La Cronica de Nuevo Mexico,
Trousset: An Itinerant in New Mexico
By R.B. Brown
Article in Word doc format
This article has been reprinted with permission from: La Cronica
de Nuevo Mexico, the official publication of the Historical Society
of New Mexico, April 2006, No. 67.
Buried inside the Las Cruces Rio Grande Republican of Saturday, July
25, 1885 was the following article: no headline, no by - line, just the article:
"Sixteen years ago León Trousset, a French artist, who is also some
thing of a Bohemian, stopped for a while in Las Cruces and painted a picture of
the town, with the Organ Mountains for a background. This summer his wandering
footsteps brought him back again and for the second time he reproduced the beautiful
view. Wednesday night this painting was raffled off at the Monarch saloon and
Charles McCarty of Socorro threw 46, the high dice that won it. The artist is
now engaged on a general view of this place which will also be raffled."
brief note gives us a laconic introduction to León Trousset. It establishes
him as a Frenchman and identifies his profession: an artist. It then describes
him as eccentric and peripatetic. It also lets us know that Trousset visited and
painted a view of Las Cruces in 1869, a view that included the Organ Mountains,
which evidently Trousset repeated in 1885. It also identifies the third painting
as "a general view of this place." As if to confirm his unconventional
nature, it goes on to tells us how he sold his paintings and helps establish their
According to information gleaned from the different newspapers
published in Las Cruces in 1881 (Beckett 2003), the Monarch saloon and billiard
room was a relatively up-market or expensive establishment that sold drinks for
25 cents in order to have "a nice quiet resort of gentlemen." (Newman's
Thirty Four [2/2/1881, p. 3]). Since bars, saloons and cantinas have always been
popular places for people to congregate and dispose of their excess cash, it is
not surprising that León Trousset saw them as fitting venues to sell his
Six months earlier, on Friday 23rd. of January, 1885, a shorter
article in a similar vein had been published inside the El Paso Daily Times under
the headline of "A Fine Oil Painting of El Paso:
The work of León
Frousset (sic), will be raffled at the Acme saloon; 60 chances, one dollar each.
Let everybody see it."
At first glance, this article reveals even less
about Trousset, other than his presence in El Paso and the fact that people often
misspelled his name, but it does confirm that he sought popular watering holes
to sell his paintings and suggests that he was not concerned for their reputation.
But we are seeing the beginning of a pattern.
According to the Albuquerque
Weekly Journal and The Evening Democrat, Trousset exhibited two oil paintings
- "Albuquerque, 1885" and "Albuquerque, New Town" - at the
5th. Annual Territorial Fair which ran from the 4th. to the 9th. of October, 1885.
That Sunday found Trousset, along with the other exhibitors such as Ben Wittick,
setting up their wares. Throughout the week, both newspapers repeatedly referred
to the upcoming raffles that were to be held on Friday (9/Oct/1885). "Albuquerque,
1885" was raffled at the Fountain Head. Trousset sold 49 of the sixty tickets
and won it back with number 48! Second place went to a Dr. Haslea with number
43. "Albuquerque, New Town" was raffled at John Buckley´s place
and was won by a J. B. Bushnell with a throw of 42.
was a lucky man able to earn between $40 and $50 a painting - a little less than
a policeman's monthly salary in the newly formed Las Cruces police force (Becket
2003) - and able to justify his time spent "at the office"!
did Trousset get to New Mexico? After two years of focused research, León
Trousset remains a mystery. He first appears at Fort Inge, near San Antonio, Texas
on 22 of September of 1867 and dies on 30 of December, 1917 in Ciudad Juárez,
Chihuahua. Such basic questions as: When and where was he born? Where did he grow
up? What was his education? How did he spend his early years? and How did he get
to San Antonio? all remain unanswered. What we do know has been learned from studying
his painting and poems. The paintings are many and the poems are few.
León Trousset's obra can be conveniently divided into three periods that
generally correspond to the time he spent traveling across Texas (Fall 1867),
up and down California (1874 - 1876) and along the Camino Real (1882 - 1886 or
1887). Clearly there is a slight overlap as he had to cross the Camino Real to
travel from Texas to California, but more importantly, there are many years about
which we know virtually nothing.
