Emilio Beauchy

19th-Century Photography

Photography came to Spain and Latin America shortly after its invention, in 1839, and the Society has major works by many of the earliest figures working there. Huntington’s personal collections had included photographs and, following his directions, the Society bought more works en masse throughout the 1920s. Thus it assembled a significant collection of images by foreign photographers, like Charles Clifford (1819–1863) and Jean Laurent y Minier (1816–ca.1892) as well as those by local figures, such as Emilio Beauchy (active ca. 1875–1908) or Rafael Garzón Rodríguez (active ca. 1875–1915). Given the Hispanic Society’s goal to create a comprehensive record, the curators also acquired many notable images of Latin America and the Philippines, among them 19th-century albums of the Philippines (1868), Puerto Rico (1880), and Guatemala (1888).

Of the 19th-century photographers in the collection, Clifford is particularly well represented with superb impressions of his Album de Andalucía (1862) and his Album Monumental de España. From the early 1850s until his death, Clifford traveled throughout the country taking images of breathtaking quality. During this period, Clifford concentrated on Spanish projects and strengthening his ties with the Spanish aristocracy and crown. The campaign proved successful and resulted in several albums in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Offering a powerful vision of the country, they feature distinctive images of Madrid, Alameda de Osuna, Guadalajara, Toledo, the Canal of Isabel II, Yuste and Extremadura, Talavera de la Reina, Castile, Asturias, the Balearics, Cataluña, Aragón, Andalucía and Murcia. Clifford’s relation with the Spanish crown would yield impressive results when he created a series of albums of the official visits of Queen Isabel II (r. 1833-1868) throughout her realm.

Charles Clifford

20th-Century Photography

While the photographs in the Hispanic Society range from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, most date from the early-19th century. Among these are striking works by figures who are unjustly overlooked today. Although they entered the collection for the scenes they recorded, they also attest to the talents of photographers working in Spain and Latin America.

The German, Kurt Hielscher (1881-1948) created images that are memorable as much for their formal qualities as for the scenes they capture. Although not strictly speaking a pictorialist, his aesthetic bears the stamp of the paintings and artistic debates of the day. At their most distinctive and expressive, his photographs evoke a remote landscape, almost outside the modern world. He had traveled the breadth of the country, wandering into towns and villages well off the beaten path. He responded to these places by capturing the poetry of their isolation and endowing them with a timeless quality. His style and compositions frequently reflect the conventions of contemporary painting.

The American photographer, Anna Christian ( 1876-c.1961) also found herself balancing a desire to record buildings and the pictorialist effects of soft focus. After studying architecture at Columbia University, she traveled to Spain in 1915 on the advice of Sorolla. Her pictures impressed Huntington sufficiently that he mounted an exhibition of them at the Hispanic Society in the following year. When she donated the pictures to the museum, she envisioned they would offer “a permanent record of my work in Spain, pictures of the country homes and the intimate life in Spain of the Spaniards,” while the “small houses, farms and details . . . would be of interest to architects.” Notwithstanding the narrowness of her expressed intent, the images often display a secure touch and sensitivity to the volume and light, thereby evoking the atmosphere of the site impressively. In Castilla-La Mancha, she went to a finca in Buenavista where she meticulously captured its various structures and, in the process, she vividly suggests the routine of daily life.

Anna Christian

Photographic Expeditions

The photographs that the Hispanic Society directly sponsored point most clearly to the institution’s goals and preferred style. Of these perhaps none are more striking than those of Ruth Anderson (1893-1983). Born in Nebraska, she was introduced to photography by her father, Alfred Theodore Anderson, who ran a studio in Kearney. After training as a teacher, she traveled to New York and studied at the Clarence White School for Photography from which she graduated in 1919. Two years later, she began work at The Hispanic Society of America. Beginning in 1923, Anderson would travel throughout Spain to take her pictures with the aim of forming a comprehensive collection. Perhaps because the Hispanic Society already held so many images of artistic and architectural monuments, Anderson gradually devoted less attention to these. Instead, she concentrated on scenes of daily life.

Although Anderson had been taught to emphasize the picture–making aspects of her art, she subscribed enthusiastically to the Hispanic Society’s program of documentary photography. In her image of a Galician milkmaid, Anderson photographed a barefoot little girl holding a milk pail. While the image records the austerity of the child’s life, Anderson also projects an appealing sympathy for the girl. The balance of objectivity and compassion characterizes Anderson’s finest work and it is striking that even when documenting subjects of an anthropological nature, she composes the scene with a keen artistry, doubtless fostered by her training.

After 1930, Anderson’s career shifted as she now focused on the study of Spanish costume and began a productive career publishing several books and articles on the subject. Although she subsequently made one more extended photographic expedition to Spain (1948–49), it marks the last time the Hispanic Society sponsored such a campaign.

Ruth Matilda Anderson
Ruth Matilda Anderson