Luisa Géigel.

Luisa Géigel.

The first important Puerto Rican woman artist to dedicate herself to sculpture and the first to study in Europe. Apart from her achievements as a woman in Puerto Rican visual arts, Luisa Géigel’s works have a transcendental value. Her treatments of nudes in the 1940s were very controversial.

Luisa Géigel Brunet was born in 1916 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but when she was nine years old her family moved to Spain. She began to draw while attending the Servants of the Sacred Heart School in Barcelona. She took night classes in drawing at the San Jorge Fine Arts Academy, also in Barcelona, under the tutelage of Mongrell.

At age 19, she moved to Washington, DC, when her father was named director of the Office of Puerto Rico in the U.S. capital. In Washington, she studied at the King-Smith Studio School and the Phillip Memorial Art GalleryStudio House. Two years later, she moved with her family to New York. There she studied painting at the Art Students League (under the tutelage of Robert Brackman) and sculpture in José De Creeft’s studio.

After returning to Puerto Rico, her exhibitions in 1939 and 1940 (at the Puerto Rico Casino and the Puerto Rican Athenaeum, respectively) disturbed some because of her representation of the nude body. Examples were Daydream and Desnudo de mujer. The paintings, although they were formal and not sensual, created unease because the social circles that were interested in art tended to be more conservative. The artist destroyed many of her works after the public rejected them. Géigel’s interest in the nude was based on her desire to honor each model’s expression, as the human body expressed an emotion not found in other objects, the artist believed.

Géigel also created small-scale sculptures. Along with Nilita Vientos Gastón, she was a founding member of the Visual Arts Division of the Athenaeum. She also wrote two books. One of them, La genealogía y el apellido de Campeche, was a genealogical study of that pioneer of Puerto Rican arts. Géigel stitched together the painter’s ancestry back to slaves in the 17th century.

In 1942, she married Ramón Gandía Biscombe and their son was born three years later. From 1958 to 1986, she taught classes in drawing and sculpture at the University of Puerto Rico. Along with her family responsibilities at home, her academic work took up much of her time, and her artistic production declined. After she retired, the Puerto Rico Sculptors Association exhibition was dedicated to her.

Although Géigel mostly dedicated herself to painting, some critics believe that her sculptures are her best work. She saw similar problems of color and form in sculpture as in painting, although she understood the peculiarities of each medium. As Géigel said, “Painting gives me what sculpture can’t, and vice versa.”

Author: Alejandro Carpio
Published: September 03, 2014.

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