The contrast proposed in this article by the art critic Walter Engel (1908−2005) between the human figure in European art and in Latin American art reaffirms a position he has presented before. He espoused this thesis in one of the first articles he published in Espiral, the journal published by the Spanish intellectual exiled in Colombia Clemente Airó, entitled “La pintura moderna tendrá dos polos en la posguerra” [see 1134710]. This thesis seeks to reestablish the value and the maturity of the artwork being produced at the time in Latin America, this time in a pictorial genre universal to all cultures. To Engel, what is human is related to the land, the struggle for life, the emotions, a social and tropical consciousness, characteristics present in Latin American art. These are ideas he had previously expressed in his book Problemas sociales en las artes plásticas [see 1094220].
In this text, Engel brings together artists from the Latin Americanist generation in Colombia with representatives of a new generation that had distanced itself from Mexican muralism. Alongside the Latin Americanists Pedro Nel Gómez (1899–84), Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo (1910–70) and Luis Alberto Acuña (1904–84), Engel discusses Guillermo Wiedemann (1905–69), Carlos Correa (1912–85), Alejandro Obregón (1920?92) and Enrique Grau Araujo (1920–2004). He identifies the latter group of artists as those who have entered into dialogues with the Abstract art and Abstract Expressionism prevailing in Europe. These were painters whose work he knew and had previously reviewed for Revista de las Indias, a publication of the National Ministry of Education, for which he had been reviewing exhibitions since 1943, grouping them together as Latin American artists. In the opinion of Beatriz González (b. 1938), Engel unquestionably had “a conciliatory spirit that accepted nationalism and aspired to equanimity” [see “Marta Traba” in Pensamiento colombiano del siglo XX (Bogotá: Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2007)].
Son of an Austrian textile manufacturer, Walter Engel reached Colombia in 1938 fleeing the Anschluss (annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany), after taking his art training and art history education in both Vienna and Paris. While working in the import/export industry, he was an active participant in Colombian cultural life, writing for journals and daily newspapers such as El Tiempo, El Espectador, Revista de las Indias, Proa and Plástica. In 1965, he left Colombia permanently and moved to Toronto (Canada), where, in 1968, he founded the Walter Engel Gallery and wrote articles for Art Magazine.