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Uruguayan artist - Joaquín Torres García

Joaquín Torres García 1943 - Unviversal Constructivism - Museo Torres García
In 2014, I moved from one furnished-and-equipped apartment in Uruguay to another. So, I just needed to bring my personal essentials: toiletries, clothes, sheets and towels, computer, important papers, and my framed Torres García prints.

Joaquín Torres García (1874 - 1949) stands in history as one of the most influential modern artists of the first half of the 20th Century. He also put Uruguay on the map as a South American country forging its own artistic identity.

Torres García 1919
Museo Torres García
While Torres García was a versatile painter, he was also a muralist, woodworker, sculptor, and novelist. At times, he worked with stained glass, ceramics, stone, and textiles.

In addition to producing works of art, Torres García was an art theorist and teacher who could speak and write in Spanish, Catalan, French, and English.

He contributed more than 100 articles and essays, co-founded a magazine, and wrote several books. He also presented hundreds of lectures and founded two art schools.

Torres García biography 


Joaquín Torres García was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1874. His father was an expat from Barcelona who started a general store in Montevideo. His mother was Uruguayan.

Barcelona 1891 - 1920 (Age 17 – 46) 
In 1891, 17-year-old Joaquín moved with his parents and two siblings to his father’s native Barcelona--a fashionable city with a blossoming modern art movement.

In Barcelona, Joaquín attended art school. Among his friends and classmates was Pablo Picasso.

Museo Torres García
He started his art career drawing illustrations for Barcelona newspapers and magazines.

In 1903, he was commissioned to create a stained-glass window for the Palma Cathedral.

In 1907, Joaquín began teaching art.

In 1909, he married Manolita Piña (they had four children).

In 1913, he published Notes on Art, his first written work on art theory.

As early as 1918, Torres García started working with grid structures, a basic element of the modern city. He also began experimenting with the idea of symbolic images as language. Both of which he later incorporated in his signature genre, Universalismo Constructivo (Universal Constructivism).

New York 1920 – 1922 
In 1920, Torres García moved to New York. While his time in the city was short, it was intense. In addition to painting and showing his work, Torres García started the Aladdin Toy Company, which made wooden toys.

Joaquín Torres García 1929 - Museo Torres García

Paris 1926 – 1932 
In Paris, Torres García was among the leaders of several avant-garde movements.

It was during this time that Torres García became interested in the geometric forms found in Incan architecture and Peruvian textiles.

He sought to incorporate these pre-Colombian design elements with modern constructivism—thus, synthesizing the most modern with the prehistoric.

Many of his Universal Constructivism pieces have grid patterns. Sometimes the grid cells contain a symbolic image, reminiscent of Egyptian pictographs.

Common symbols in Torres’s work include a fish, a triangle, a heart, a number, as well as a man and woman.

Torres García often organized his compositions using the golden ratio, so that each part of his work relates to other parts.

Madrid - 1933
He spent time in Madrid where he wrote and lectured before returning to Montevideo in 1934.

Joaquín Torres García -  Monumento Cosmico (Cosmic Monument) in Montevideo

Montevideo 1934 – 1949 (Age 60 – 75) 
Torres García - Inverted America
After 44 years abroad, Torres García returned to his native Uruguay.

In 1934, most South American artists were emulating the art coming out of Europe.

Torres García formed a vision: To advance Universal Constructivism from Uruguay as a distinctly non-European movement.

Thus, paving the way for Uruguayan and South American artists to chart their own artistic course.

And for the next 15 years, he worked tirelessly to make his vision reality.
  • In 1935 he founded the Asociacion de Arte Constructivo (Association of Constructive Art)
  • He created public displays of his work in Montevideo, which included painted murals on prominent buildings, as well as Monumento Cosmico (Cosmic Monument), a stone work you can see on the grounds of the Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales (National Museum of Visual Arts). 
  • He taught at the local university and at the SODRE, and lectured at every opportunity. 
  • He published books including his landmark theoretical book, Universalismo Constructivo (Constructive Universalism).
  • He started the Taller Torres García (Torres Garcia Workshop) where he trained young art students. 
Uruguayan artists who studied under Torres García include Gonzalo Fonseca, José Gurvich, Alceu Ribeiro, Julio Alpuy, Alceu Ribeiro, Francisco Matto, Manuel pailos, Edgardo Ribeiro, Manolo Lima, Jonio Montiel, and Torres García's sons, Horacio and Augusto Torres.

Torres García Museum in Montevideo's Old City


Joaquín Torres García's work and influence live on 


On August 8, 1949, at the age of 75, Torres García passed on. At the time of his death, he was getting ready for two scheduled exhibitions—one in New York and the other in Washington D.C.

Torres Garcia’s work was recognized and appreciated on three continents during his lifetime. And to this day, his work travels to exhibitions.

One example is the recent exhibit at New York’s MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) titled: Joaquín Torres García: The Arcadian Modern from October 25, 2015 through February 15, 2016.

After Torres García's death, dedicated art students kept his workshop in Montevideo going until 1967. Many students incorporated the principles taught by Torres García in their work.

To this day, Universal Constructivism, sometimes referred to as la Escuela del Sur (the Southern School) remains a living genre associated with Uruguay.

Some of his original students have passed down Torres García’s teachings and theories to a third generation of Universal Constructive artists.

Two third-generation Southern School practitioners advancing the tradition are Uruguayan artists Ricardo Pickenhayn and Nicole Vanderhoeght.

You can view permanent displays of Torres García’s work at the Torres García Museum in Montevideo’s Old City.  And at the Museum of Visual Arts on the edge of Parque Rodo, also in Montevideo.

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