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Reviewed by:
  • Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941
  • Barbara A. Tenenbaum
Wars of Latin America, 1899-1941. By René De La Pedraja. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006. Pp. xii, 496. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $49.95 paper.

This small bilingual account of the painting, installation, and subsequent restoration of the decoration for the Teatro Nacional de Panamá provides a very worthy addition to the literature on nation-building in Latin America. Although it has escaped the attention of most scholars, the history of independent Panama, which managed to separate itself from Colombia under highly dubious circumstances to become an independent country in 1903, demonstrates how thoroughly Latin Americans of a certain class had come to rely on European models to express nationality. [End Page 651]

In 1905, the Panamanian government retained Roberto Lewis, a Parisian-trained, but Panamanian-born artist living in Paris, to paint the murals for the National Theater building then under construction in 1905. Lewis arrived in Panama in 1907 to install his Belle Epoque murals personally after they arrived a month later. The story here really began in 1997 when UNESCO declared the National Theater and neighboring monuments "international patrimony," and part of the "cultural history of mankind." Three years later, Anton Rajer, who had completed other works of painting restoration, informed the Institute of Culture that parts of the ceiling mural were about to become dislodged from their locations, and needed extensive work. Following the actual collapse of parts of the murals as predicted, Rajer was retained to restore the mural, then the foyer, and finally the entire theater in preparation for the centennial of Panamanian independence in 2003. Rajer then wrote this book to celebrate the original. It stands as a lovely tribute to international art, the combination of nation-building and style in the early twentieth century, and to the fulfillment of patriotic dreams.

Barbara A. Tenenbaum
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.


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pp. 651-652
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