Photographer Alfredo Boulton, who lived from 1908 to 1995, was a champion of modern art in Latin America and a key intellectual in 20th-century Venezuela. An art critic, art historian, and photographer, he wrote more than 60 publications on the art and historiography of his country. At the same time, he was a pioneer of modern photography, generating through his images a new cultural definition of Venezuela.
Boulton’s life and work correspond to a time when Venezuela became a focal center of modernism in Latin America. His extensive research on pre-Hispanic art, colonial art, 19th-century art, and his investigations on the imagery of the leaders of independence, defined the artistic history of his country.
Newly acquired by the Getty Research Institute, the Boulton archive, ca. 1920-1995, contains his extensive correspondence with local and international artists, institutions, intellectuals, and collectors; his writings for magazines and newspapers, his research materials on pre-Hispanic art, colonial art, the iconography of independence leaders, and modern artists; and a complete vintage collection of his photographic production.
Boulton dedicated 40 years of his life to building a comprehensive analysis of the history of the art of Venezuela from colonial times to his present day, at a time when there was neither prior literature to refer to, nor organized archives and catalogs to research from. He conducted research in ecclesiastic archives for eight years and helped identify many previously anonymous painters of the colonial time. He published more than 60 books, including his three-volume text History of Painting in Venezuela (Volume I: Epoca Colonial, 1964; Volume II: Epoca Nacional, 1968; Volume III: Epoca Contemporánea, 1972). The first volume on the Colonial period was particularly well received by a public unaware of how much of Venezuelan art history had been ignored until then. The second volume dealt with post-independence art, from the early 19th to early 20th century. For this work, Boulton researched and investigated public and private archives, magazines and newspapers, and artists’ correspondence. The third volume examining the contemporary period was published in 1972.
Boulton was deeply involved with the art of his period. He befriended, advised, and acquired the works of contemporary artists. In particular, he promoted the work of geometric artists Alejandro Otero, Jesús Rafael Soto, and Carlos Cruz Diez. He also supported artists Francisco Narváez and Rafael Monasterios.
The archive contains the lion’s share of Boulton’s photographic production, as he did not make a practice of selling images. Nevertheless, his work is represented in the collections of MoMA, New York; Biblioteca Nacional de Venezuela, Caracas; Galería de Arte Nacional, Caracas; George Eastman House, Rochester; Ana Abello Collection, Spain; Stanisław Poniatowski Collection, France; and in the holdings of a handful of private collectors, many of whom received the images as gifts from the artist. An important part of Boulton’s photographic oeuvre is dedicated to the Venezuelan landscapes: the Andes, the Caribbean, and the hilltop of Los Guayabitos, where Boulton decided to live in the mid-1940s.
“With his photography and writings, Alfredo Boulton shaped the art history of his country,” said Idurre Alonso, associate curator of Latin American collections at the Research Institute. “The materials in the Boulton archive give a commanding perspective of the art being produced during his long life and are fundamental for the understanding of Venezuelan art history.”
The Alfredo Boulton archive contains approximately 4,000 vintage and original prints, and 20,000 negatives of images taken by Boulton between 1928-1993; vast correspondence with artists, gallerists, collectors, and museums, including letters to and from figures relating to the art world of Venezuela and beyond, such as Alexander Calder, Alejandro Otero, Jesús Soto, Gio Ponti, Arturo Uslar Pietri, Denise René, and Beaumont Newhall; archives of pre-Hispanic, colonial, and contemporary art in the form of photographs, clippings, research documents, exhibition documents, and substantial artists files pertaining to Boulton’s History of Art; books and catalogs published by Boulton; 25 library cabinet drawers of indexed notes on wills and testaments from the archdiocese of Caracas which Boulton used in his research; collections and provenance records including photos, negatives, and texts documenting artworks classified by collectors (including many works authenticated or identified by Boulton); research materials collected by Boulton on the likenesses of the Simón Bolívar and other historic figures including Antonio José de Sucre, José Antonio Páez, Manuel Saenz, Simón Rodríguez; and personal papers and mementos.
The archive, assembled by Alfredo Boulton, was purchased from his sole heir, his daughter Sylvia Boulton, by the non-profit Alberto Vollmer Foundation, Inc., in 1995, who lent it to the Getty Research Institute for study in April 2018. The Research Institute has now acquired the archive thanks to a partial gift and purchase from the Alberto Vollmer Foundation.
For the past two decades, under the direction of Sofia Vollmer de Maduro, who worked closely with Boulton in the last five years of his life, the archive was organized, cataloged, and made accessible to researchers and institutions, for research papers, exhibitions, and publications. A website provides substantial information both in Spanish and English. Getty will continue to make the archive available to researchers, connecting with other archives of Latin American art history in the Research Institute’s holdings.
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