina son of Agustina Solari and Emilio Schulz Riga. Till this day little is known about Solar’s personal life, rather, emphasis is put on his influence in introducing the first wave Avant-Garde in Argentina as well as his philosophical writings, on the spiritual and occult [2]. The art of Xul Solar cannot be understood without first gaining an insight into his travels and spiritual crisis, as it serves as an importance aspect in unveiling the inspiration that geared his artwork.

In 1912 Solar boarded the England Carrier in London and disembarked on a journey throughout Europe that would last him until the middle of 1924[3]. His travels included London, Turin, Spain and Paris [4], throughout his travels Solar met up with other artists, visited museums and art galleries, bookshops and libraries. He devoted his life to study, and research, astrology, philosophy, religion and the occult. Solar was immersed in an environment of intellectuals furthering his interest in exploring aspects of the occult and religious enlightenment. Solar experimented with language in the creation of Neo-Creole[5], an artificial language with roots in Spanish and Portuguese, music and occult tradition by incorporating tarot imagery in his paintings. Whether it be through musical experimentation, poetry or painting Solar embarked on uncovering new truths in the midst of his spiritual crisis.

During the 1920s Solar travelled to Paris; Paris was a Mecca for artists, and the cultural leader of the world where many fled for inspiration. As a result of the 1924 Olympic games and the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes [6] there was increase of interest in foreign visitors, thus opening up doors for Latin Americans to travel. Latin American culture also intrigued Parisian intellectuals; resulting in numerous collaborations between the two groups, and Solar himself, was seen with the likes of Picasso and Modigliani[7]. Coincidently, his travels to Paris led him to be introduced to fellow Argentinean artists Alfredo Guttero and Emilio Pettoruti who later served as his traveling partner. Solar was predominately self taught and familiarized himself with new trends arising in Paris such as Cubism and Futurism, eventually immersing himself in the Avant-Garde, where he shared the same beliefs in their exploration of the self, by challenging the boundaries of traditional art aesthetic and parctices. At this time Solar, experimented in oil and tempera. Further in his travels he headed to Germany (Kelheim, Munich, Stuttgart) where he found inspiration from the works of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee taking up the use of watercolour, which Solar best known for.

Solar found kinship in the mysticism and primitive abstraction of Der Blaue Reiter an art group lead by Kandinsky and Klee. Solar was inspired by Klee’s use of oil and watercolours and eventually honed his skills, mastering the technique during his time in Europe. For example Solar’s painting Dos Casa (1922) [Fig.1] exhibits his dynamic use of colours and ability to paint solid clean lines with watercolours. The composition displays an array of geometric patterns, the interaction of shapes formulate a scene of people and buildings. Though there is no prominent background, Solar creates the atmosphere with his warm colour pallet and strokes of colour along the perimeter and illuminating towards the center of the piece; added dimension is also added to the flattness with Solar’s use of black. In contrast, Solar’s earlier work Nido de fénices (1914) [Fig. 2] and Regione Rocciosa (1916) [Fig. 3] exhibits Impressionist tendencies in his loose and visible brush strokes. Regione Rocciosa displays a field of depth in the angular distortions and use of light in his shading. Furthermore, Solar portrays a somber environment in his use of colour, that include forest greens and navy blue. Nido de fénices does not include a dynamic use of angular distortions, but rather, a reference to the occult in his use of the Pheonix; an exuberant colour pallet represents the rise of the mythical creature. Later in Solar’s career he further challenged the formal aspects of Cubism and Futurism[8]. Solar shifted his focus from style to colour, and from imitation to simplification. For example, Grafía Antiga (1939) [Fig. 4] Solar abandoned watercolours and used tempera, employing minimalist aesthetics in the abstractions of figures and forms. Literal representation were no longer important since Solar was interest rested in the goal of self discovery and personally his religious enlightenment. Solar’s minimalist form of representation in art transcended the need for exact observation, but rather, promoted an insight into the spiritual realm of his world.

Solar’s significance lies in his cross cultural aesthetic by combining Argentinean themes with Avant-Garde aesthetic, bridging Latin American and Europe; as well as his mastery of colour. The introduction of Modernism brought forth a change to traditional art in Argentina; marking a new phase in the course of history. Solar’s first solo exhibition in Milan at the Galería Arte was not well received because of the unorthodox use of colour, and occult subject matter was not expected coming from a Latin American artist. Experimentation came naturally to Solar’s eccentric character, by combining Intimist tendencies with modernist sensibility he bridged the gap between Impressionism and Modernism. Solar’s place in the international art world brought to the forefront the question of colour articulation instead of figurative characterization[9].

Joanna Delos Reyes

Spring 2010


[1] “Intimism is a variety of late 19th- and early 20th-century painting that made an intense exploration of the domestic interior as subject matter…these painters exaggerated and distorted natural colour to express mood.”  Encyclopedia Britannica

[2] Safons, 721.

[3] Gradowczyk, 1.

[4] Artundo, 191.

[5] See Schwartz, Jorge. in Xul Solar Visiones y Revelaciones 200-07

[6] See Greet, Michele in 1920s Transatlantic Encounters: Latin American Artists in Paris

[7] Tenden, 245.

[8] Gradowczyk, 2

[9] Artundo, 19

Works Cited

Artundo, Patricia M. “Working Papers: An introduction to Xul Solar Retrospective.” XUL Solar Visiones y Revelaciones. New York: Yale UP, 2006. 191-208. Print.

Edward Sullivan (ed.) Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Phaidon, 1996. Print

Fabris, Annateresa. The Crossing of Modern Art. 2008. 1 Oct. 2009. <http://www.mam.org.br/2008/_uploads/pdf/annateresa_fabris_eng.pdf>. Web.

Gradowczyk, Mario H. Alejandro Xul Solar (1887-1963). Comp. Rachel Adler. Trans. Norman T. Di Giovanni. New York: The Gallery, 1991. Print.

Greet, Michele. “1920s Transatlantic Encounters: Latin American Artists in Paris.” Global Studies Review. 28 Nov, 2006. 15 Oct 2009. < http://www.globality-gmu.net/archives/   955>. Web.

“Intimism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 20 Nov.      2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/291874/Intimism>. Web.

Kern, Maria L.B. “The Art Field in Buenos Aires:Debates and Artistic Practies” XUL Solar: Visiones y Revelaciones. New York: Yale UP, 2006. 222-27. Print.

Pacheco, Marcelo, and Jon R. Snyder. “An Approach to Social Realism in Argentine Art: 1875-1945.” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts. Vol. 18. Florida: Florida International University Board of Trustees on behalf of The Wolfsonian-FIU, 1992. 123-53. Jstor. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1504092>.

Safons, Horacio “Xul Solar.” Encyclopedia of Latin American & Caribbean Art. Ed. Jane Turner. 2000.    721-22. Print.

Schwartz, Jorge. “Let the Stars Compose Syllables*: Xul and Neo-Creole.” Xul Solar Visiones y Revelaciones. New York: Yale UP, 2006. 200-07. Print.

Tedin, Teresa. “Biographical and Artistic Chronology.” Xul Solar: Visiones y revelaciones. New York: Yale UP, 2006. 244-51. Print.

For images of Xul Solar’s work link to the Xul Solar Museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina:


This entry was posted in Argentina, avant-garde, Der Blaue Reiter, Emilio Pettoruti, Intimism, Paris, Uncategorized, WatercolourXUL SOLAR-INTIMISM, Xul Solar, Xul Solar Museum. Bookmark the permalink.

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