Alejandro Obregón

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Alejandro Obregón
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Retrato de Alejandro Obregón, por Hernán Díaz
Datos generales
Nombre Alejandro Jesús Obregón Rosés
Fecha de nacimiento 04 de junio de 1920
Nacionalidad Colombiana Bandera de Colombia }}
Ocupación Pintor
Formación profesional Escuela del Museo de Bellas Artes de Boston. Llotja de Barcelona
País de nacimiento España
Ciudad de nacimiento Barcelona
Fecha de fallecimiento 11 de abril de 1992
País de fallecimiento Colombia
Ciudad de fallecimiento Cartagena
Familia Rodrígo Obregón (hijo), Silvana Obregón (hija) Sonia Osorio (Cónyuge).

Alejandro Jesús Obregón Rosés was a painter born in Barcelona in 1920, son of the Colombian Pedro Obregón and the Catalan Carmen Rosés. He died in Cartagena in 1992. Alejandro Obregón was always deeply linked to the Colombian Caribbean. Although he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and at the Llotja in Barcelona, his training was marked by a rejection of academicism. Obregón preferred instead the autonomous education of artists from Francisco de Goya, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and the Mexican muralists..


His prolific career has been commonly associated with Abstract Expressionism, exploring themes approaching political and social criticism, still lifes, and Colombian nature. Obregón's work, which encompasses the production of easel paintings, murals, cultural management, and education, is considered one of the most relevant and influential in Colombian modern art. Marta Traba, the best critic of his work, wrote in 1961: "The arrival of Obregón to Colombian painting places us before the first talented Colombian painter in this century [...] The artist's work shows clear development and its evolution is full of indications that unequivocally demonstrate the alliance of talent and hard work."

Artistic Career

Early career

Alejandro Obregón remained in the city of Barcelona until 1944, where he presented an individual exhibition. On his return to Colombia, he settled in Bogotá, where he would share a studio with Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo. Recently arrived from Europe, he debuted in the Colombian art world at the V National Artists’ Salon, with the oil paintings Naturaleza muerta (Still Life), Retrato del pintor (Portrait of the Painter), and Niña con jarro (Girl with a Jar). Since then, his name remained in the foreground and his works continue to be exhibited with great commercial success. In 1945 at the IV National Artists Salon, Obregón began to reveal what would be his signature, his energetic, free, bold strokes. In 1947, a retrospective exhibition was held at the Gregorio Vásquez Hall of the National Library in Bogotá with 62 of his works, where the diversity of gray tones can be appreciated. His themes revolved around self-portraits, female heads, and landscapes. The characteristics of his works and his legacy to art became evident in 1947 when he included fishes, barracudas, and events from the early bipartisan violence in Colombia. From then on, his work was recognized as belonging to Magical Expressionism. By the year 1948, "a peak year under the sign of Alejandro Obregón" (in the words of historian and art critic Walter Engel), the historical-social context of Colombia was already appearing in his work, and the tragedy of April 9 and the violent events in the country were addressed by the artist. This period the artist referred to as his "dark" period where brown, blue, dark gray, and black colors are dominant, in addition to references to Pablo Picasso. Obregón was appointed director of the School of Fine Arts in Bogotá in the same year, and also led the organization of several art salons. He later traveled to France with his wife Sonia Osorio. When he returned several years later in 1955, he began a series of symbolic still lifes, with themes of death and mourning. In these works, we can locate the symbols of the bull and the condor.

