South America, 1800–1900 A.D.

  • Shawl pin (one of a pair)


1800 A.D.

1825 A.D.

Independence, 1800–1825
Ruled by Braganza Portugal, 1640–1822

1825 A.D.

1850 A.D.

Independence, 1800–1825
Aftermath of Independence, 1826–50
Reign of Emperor Dom Pedro II, 1840–89

1850 A.D.

1875 A.D.

Aftermath of Independence, 1826–50
Becoming National, 1851–79
Reign of Emperor Dom Pedro II, 1840–89

1875 A.D.

1900 A.D.

Becoming National, 1851–79
A New Politics of Dependence, 1880–1900
Reign of Emperor Dom Pedro II, 1840–89
Republic, 1889–present


Between 1810 and 1825, all the Spanish territories on the American mainland gain their sovereignty from Spain. Simultaneously, the power of the Catholic Church diminishes, including its patronage of the visual arts. During these war-torn years, cultural production declines.

These years witness political reform and the beginnings of self-fashioned societies. Caudillos (military dictators) initially fill the vacuum left by the break-up of colonial rule, including Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793–1877) in Argentina, Francisco Solano López (1827–1870) in Paraguay, and Juan José Flores (1800–1864) in Ecuador. Economically, there is a slow adaptation to the world economy.

A growing awareness of the continent’s enormous natural riches and economic potential lead technological development and an intense nationalism. Native artists take a more active role in delineating their own lands and peoples, in both popular and fine art. Even when adopting European models, however, Latin Americans inflect their work in unique ways that lay the foundation for what will eventually evolve into individual national schools.

Commercial and industrial development exacerbates class division. Immigration is also on the rise, especially in the Southern Cone. This is the era of railroad construction that accompanies the modernization of mining and plantations, and represents an alliance between foreign investors and local powers. Upper-class Latin Americans look to Europe for cultural values; artists study abroad in Italy and France, which results in the importation of academic painting and, by the turn of the century, Impressionism. As cities undergo expansion, a similar mix of French and Italian styles can be seen in the new buildings of Buenos Aires, Lima, and Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil is a colony of Portugal until 1822. The long reign (1840–89) of Emperor Dom Pedro II is marked by a commitment to education and the arts. The transition to a republic, when it comes, is peaceful. The large numbers of Africans, the heritage of a long history of slavery, mixed with Europeans and natives, creates a population distinct from Brazil’s neighboring countries.

Key Events

  • 1799–1803

    German explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) travels across present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, where access had been previously forbidden to any non-Spaniard. His accounts inspire many followers, including artists Johann Mauritz Rugendas (1802–1858) from Germany and Frederic Church (1826–1900) from the U.S.

  • 1800–1805

    Aleijadinho, or the Little Cripple (pseudonym of Antonio Francisco Lisboa, ca. 1738–1814), sculpts the Prophet statues for the Sanctuary of the Bom Jesus de Matosinhos in Brazil: a native masterpiece.

  • 1808

    In an inversion of political and cultural hierarchies, the Portuguese court establishes itself in Brazil from 1808 to 1821. Portuguese Prince Regent Jõao VI (1767–1826) and some 10,000 functionaries move to Rio de Janeiro, which becomes the capital of the Portuguese empire for the next thirteen years.

  • 1816

    The Missão Artística Francesa (French Artistic Mission) arrives in Rio de Janeiro, led by Joachim Lebreton (1760–1819) and architect A. H. V. Grandjean de Montigny (1776–1850), initiating the strong and enduring influence of French styles.

  • 1818

    The Spanish are defeated by the Army of the Andes at the Battle of Maipú and Chilean independence is achieved.

  • 1819

    Called the father of Latin American independence, Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) leads armies to liberate Venezuela and Colombia. Bolívar is ratified as president of the new country of Gran Colombia.

  • 1821

    José de San Martín (1778–1850) declares the independence of Peru. Myriad portraits of the heroes of the Revolution displace sacred imagery of the colonial period.

  • 1822

    Bolívar’s general Antonio José de Sucre (1795–1830) defeats the Spanish in Ecuador. In Brazil, Dom Pedro I is declared emperor.

  • 1823

    The U.S. proclaims the Monroe Doctrine, stating that all the territories of the Americas are off limits to further European expansion.

  • 1824

    The defeat of the Spanish at Ayacucho, Peru, signals the end of Spanish rule in Central and South America.

  • 1825

    Bolivia achieves independence.

  • 1826

    The Academia Imperial das Belas Artes (Imperial Academy of Fine Arts) is founded in Rio de Janeiro.

  • 1831

    Dom Pedro I of Brazil abdicates.

  • ca. 1835

    The Academia de Dibujo y Pintura (Academy of Painting and Sculpture) is founded in Caracas.

  • 1840

    Once he comes of age, Dom Pedro II is crowned emperor of Brazil. He fosters the arts and especially photography, of which he is an avid practitioner.

  • 1845

    Facundo: civilización y barbarie is published by Domingo Sarmiento (1811–1888), a key literary and historical figure of the century.

  • 1850–59

    The Comisión Corográfica conducts a pioneering survey of Colombia, and establishes the precedent for native artists and geographers recording their own lands and peoples.

  • 1852

    Dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793–1877) is driven from Buenos Aires; the Argentine Federalist constitution is established the following year.

  • 1860s

    A boom in export development—agricultural goods in Argentina, copper in Chile, and coffee in Brazil—continues into the twentieth century.

  • 1865–70

    The War of the Triple Alliance pits Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay against Paraguay.

  • 1870s

    The beginning of mass European emigration to Latin America is accompanied by increased foreign investment, major railway building, industrialization, organized labor, and the rise of positivist philosophy.

  • 1871

    In Brazil, the Free Womb Law (Lei do Ventre Livre) frees all children born to slaves.

  • 1872

    Argentine José Hernández (1834–1886) publishes the gauchoesque poem Martín Fierro, a popular epic that represents one of the greatest achievements of Romantic poetry in Spanish.

  • 1879–84

    Bolivia and Peru engage in the War of the Pacific with Chile, with the result that Bolivia is landlocked.

  • 1886

    Slavery is abolished in Cuba.

  • 1888

    Slavery is abolished in Brazil.

  • 1889

    Dom Pedro II abdicates and Brazil is proclaimed a republic.

  • 1896

    Teatro Amazonas opens in Manaus, Brazil, an attempt to foster culture in the Amazon region, away from the established centers.

  • 1898

    The Spanish-American War is fought. Cuba and Puerto Rico are ceded to the United States.

  • 1900

    Uruguayan philosopher and literary critic José Enrique Rodó (1871–1917) publishes Ariel, calling upon Latin America to resist the materialism represented by the U.S., whose influence has been increasing since the 1890s.

  • 1903

    Panama is separated from Colombia, a prelude to the creation of an independent nation and the construction of the Panama Canal.


“South America, 1800–1900 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)