The Research

Curated by Manuel Chacón

August 2014 – October 201 5

Why did Tomás Povedano come to Costa Rica? What makes him one of the best official portrait painter of his time? How did his portraits come to be used on banknotes? What ideals did his drawings and paintings inspire?

This exhibition allowed visitors to learn more about Tomás Povedano de Arcos, an artist originally from Spain who became one of the main banknote illustrators in Costa Rica in the early 20th century.

Povedano came to Costa Rica in 1896 to found the National School of Fine Arts, at a decisive moment in Costa Rican history: the consolidation of Costa Rica as a liberal canon nation-state. As such, the glorification of the nationalist spirit was a priority in the ruling class. Povedano’s technical skills in portarit painting and drawing earned him the position of official painter of the Costa Rican political elite.

The research that gave rise to this exhibition seeks to analyze the relation between the images on some banknotes issued in Costa Rica during the first half of the 20th century, the ruling political discourse at the time, and some of Tomás Povedano’s paintings.

The Exhibition

The exhibition was made up of several parts. The first part dealed with the historical period in which Povedano’s work takes place, and explained how the nationalist ideals of the time relate to his work.

The following sections highlighted his work as official portait painter of former chiefs of state, political and intellectual figures, and other types of Costa Rican leaders. To this effect, the exhibition included some of the artist’s original works of figures such as Braulio Carrillo , Rafael Yglesias  and Manuel Aguilar, as well as the banknotes with these engravings.

Next in the tour  were a series of banknotes issued in 1939 by the National Bank of Costa Rica, representing different periods of Costa Rican history. The images refere to pre-Columbian legacy, as well as the Spanish conquest, the Colonial period, the Costa Rican independence and the Republic. Some of these images are works by Povedano, such as Cacique indio de Costa Rica (Costa Rican Indian  Cacique), engraved in the 10 colón banknote issued in 1939. The 20 colón banknote printed in 1941 shows the portrait of Spanish conqueror Juan de Cavallón, while the 2 colón banknote shows his work, El rescate de Dulcehé (The Rescue of Dulcehé). The original works that inspire the engravings on these two banknotes were also on display.