Artistic Career

Obregón's artistic career can be divided into approximately four periods. The first, 1942-1946, was a period of training. In this period his painting is contradictory and full of hesitation; his production oscillates between a naturalism with academic recollections and a forced expressionism. The second, 1947-1957, is of stylistic definition and a first maturity. With memories of Cubism, Obregón made miraculously balanced compositions in which he articulated numerous planes in many ways, sometimes with transparency, on neutral backgrounds that also include more or less evident planes. Some of his characteristic motifs appear here already, as well as some of his masterpieces: Puertas y el espacio (Doors and Space), 1951, Bodegón en Amarillo (Still Life in Yellow), 1955, Greguerías y camaleón (Turmoil and Chameleon), 1957

The third period, 1958-1965, is that of full maturity. During these years, Obregón was not only the most influential painter in the country, the paradigm of the new and modern, the most admired and laude—twice winning the first prize for painting at the National Artists’ Salon in 1962 and 1966 with the oils Violencia e Ícaro (Violence and Ícaro) and Las avispas (The Wasps), respectively—but also its highest representative at a continental level. Obregón, already possessing a very personal, expressionist and Americanist style, produced many canvases with his open and vigorous forms in a space without limits, alluding to the greatness and fertility of the continent. Outstanding paintings from this period include Naufragio (Shipwreck), 1960, La trepadora (The Vine), 1961, El mago del Caribe (The Caribbean Magician), 1961, Homenaje a Gaitán Durán (Homage to Gaitán Durán), 1962 [see Volume 6, p. 125], Violencia (Violence, 1962), Volcán submarine (Underwater Volcano) 1965, and Flor de paramo (Moorland Flower), 1965.

The last period began in 1966. From that year until the year of his death, Obregón's painting insisted on an effusive and romantic style and on obsessive themes. As Juan Gustavo Cobo wrote: "His motifs haunt him, they fade away, reappear, merge." Working in series, Obregón painted Anunciaciones (Annunciations), Floras, Ángelas, Violadas (Raped), Zozobras (Perils), Memorias de Grecia (Memoreis of Greece), Magos de la Popa (Magicians of La Popa), Blas de Lezos, Cosas de la luna (Moon Things), Bachués, Leyendas de Guatavita (Legends of Guatavita), Paisajes de Cartagena (Cartagena Landscapes), Amazonias, Copas y océanos (Crowns and Oceans), and Vientos (Winds), an incomplete list. Although he did not accept it ("I think oil is completely obsolete. Acrylic is the medium of the twentieth century."), Obregón was not able to infuse his later works with the mystery and strength of his oil paintings before 1966, the year he started working with acrylic.

However, there are still important works from this period, because Obregón was undoubtedly a talented and imaginative painter. It is obvious that he is at his best when he controls his effusiveness and maintains his mastery of each brushstroke, as well as the colors. Obregón made numerous works that dealt with violence in Colombia, from the 1948 oil painting Masacre 10 de abril (April 10 Massacre) to the acrylic diptych of 1982, Muerte a la bestia humana y Victoria de la paz (Death to the Human Beast and Victory of Peace), executed after the murder of Gloria Lara, to the 1962 oil painting Violencia (Violence), of which Marta Traba wrote: "The terrible sincerity of Violence comes from this: that Obregón painted it because it could no longer be postponed and it was necessary for him to do so. But if this explains the true pathos of his painting, it does not account for the serious and tense beauty of his means of achieving it. Obregón painted the reclining woman in the midst of a large gray space: he solemnly modulated the gray, as if officiating a silent funeral rite, without allowing it a single discordant note. He squeezed it into the enormous gravid figure and unwound it into the landscape, until the dead creature was integrated into that generalized sadness, into that iniquitous, inexplicable fatality.” In addition to his innumerable easel paintings, Obregón created several murals.**

Características de su obra

Obregón's painting is characterized by its expressionism and magical sensibility. As for the former quality, it is worth remembering these words of Vincent van Gogh: “Instead of trying to render exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily in order to express myself forcefully.” This may be applied to Obregón's work, in which creative fantasy and emotional elements are dominant. Obregón recreated reality in most of his paintings, harmoniously transforming the landscape, modifying the human figure—always in service of the painting itself—and used color to express his emotions.

