Border painter's life a
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
visitor from California came to see one of the most popular
paintings at the El Paso Museum of Art on Tuesday and to
ponder the mysteries surrounding its creator.
painting is "View of El Paso, Texas, 1885," by Leon Trousset,
a Frenchman, a prolific painter and an avid traveler who left
a trail of oil paintings and sketches of early border life
throughout the Southwest and northern Mexico.
visitor was Tracy Trousset, who married Trousset's
great-grandson and became fascinated with the Trousset --
pronounced "troo-say" -- history, or lack of it.
painting shows a view of El Paso from what is now Downtown
Juárez and what was then an idyllic rural setting traveled by
a wandering donkey. On the other side of the river, El Paso
was a growing urban sprawl sliced through by a brand-new
locomotive -- the railroad arrived in El Paso in
Tracy Trousset, who commissioned a reproduction
of the painting for her Hemet, Calif., home years ago, set
eyes on the original for the first time Tuesday.
"This is my favorite. The beauty and
the details," she said.
For El Paso, the oeuvre is a
It sheds light on the crucial
period when El Paso transformed from a sleepy town to one
connected by rail to the national economy.
"It's one of
three paintings of El Paso in the 19th century at the museum.
We use it a lot on school tours to talk about how the city has
developed," said Ben Fyffe, the interim head of education at
The painting was on the cover of the 2001
Southwestern Bell El Paso telephone directory. Other Trousset
works adorn the jacket covers of historical books, and one
scene, a view of old Mesilla, is in the Smithsonian collection
in Washington, D.C.
"View of El Paso" is a gift to the
museum from retired El Paso lawyer J. Sam Moore Jr. who bought
it at auction from Sotheby's in 1997, narrowly winning the bid
over an Austin collector.
For the past eight or nine
years, Moore, Tracy Trousset and others have been
corresponding and discussing the life of a man who left no
journal, just three cryptic poems.
When and where was
he born? How did he get to the United States? What motivated
him to paint the unglamorous border?
"We'd love to
know," said R.B. Brown, an adjunct professor of anthropology
Just as Trousset paintings keep popping up --
Brown found one in Mazatlan during his Christmas vacations
there -- Brown believes new information will
The first trace of Trousset was a sketch of
Fort Inge, Texas, in 1867. And the last was his death
certificate that Brown found in Juárez a few months ago. It
was dated 1917. He was in his 30s when he painted "View of El
Tracy Trousset has scrutinized the Trousset
paintings and poems for clues.
"He was a very religious
man. Almost every painting has a mission on it. He also did
some work commissioned by churches in California. The poems
seem very religious as well," she said.
The poems also
show a longing for his native land, including this line,
"alone, lost without a homeland." Such lines make Tracy
Trousset suspect that her family's ancestor had been somehow
forced into exile.
Officials at the El Paso Museum of
Art pointed out that the strong composition in "View of El
Paso" hints at some formal artistic training in
Brown said Trousset used to raffle off his
paintings in saloons, such as the Acme Saloon in El Paso,
selling $1 tickets, then often buying the paintings back from
the winner, to sell them again later. They would fetch $40 to
$60 at a time, Brown said. "View of El Paso" was valued at
$34,500 when it was sold eight years ago.
After the El
Paso viewing, Tracy Trousset, Moore and Brown headed to the
Centro Municipal de Artes in Juárez to see a portrait of Padre
Hidalgo by Trousset, to the museum of the Ex-Aduana for an
exhibit of Trousset works, and to meet with Jorge Alvarez, the
Juárez city manager and a Trousset collector.
Gilot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org;
Victor Calzada / El Paso
El Paso Museum of Art
interim head of education Ben Fyffe and Tracy
Trousset talked Tuesday about the painting by
19th-century artist Leon
1867: Leon Trousset draws a sketch of Fort Inge,
1880s: Trousset spends some time in California with
artists known as the French Bohemians.
1885: Trousset paints "View of El Paso." A notice in the
El Paso Daily Times, Jan. 23, 1885, may refer to the painting.
It read, "A fine oil painting of El Paso, the work of Leon
Frousset (sic), will be raffled at the Acme Saloon: 60
chances, one dollar each. Let everybody see it."
1917: Trousset dies in Juárez.
1997: Retired El Paso lawyer J. Sam Moore Jr. buys "View
of El Paso" at Sotheby's and donates it to the El Paso Museum
Tips on Trousset
Do you have historical information on French painter Leon
Trousset? Please call J. Sam Moore Jr. at 546-8229.