November 19, 2017
Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947), Open Door at the Governor’s Palace, 1909, oil on canvas, 20 3/16 x 30 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of the A. Merlin Steed and Alice W. Steed Collection, 1955.
Like many Europeans of the early 20th century, Carl Oscar Borg savored a vision of America typified by exotic southwestern and Latin-American scenes. Borg immigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1901, eventually settling in California in 1904. He dedicated himself to painting Native American and Hispanic subjects, as in this painting of the governor’s palace in Antigua, Guatemala, a Spanish Renaissance building that housed local government offices. Borg said of his native subjects, “To my mind they are the ‘only Americans,’ a fast disappearing race”.
Today’s artwork of the day is a highlight from the MOA collection, which demonstrates Borg’s skill. Despite his intentions to elevate marginalized peoples in his work, the figures in this painting appear as part of a stage set. The stucco façade and imposing column are reminiscent of Borg’s work as a Hollywood set designer. And yet, the scenery is based on first-hand observation. In a written record of the journey, Borg describes the city’s crumbling architecture, lasting evidence of a massive earthquake in 1773. The deteriorating pillars and walls of the palace facade are apparent in the brilliant tropical sunshine.