The first period dates to the fall of 1867
and includes five pen and ink drawings of his journey across Texas. Much of the
research covering this period has been done by Frederick Kluck (2002).
second period dates to the mid - 1870s and includes the widest range of subjects:
religious themes painted for the Los Angeles Cathedral; a historical scene seemingly
painted as training exercise, as well as numerous landscapes that were to become
his signature pieces. His techniques include oil, watercolor and gouache. During
this period he was based in the Monterey Peninsula and traveled extensively from
Los Angles in the south to Santa Rosa in the north. Much of the research covering
this period has been done by Edna Kimbro and Nikki Silva (personal communication)
León Trousset's third period dates to the mid 1880s
and includes urban landscapes from as far south as Léon, Guanajuato and
as far north as Albuquerque, New Mexico. These works include urban landscapes
of León, Guanajuato; Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco; Encarnación de Diaz,
Jalisco; Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes; Durango, Durango; Chihuahua, Chihuahua;
Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; El Paso, Texas, and at least nine more in New
Mexico. It is those nine New Mexican paintings that concern us today.
nine paintings, five have been clearly identified: one is in Washington, one is
in Socorro, two are in Albuquerque, and two are in Santa Fe. "Old Mesilla"
is to be found in the Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution in
Washington, DC; "Park City and Billings Smelter" is in Socorro; "Socorro
County Courthouse" is in the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art; "San Miguel
Church and Convent" is to be found at the Zaplin-Lampert Gallery in Santa
Fe and "Albuquerque, New Town" and "Albuquerque 1885" are
to be found in the Albuquerque Museum.
The missing four paintings are views
of Las Cruces that may be as early as 1867 and as late as 1887.
Most of the
paintings can be attributed to Trousset on the basis of his signature in black
or white in the bottom right hand corner. The signature generally includes the
title. "Park City and Billings Smelter" has the title, signature and
date in black on the bottom left hand corner. The date - 1885 - seems to have
been added by a different hand in the case of "San Miguel Church and Convent."
It is often thought that as an artist develops, his technical abilities should
increase correspondingly. However, there is no clear progression in Trousset's
work: his quality seems to improve for a while when he is in California and associated
with artists such as Jules Tavernier and Paul Frenzeny who established a salon
in Monterey, California. (Chalmers 2002) Some of his later works are just as naive
as his earlier works.
Trousset's style is his personal mixture of naive
and romantic that suggests limited technical training in composition and perspective,
which may have been derived from the basic skills learned as a draughtsman, and
a desire to produce figurative or photographic - like representations. His treatment
of clouds and people are quite personal, and his inclusion of certain elements
is quite repetitive.
The composition of the landscapes that dominate his
New Mexican obra tends to be very horizontal. They are clearly divided into thirds
or quarters. The foreground is generally dominated by cardboard people, although
occasionally the addition of a dark foreground seems to be an attempt to enhance
the sense of depth that Trousset, or his customer, may have considered lacking.
This variant is illustrated by "Albuquerque, New Town." The middle field
is dominated by the major theme, albeit the colonial plaza of Albuquerque, or
the county court house at Socorro, or the different buildings that make up "Park
City and Billings Smelter." The upper field, albeit the upper third or the
upper half tends to be either a light blue sky dominated by woolly clouds or pastel
shades of pink, gold and blue common to romantic portraits of scenes depicted
Although the figures in the foreground are depicted in great detail,
they do not convey the sense of volume that is necessary for them to appear life
- like. This is clearly demonstrated by the children and lady depicted in "Church
of San Miguel, Socorro, New Mexico" or the figures jauntily spread around
the Socorro County Court House. The figures depicted in "Albuquerque, 1885"
are more varied, and include a cross - section of the physical types to be found
in the local population: blonds, Mestizos, Indians and Chinese, they still seem
more like caricatures rather than portraits of real or imagined people.
"Park City and Billings Smelter" is one of his more sophisticated works.
While he does not surrender his sense of horizontality, the composition is not
so flat and includes a more varied sense of presence than usual. This contrasts
sharply with "Old Mesilla," which although it has one strong, vanishing
point, is quite flat.
