This essay is one of the earliest and most exhaustive attempts to discuss, in very general terms, the general history of Colombian art. It begins in the colonial period and ends by discussing contemporary artists in the author’s lifetime. Luis López de Mesa (1884–1967) acknowledges and includes artists who do not necessarily agree with his desire for a “Colombian” school, criticizing some of them, and respects others for their consistency and rigor despite their affiliations with European art movements. (See the case of the academicians Epifanio Garay and Ricardo Acevedo Bernal.) Once into twentieth-century art, López de Mesa focuses on artists who are in tune with his nationalist goal, such as the indigenist group that he discusses in detail.
Among other interests, López de Mesa discusses the architecture (he refers to several architects and buildings from the colonial and republican periods,) music, and literature of certain periods, though makes no mention of the cinema, photography, and other new genres at the time. López de Mesa’s historical discourse on Colombian art reaches the first quarter of the twentieth century. The artists he names are the ones who are recognized in the historiography of the period that came immediately afterwards, which is explored in publications such as the Diccionario de Artistas en Colombia [Dictionary of Artists in Colombia] (Bogotá: Ediciones Tercer Mundo, 1965) by Carmen Ortega Ricaurte (1926?2011) and the Historia del Arte Colombiano [History of Colombian Art] (Bogotá: Salvat Editores Colombia, 1977), a fine encyclopedic work directed by Eugenio Barney Cabrera that, to a certain extent, expands on the range of artists previously recognized by the traditional historiography of Colombian art.
López de Mesa’s work includes reviews and proposals from Colombian art history spanning the period from 1886 to 1930 (for example, it mentions the myth of Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos, it identifies Andrés de Santa María as a European artist, and so on), and is the first panoramic view of the history of Colombian art.
Luis López de Mesa studied medicine at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá; he specialized in psychiatry and psychology at Harvard University; he also studied abroad, in England and France. He ultimately became a professor of aesthetics and art history at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.