As for the magical aspects, it is unquestioned that a good portion of Obregón's painting reaches for a representation of the "marvelous reality" that Alejo Carpentier spoke of when referring to the scope of creation of Latin American artists. The art of the twentieth century discovered reality beyond appearances and got in touch with it. Obregón's painting points to that deeper, more essential nature, which is never limited to reproducing the tropical landscape, but transcends it to achieve evocative structures, singular forms and charged images.

The main themes of Obregón's paintings are portraits of family and friends as well as several self-portraits, from a very Cézannian one of the painter sitting while holding a brush (1943), to Daedalus (Dédalo, 1985), and Blas de Lezos (1977-1978); animals, an endless fauna that spans the range from condors and bulls to barracudas, mojarras, and shrimp, goats and iguanas; carnivorous and nocturnal flowers; scenes of violence; and, above all, landscapes, with clear allusions to the sea, beaches, storms, eclipses, and especially winds. These themes recur and therefore do not present themselves in chronological order. As the artist rightly said, more than specific motifs, his paintings refer to "drama, catastrophe, a record of life, reportage, and a little bit of everything."

Featured works

Among the works that combined aesthetic experimentation with the reality of the moment, Masacre 10 de abril (April 10 Massacre) stands out, demonstrating Picasso's strong influence on Obregón’s output during this period. So too El estudiante muerto (The Dead Student), 1957, and Luto por un estudiante (Mourning a Student), 1957, allude to the events that took place during the government of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, along with Homenaje al cura Camilo (Homage to Father Camilo), 1968. On the other hand, works that exhibit Obregón fascination with Colombian nature include Pez Dorado (Goldfish), 1947, Nube Gris (Gray Cloud), 1948, Ganado ahogándose en el Magdalena (Cattle Drowning in the Magdalena), 1955, Cóndor de los Andes (Condor of the Andes), 1959, and Toro-Cóndor (Bull-Condor), 1960. As far as murals, there are several in Bogotá, some in private homes and others in public space. The most outstanding is the mural in the Luis Angel Arango Library, completed in 1959. That same year, Marta Traba wrote: "The creation of spaces, determined either by the intersection of planes or by the handling of tones, is the most notable aspect of this fresco by Obregón. With the exception of a handful of recognizable objects (an inkwell, books, a knife), there is no figurative intention, and therefore the viewer must renounce any real understanding, which has been overcome by the space-creating intention and by the relationships between colors." The mural in the Luis Angel Arango Library is a rich and diverse work, in which the structure of the forms and the varied but assorted and severe coloring are notable, in addition to its multiple spaces, an example of the masterpieces of Obregón’s best moments. Murals from the eighties include La galerna (The Gale) at the Cartagena Convention Center, Amanecer en los Andes (Dawn Over the Andes) at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and the one that adorns the Elliptical Hall at the National Capitol in Bogotá [See physical Volume 6, Art, p. 125 and 126].

Violencia (Violence, 1962): A fundamental work in the history of Colombian art

In 1962 the painting Violencia (Violence, 1962) won the first prize for painting in the National Artists’ Salon, marking an evolution and a turning point not only in the oeuvre of Alejandro Obregón but also in modern Colombian art. In this work, the classic genres of landscape and nude are fused. A pregnant woman is represented, lying dead and mutilated in a kind of limbo, gray and somber, with her left breast erect and her right breast completely cut off; her body, breast, and face are raised, in the image of a mountain range. Violence used the human figure as an expressive and experimental material to symbolize the lands of Colombia profoundly and metaphorically, at a time when they had already seen bipartisan violence and the military regime of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla and were facing the harsh reality of the National Front.