As can be seen in "Albuquerque, 1885" and
"Church of San Miguel, Socorro, New Mexico," Trousset depicts clouds
in a quite singular manner: woolly clouds in a blue sky. In the case of "Albuquerque,
New Town" the colors of the sky and the woolly clouds are more varied ranging
from blue and white to pink and gold, colors often used to romanticize western
Although the major elements of Trousset's New Mexico paintings are
static architectural features and buildings such as the County Courthouse in Socorro,
and the church and plaza in "Albuquerque, 1885," the repeated inclusion
of horses, mules, donkeys and dogs, generally in poses suggestive of motion, seems
to be a clichéd attempt to achieve a sense of movement and depict drama
or the hustle and bustle of urban life. Their absence from "Church of San
Miguel, Socorro, New Mexico" and "Old Mesilla" heightens their
sense of tranquility.
of "Albuquerque 1885" by León Trousset (Dust jacket from "Albuquerque:
A Narrative History" by Marc Simmons). Notice San Felipe de Neri church and
flag pole in Old Town Plaza.
Socorro County Courthouse painting by León Trousset (1885)
from poster "New Mexico in the Guilded Age 1880-1990" an exhibit at
the Palace of the Governor, 1980.
The same dog
that can be seen in "Albuquerque, New Town" seems to have pranced across
the "Plaza de San Marcos, Aguascalientes" some ten years earlier.
Wherever legitimately possible, Trousset included national flags. In his 1899
painting of Juárez, we can see the Mexican flag flying over the post office.
In two views of a Mexican textile factory owned by Mexicans and Germans, Trousset
displays both the Mexican and the German flags. And so, it is not surprising that
we see the Stars and Stripes hanging from the flag pole in Albuquerque.
In 1908, some nine years after his last known work, The Río Grande Republican
carried the following article:
"Painting of Las Cruces in the Early Days
Las Cruces, N.M., June 6 - Hanging on the north wall of the Palmilla club on Main
Street, is an oil painting of old Las Cruces in the days of the cattle wars and
gun men. It was painted by T. L. Troussett (sic), the old artist whose has painted
a number of scenes in and around El Paso and Juarez, including the full length
picture of hidalgo, the Mexican liberator, that hangs in the Juarez city hall.
The painting of Las Cruces is about 3½ by 5 feet and was painted in 1887.
It is done in colors and is as bright and fresh today as the day it was painted.
The foreground of the historic old picture shows the Santa Fe depot, the same
old one that is still doing service, with an A. T. & S. F. freight car being
unloaded into a mountain wagon. A wagonette is just going away from the station
with a load of passengers. The new court house is surrounded by a waste tract
of land, the only building near it is the old jail on the rear of the court house
On the square where the W. I. A. Park is now located, a cow puncher sits
on his horse watching a handful of long horn cattle grazing nearby. A small clump
of adobe houses mark where Las Cruces avenue first got its start, and over the
roofs of these can be seen the towers of San Genevieve church with its twin crosses
shining in the sun. Further down Main Street the building now occupied by the
Las Cruces Realty company can be seen, the remainder of the street being adobe
Chalmers, Claudine (2001), Splendide
Californie: French Artists' Impressions of the Golden State, 1786 - 1900, California
Historical Society, San Francisco, CA
Beckett, Pat H. (2003) Las Cruces, New
Mexico 1881: As Seen by her Newspapers, Coas Publishing and Research Co., Las
Kiser, Bill: New Mexico Trade Tokens Las Cruces NM: Kiser (2004)
Kluck, Frederick, (2002) "Leon Trousset: Nineteenth Century French Painter
of Texas and Northern Mexico," paper presented to the Texas State Historical
Association Annual Meeting, 7- 9 March, 2002, El Paso, TX
The author would like to thank Jorge Alvarez Compeán, Robin Arney, Claudine
Chalmers, Pat Beckett, Dennis Daily, Rick Hendricks, Nicolas Houser, Billy Kiser,
Frederick Kluck, J. Sam Moore and Nikki Silva for sharing their knowledge and
their continued support.
A version of this article presented at the 2006 Historical
Society Annual Conference. RBB
Roy B. Brown studied archaeology and
anthropology at the University of Arizona and has worked largely in northern Mexico.
The need to find illustrations for archaeological reports planted the seed that
has led him to study nineteenth century travelers, artists and photographers such
as Adolph Wislizenus, Thomas Moran, Ben Wittick, Philipp Rondé and León
Trousset. He has published numerous articles, chapters and books, both in English
and Spanish, covering different aspects of archaeology, history, paleontology
and anthropology. He is a member of a number of local, national and international
professional organizations. He is Head of the Anthropology Section of the Texas
Academy of Science and International Liaison Officer of CARTA: The Camino Real