Norah Borges’s biography
Leonor Fanny Borges Acevedo was born in Buenos Aires in 1901. She was nicknamed Norah by her brother Jorge Luis, and she herself later adopted the name.
The Borges family moved to Switzerland in 1914 due to her father’s health. Here she began her studies at the Geneva Academy of Fine Arts. She also made contact with avant-garde movements and combined her classical training with the study of wood engraving along with Ernst L. Kirchner, Frans Masereel and Arnaldo Bossi.
She moved to Spain in 1919, first settling in Palma de Mallorca and, at the end of the year, in Seville, then moving to Madrid at the beginning of 1920.
Norah Borges’ artistic path was closely linked to the avant-garde literary publications that emerged in the cities in which she lived. Upon her arrival in Spain, she began collaborating with magazines like Baleares, Reflector, Grecia, Ultra and Litoral.
On her return to Buenos Aires in 1924, Norah Borges continued to collaborate with and appear in magazines such as Prisma, Proa, Martín Fierro and Sur. Her presence in these magazines makes her a benchmark for avant-garde art in 1920s Argentina. In developing artistic ultraism in Argentina, she was accompanied by authors who were already part of the movement in Spain, such as the Uruguayan Rafael Barradas, and others like Francisco Miguel, Luis Huici and Francisco Bores.
During her stay in Buenos Aires between 1924 and 1932, Borges participated in collective exhibitions in salons and galleries, in addition to holding a solo exhibition at Amigos del Arte. During this period, Borges was also asked to take part in exhibitions in Spain, being considered a part of the artistic panorama of this country in which they all had so much mutual influence.
She married Guillermo de Torre in 1928, and four years later they both moved back to Spain, establishing their residence in Madrid. Borges travelled to Marseille in 1936 due to the Civil War, and later to Paris, finally returning to Buenos Aires in 1938.
During this period and afterwards, she held solo and collective exhibitions on both continents. It is interesting to highlight how she appears both in exhibitions and in publications that include her name in the Spanish scene, as well as in Argentine and Latin American art in general.
Norah Borges died in Buenos Aires in 1998.
Norah Borges’s work
From the very start Norah Borges developed a style of art influenced by German expressionism and cubism, the result of which is a language characterised by the stylisation of human forms and figures based on rhomboidal compositions which break up objects and surfaces, creating a fragmentary illusion of the plane.
Due to her role in the development of ultraism, her style during her younger years has come to be identified as the artistic language of this movement, despite the fact that there were no guidelines regarding artistic creation due to her mainly literary approach. We can therefore see many other isms associated with this new one: Rafael Barradas’ vibrationism, Celso Lagar’s planism, Sonia and Robert Delaunay’s orphism, Norah Borges’ expressionism and Vázquez Díaz’s cubism, among others.
Back in Argentina, Borges continued to collaborate with magazines in both countries. During this period we see her stage of maximum experimentation and connection with avant-garde languages.
This was followed by a period of the development of a more individual and personal art, in which the artist began her personal “return to order” based on her own concept of painting. In 1926 she published “A Synoptic Table of Painting” (unsigned) in Martín Fierro. In this manifesto she deals with themes such as colour, form, values and themes, stating that painting should be a tool to escape, in which to seek beauty and goodness, far away from or distant to the difficulties of real life.
Nevertheless, this new approach did not mean a complete break from what she had been creating before, and furthermore it was not totally new for her. For decades, Borges almost indistinctly painted works using avant-garde language along with works linked to this concept of a return to order.
In this particular language we see Borges’ inclination towards and taste for the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, 13th-century Flemish painting, archaic Greek art and Romanesque art, and the paintings of Fra Filippo Lippi, Fra Angélico, Giotto and Botticelli, as well as those by Chirico or El Greco.
Works like “Tobias and the Angel” (1925), “Urbano and Simona” (1927), “The Annunciation” (1925) and “The mansions” (1956) are different examples of these influences, which can be found in the exhibition Destination Argentina. Borges and Chale, female artists in the avant-garde.
The works “Tobias and the Angel” and “Urbano and Simona” were exhibited to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the magazine Martín Fierro in 1949 along with works by Xul Solar, Emilio Pettoruti, Lino Enea Spilimbergo and others connected to the magazine.
ALCALÁ, May Lorenzo and BAUR, Sergio Alberto, Norah Borges, mito y vanguardia [Catalogue]. Neuquén National Museum of Fine Arts, 2006. Available at: https://www.mnbaneuquen.gov.ar:8200/wp-content/uploads/NoraBorgesenMNBA.pdf [consulted: 7/10/2021].
ARTUONDO, Patricia, “Entre “La aventura y la orden”: los hermanos Borges y el Ultraísmo argentino”, in Cuadernos de Recienvenido, no. 10, 1999, pp. 57-97. Available at: https://www.borges.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/13%20Artundo.pdf [consulted: 02/09/2021].
BAUR, Sergio Alberto et al., Norah Borges. Una mujer en la vanguardia [Catalogue]. 1st ed. Autonomous City of Buenos Aires: National Museum of Fine Arts, Ministry of Culture of the Nation, 2020. Available at: https://media.bellasartes.gob.ar/h/Publicaciones/Norah_Borges_cat_ok2.pdf [consulted: 28/10/2021].
LLADÓ POL, Francisca, “El viaje como generador del gusto. La respuesta de Norah Borges a la experiencia del viaje a Mallorca”, in Simposio Reflexiones sobre el gusto [online] (held in Zaragoza from 4 to 6 November 2010), (eds.) et al., Zaragoza, 2012, pp. 505-521. Available at: https://ifc.dpz.es/recursos/publicaciones/32/68/30llado.pdf [consulted: 29/10/2021].
VÁZQUEZ ASTORGA, Mónica, “La presencia de las mujeres artistas en las tertulias de café: Norah Borges (1901-1998)”, in El artista. Mito y realidad. Reflexiones sobre el gusto V, University of Zaragoza, 2021, pp. 589-603. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/47760428/La_presencia_de_las_mujeres_artistas_en_las_tertulias_de_caf%C3%A9_Norah_Borges_1901_1998_en_El_artista_Mito_y_realidad_Reflexiones_sobre_el_gusto_V_Zaragoza_Instituci%C3%B3n_Fernando_el_Cat%C3%B3lico_Prensas_de_la_Universidad_de_Zaragoza_2021_pp_589_603 [consulted: 28/04/2022].