Violence does not point to a specific historical event, although Obregón produced it at the time when reports such as La violencia en Colombia by Eduardo Umaña Luna, Orlando Fals Borda, and Monsignor Germán Guzmán Campos were emerging, describing the situation in the areas most affected by the bipartisan war. Marta Traba, an important art critic of the time, would describe the painting as "absolutely gray, absolutely deaf, absolutely silent: for the first time, tragedy has an interpreter commensurate to its immensity," a phrase that still seems valid in the face of the war that has no end in the country.[1]

Similarly, along with Obregón, several artists interested in developing a critical current in Colombian painting through the human body would emerge, such as Carlos Granada, Fernando Botero, Pedro Alcántara, Norman Mejía, Luis Caballero, and even younger artists such as Lorenzo Jaramillo. Violence has been studied from the different perspectives of curators and art researchers, such as Marta Traba, Álvaro Medina, Juan Gustavo Cobo Borda, Eugenio Barney-Cabrera, Eduardo Serrano, Carmen María Jaramillo, Nicolás Gómez, and others.

To learn more about Violence, see also

Artistic career

  • 1939: Jarro azul (Blue Jug)
  • 1947: Pez Dorado (Goldfish)
  • 1945: Composición nocturna (Nocturnal Composition)
  • 1948: Masacre 10 de Abril (April 10 Massacre)
  • 1952: Máscaras (Masks)
  • 1954: Gato comido de pájaros (Cat Eaten by Birds)
  • 1955: Magdalena (Cattle Drowning in the Magdalena)
  • 1956: Estudiante muerto [Velorio] (Dead Student (Wake))
  • 1958: Alegoría al libro (Allegory of the Book)
  • 1959: Cóndor Toro (Condor Bull)
    • 1959: Cóndor de los Andes (Condor of the Andes)
  • 1962: Violencia (Violence)
  • 1965: Jardín Barroco (Barroque Garden)
  • 1968: Homenaje a Camilo Torres (Homage to Camilo Torres)
  • 1970: Anunciatas
  • 1979: Blas de Lezo [Autorretrato] (Blas de Lezo (Self-Portrait))
  • 1982: Muerte a la bestia humana (Death to the Human Beast)
  • 1983: Amanecer en los Andes (Dawn Over the Andes)
  • 1985: Detalles de un océano (Details of an Ocean)


