José María Gutiérrez Alba in Colombia

Jose Maria Gutierrez Alba 1

Diario ilustrado de viajes por Colombia (S950.a.201.2298)

The UL recently acquired a beautiful book (S950.a.201.2298) that compiles the complete Colombian diaries and paintings of a 19th Century Andalucian poet and dramatist named José María Gutiérrez Alba. The backstory behind these is as fascinating as the diaries themselves.

José María Gutiérrez Alba travelled to Colombia in 1870, ostensibly to work as a bookseller. However, the real purpose of his arrival was to secretly provide information to the Spanish government that might help them to build commercial relations with Colombia. Gutiérrez Alba did not have much success selling books and Spain soon lost interest in his “mission”, but he ended up staying in Colombia for another 13 years, becoming heavily involved with the country’s agriculture and founding the journal El Cachaco.

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Some of Gutiérrez Alba’s diaries and an extract of his writing.

However, perhaps most interestingly, he travelled widely throughout the country and during the early 1870s painstaking recorded what he saw and experienced in multiple diaries. His detailed writings were accompanied by his own minutely observed, but charmingly unpretentious, illustrations, as well as those of the Colombian painter Ramón Torres Méndez and a number of photographs.

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Painting by Gutiérrez de Alba

These diaries consistently display their author’s enthusiasm, curiosity and warmth towards Colombia, and have consequently become an important part of the country’s history and cultural heritage – to the extent that this new edition from Villegas Editores even contains a preface by the President of Colombia himself, Juan Manuel Santos. Spanish speakers can read more about the life and work of José María Gutiérrez Alba here: http://www.banrepcultural.org/node/32773

Christopher Greenberg

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Painting by Gutiérrez de Alba

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