Valparaíso’s Bellas Artes museum reflects Chilean city’s ascent

More than a museum, the Museo Bellas Artes de Valparaíso is housed in an impressive old palace, with over 200 paintings from Chilean and European artists.

Nestled in Cerro Alegre, majestically overlooking the entire bay, stands Valparaíso’s Bellas Artes museum, whose bold artistic style can undoubtedly catch any traveller off-guard.

The museum, prominently visible on pedestrian walkway Paseo Yugoslavo, hosts an impressive permanent collection of early 20th-century European and Chilean artwork, though the building’s unique blend of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture is reason enough to want to step inside.

Set among striking gardens, the Museo de Bellas Artes de Valparaíso, housed in historic Palacio Baburizza, seems as if drawn from a fairy-tale. A multitude of patterns, such as eccentric bas-reliefs and checkerboards, cover its façade, while multiple towers spiral out of the mansion, topped with striking copper-flaked roofs.

The museum, whichre-opened in 2012 after extensive renovation, stands testament to the growing sentiment among locals and visitors alike that Valparaíso is experiencing a cultural and architectural renewal.

The building — constructed in 1916 by Italian Architects — was the residence of Pascual Baburizza, a Croatian businessman who travelled to Chile to pursue foreign trade in the then booming nitrate industry.

With no direct descendants, Baburizza bequeathed his collection of paintings to the city of Valparaíso. The city acquired the entire property in 1972 and the Chilean Ministry of Education declared it a National Monument six years later.

Spread over five levels, the former residence boasts a fine collection of paintings and sculptures by European artists from all over Western Europe, as well as the Eastern European countries of Hungary, Croatia and Russia. Alongside these international works hang an array important homegrown Chilean paintings.

On the ground floor, important European painters, such as French impressionist Eugène-Louis Boudin, can be found hanging above impressive marble fireplaces, one of the many features preserved by the municipality of Valparaíso that highlight the heritage of the building.

The common sources of inspiration for many of these European paintings are Valparaíso and Chile, as the painters who clearly visited the country sought to pay homage to its beauty. For instance, English painter Thomas Somerscales painted ‘Valle del Aconcagua’ among other works, of the area just 90km North of Santiago.

Climbing the grand staircase, the large painting ‘Terneros En la Nieve’ by Chilean artist Rafael Correa sits in a majestic frame.

This floor is dedicated to Chilean painters that include the likes of Manuel Gómez Hassan, René Tomeno, Alfredo Helsby and Camilo Mori, the latter having painted the famous Reloj Turri clock of Valparaíso.

Works of several female Chilean painters are also on display, such as those of Dora Puelma and contemporary artist Ana Cortés.

Meandering through the numerous hallways, visitors can observe artwork hanging from the panelled walls, depicting panoramic landscapes of Chile and Valparaíso, ships at sea, the harshness of the ocean and scenes of daily life such as fishermen at work and women completing their chores in front of picturesque houses.

Jacqueline Chicui, who works in the museum’s visitor’s center, spoke to This is Chile about further plans to enhance the museum’s appeal as a place to spend the day.

“We’ve just finished with some renovations in the basement and are planning to house a café for visitors there which will open later in the year,” said Chicui proudly.

The museum has already won substantial recognition, praised as “a prominent building” that is “exuberant architecturally” and “triumphant” by the BBC, a “refreshed public space” by the Boston Globe and a “reviving cultural site” by The New York Times. Rightly so.

By Daphne Karnezis