  • 1920: Born in Barcelona, Spain.
  • 1939-1940: Enters the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
  • 1940-1944: Takes up residence Barcelona. Studies for four days at La Llotja, a Catalan art school attached to the San Fernando Academy in Madrid.
  • 1944: Travels and settles in Bogota. Participates for the first time in the V National Artists' Salon in Colombia. Teaches at the School of Fine Arts in Bogotá.
  • 1945: First individual exhibition at Colombia's National Library in Bogota.
  • 1946: Settles in Barranquilla and becomes a teacher in a local school. Wins first prize at the Coastal Artists' Salon.
  • 1948-1949: Becomes director of the School of Fine Arts in Bogotá.
  • 1949: participates in the exhibition 32 Artists of the Americas (32 Artistas de las Américas) at Colombia's National Museum in Bogotá.
  • 1949-1954: Takes up residence in France. Exhibits at Galerie Greuse, Paris, and at the Pan American Union in Washington.
  • 1955: Returns to Colombia. Obtains the second prize in the National Artists' Salon, held in the Art Center of Barranquilla, with the oil painting Gato comido de pájaros (Cat Eaten by Birds), 1954.
  • 1956: His work Ganado ahogándose en el Magdalena (Cattle Drowning in the Magdalena), 1955 is awarded at the Caribbean Exhibition in Houston.
  • 1957: Shares the second prize in painting at the X National Artists' in Colombia with Fernando Botero and Jorge Elías Triana for the oil painting Luto por un estudiante muerto (Mourning a Dead Student), 1956.
  • 1958: Obtains first prize in the Hispanic-American Biennial in Madrid.
    • 1958: Produces the ceramic mosaic work Tierra, agua y aire (Earth, Water, and Air) for the Misrachi building in Barranquilla.
  • 1959: Takes first place at the Barranquilla Annual Salon. Produces the mural Alegoría del libro (Allegory of the Book), 1959, for the Luis Angel Arango Library in Bogota. Represents Colombia at the V São Paulo Bienal along with Enrique Grau, Fernando Botero, Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, Armando Villegas, and Guillermo Wiedemann, receiving an Honorable Mention.
  • 1960: Exhibits in the Guggenheim Hall in New York.
  • 1962: Takes the National Prize for Painting at the XV National Artists' Salon in Colombia with the work La Violencia (Violence, 1962).
  • 1966: Obtains the National Prize for Painting at the National Artists' Salon in Colombia for the second time.
  • 1967: Becomes director of the Museum of Modern Art in Bogotá. Represents Colombia at the São Paulo Biennial.
  • 1969: Participates in the film Queimada by director Gillo Pontecorvo.
  • 1970: Decorated with the Order of San Carlos by the President of Colombia, Misael Pastrana.
  • 1971: Paints Cóndor (Condor) for the Council of Minister’s Sessions Hall, Bogotá.
  • 1973: Paints the mural Sombra larga y música de días (Long Shadow and Daytime Music) in homage to the poet José Asunción Silva for the Bank of Colombia in the San Martín Square in Bogotá.
  • 1977: Exhibits in Colombian La Plástica Colombiana en el siglo XX (Visual Arts in the Twentieth Century) at Casa de las Americas in Havana, Cuba.
  • 1982: Produces the mural Galerna (The Gale) for the Cartagena Convention Center.
  • 1983: Produces the mural Amanecer en los Andes (Dawn Over the Andes) for the United Nations headquarters in New York.
  • 1985: Presents Obregón, Pintor Colombiano (Obregón: Colombian Painter) at Maison de l’Amérique Latine in Paris. Exhibits in Cinco Artistas Colombianos (Five Colombian Artists) at the Museum of Latin American Art (OEA) in Washington.
  • 1986: Produces the mural Victoria de tres cordilleras (Victory of Three Cordilleras) at the Elliptic Hall of the National Capitol in Bogotá. Exhibits Desastre en la Ciénaga (Disaster at Ciénaga) in the Bogotá Museum of Modern Art.
  • 1990: Exhibits his series Vientos (Winds) at El Museo gallery in Bogotá. Exhibits at the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum in Japan. Presents Cinco Décadas (Five Decades) at the Bogotá Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition later travels to the Monterrey Museum and the Mexico Museum of Modern Art.
  • 1991: Retrospective exhibition at the Consolidated Cultural Center of Caracas.
  • 1992: Dies in Cartagena and is buried in the Obregón family mausoleum in the Universal Cemetery of Barranquilla.

Art collection of the Banco de la República

Works by Alejandro Obregón in the Art Collection
Title Year Location Technique Registration number
LAGUNA DE SATURNO (Lake of Saturn) 1961 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition| Painting AP0231
DOS CÓNDORES (Two Condors) 1945 Reserve Engraving AP0398
BARRACUDA 1945 Reserve Engraving AP0399
ÍCARO CALCINADO (Scorched Icarus) 1967 Reserve Painting AP0401
LES COLOMBES 1953 Reserve Engraving AP0537
SIN TÍTULO (Untitled) 1959 Reserve Mural AP1313
LA VIOLENCIA (The Violence) 1945 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition Engraving AP1637
BOCETO PARA UN CÓNDOR (Sketch for a Condor) 1969 Reserve Engraving AP2048
HOMENAJE A JORGE GAITÁN (Homage to Jorge Gaitán) 1962 Reserve Painting AP2051
TOLDO Y BODEGÓN (Awning and Still Life) 1945 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition, Clásicos, experimentales y radicales Painting AP2052
VIOLENCIA (Violence) 1962 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition, Clásicos, experimentales y radicales Painting AP3848
CÓNDOR (Condor) 1989 Reserve Engraving AP3948
ESTUDIO PARA VIOLENCIA (Study for Violence) 1962 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition, Clásicos, experimentales y radicales Painting AP4817
BODEGÓN CON PEZ (Still Life with Fish) 1948 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition Painting AP4967
APUNTE PARA LA VIOLENCIA (Notes for The Violence) 1962 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition Painting AP5131
LA MESA (The Table) 1947 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition Painting AP5171
LA SILLA ROJA (The Red Chair) 1947 Bogotá, Centro Cultural de Bogotá, Miguel Urrutia Art Museum (MAMU), Art Collection Permanent Exhibition Painting AP5175


