Biography of Nicanor Plaza (1844-1918)

Sculptor Chilean, born probably near Santiago in 1844 and died in Florence (Italy) on December 5, 1918, is considered along with José Miguel White Hawk the pioneer of Chilean sculpture, art that cultivated under the guidelines of the academicism typical of 19th century both in what refers to the technique as a theme. He was master of a later generation of sculptors that included Simón González, Rebeca Matte and Virginio Arias.

Artist incredibly precocious, Nicanor Plaza worked as child as an apprentice of craftsman, work in which apparently already showed creative vocation, and took part, with only fourteen years, of the first sculpture organized by the Academy of fine arts in the Chilean capital, under the direction of French maestro August François. He had his first exhibition in 1858, recognized his talent with various prizes, and in 1863, thanks to a grant from the Government and the remarkable financial assistance from philanthropist Luis Cousiño, could move to Europe to expand his artistic training. In Paris he studied at the prestigious Imperial school directed by François Jouffroy, and opened his own workshop, where he began to create his first pieces and participated as an Assistant in several collective projects such as the monument to Ernest Carriere of O'Higgins in 1867 Belleuse. In 1872 he returned to Chile, where immediate address of the school of sculpture; was offered that same year he received the general recognition by Caupolicán, his most famous work, and one of the milestones in the history of the art of Chile, while other two sculptures presented together with the previous, Susana and Bacchante, caused a scandal because of the nakedness of the figures. In 1888 he reformed the curriculum of the school to adapt it to the modern currents, and in 1897 received the prize of the Edwards event by the chimera. After more than twenty years of fruitful artistic and teaching activity, he left Chile and returned to Europe (1900), establishing his residence first in Paris and later in Florence (Italy). In his later years he suffered an illness that made it difficult for his creative work, despite which failed to finish her last two sculptures: Prologue and epilogue.

Nicanor Plaza is an essential reference in the sculptural art of their country both for his work and for the vast academic and pedagogical work but nonetheless its significance as an artist more resided in the subject that in the technique. In fact, square just presented innovations in this last section, limited to faithfully follow the academicist teachings which implicate in respect to the classical canons of representation, the use of noble materials and the quest for perfection in the modelling; on the other hand, introduced a major conceptual innovation: the replacement of the models of traditional Greek and Latin by others linked to Chilean history, with the aim of opening a fully national sculpture, which nourish the arts of the country of its own myths and legendary figures. In this sense are part of some its statues of Mapuche Indians, like Caupolicán or player of Chueca and distinguished characters, among which should be noted that of the jurist Andrés Bello. However, in La chimera (1897), group of mythological which represents a monster and a Virgin, resumed the tradition of the allegories of the Greco-Roman classicism, but with a treatment that indicated a certain evolution in his style.