  • Obregón, A. (1974). Aire, mar, paisaje, diálogos. Museum of Modern Art, Bogotá.
  • Obregón, A. (1983). Obra reciente. Galería Quintana, Bogotá.
  • Barney Cabrera, E. (1970). "El itinerario de Alejandro Obregón." In: Temas para la historia del arte en Colombia. Bogotá, Universidad Nacional, 1970.
  • Del Castillo, R. (1993). Las mujeres de Obregón. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo.
  • Cobo Borda, J.G. (1985). Obregón. Bogotá: Editorial La Rosa.
  • Medina, A. (1978). "Alejandro Obregón." In: Procesos del Arte en Colombia. Bogotá: Colcultura.
  • Panesso, F. (1975). Los Intocables. Bogotá: Ediciones Alcaraván.
  • Panesso, F. (1989). Alejandro Obregón ¡A la visconversa! Conversaciones junto al mar. Bogotá: Gamma.
  • Traba, M. (1963). Seis artistas contemporáneos colombianos. Bogotá: Antares.
  • Traba, M. (1985). "Comienzo de la pintura moderna: Alejandro Obregón". In: Historia abierta del arte colombiano. La Tertulia Museum of Modern Art, Cali, 1974. 2á ed.: Bogotá: Colcultura.
  • Varios. (1985). Alejandro Obregón, pintor colombiano. Bogotá: Colcultura.
  • Jaramillo, C. M., & Suárez, S. (2017). "Clásicos, experimentales y radicales." In: C. D. República, Cinco Miradas, Cinco Siglos. Bogotá: Banco de la República.
  • Medina, Á. (1978). Procesos del arte en Colombia. Bogotá: Colombian Institute of Culture, Division of Cultural Communicaitons.

Art collection of the Banco de la República

Related links on Banrepcultural

  • [1] See the page dedicated to Alejandro Obregón in the book Beginnings of Modern Art in Colombia (Inicios del arte moderno en Colombia).
  • [2] Review the timeline of the life and work of Alejandro Obregón, published in the Colombian Dictionary of Artists (Diccionario Colombiano de Artistas) by Carmen Ortega Ricaurte.
  • [3] Read about and view Violence (Violencia, 1962) by Alejandro Obregón.
  • [4] Read the blog entry Dos bocetos de Violencia de Alejandro Obregón on two sketches that belong to the Banco de la República Art Collections.
  • [5] Read Alvaro Medina's biography of Obregón in his book (Art Processes in Colombia) Procesos del arte en Colombia.
  • [6] Read the article Alejandro Obregón. Caballero solo by Hernando Valencia Goelkel, published in his book Oficio Crítico.
  • [7] See the Credencial Historia article on Violence by Álvaro Medina.
  • [8] See Violence (La Violencia) by Alejandro Obregón Rosés on our special feature page A perspective on the collection (Una mirada a la colección).

See also


  1. Marta Traba, quoted in Nicolás Gómez Echeverri, “Alejandro Obregón Violencia (1962)”. Accessed at: republica/alejandro-obregon/violencia


1. Research and text: Germán Rubiano Caballero

2. This biography was taken from the Reader’s Circle Great Colombian Encyclopedia (Gran Enciclopedia de Colombia del Círculo de Lectores), Biographies volume.

3. Mónica Piragauta Roldán, mediatior of Banco de la República museums and collections, for Banrepcultural.

4. Review and editing: Inti Camila Romero Estrada and Diana Marcela Salas Solórzano. Public and Educational Services, Art and Other Collections Unit (UAOC)