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Culture in Uruguay


Uruguayan culture is strongly European and its influences from southern Europe are particularly important. The tradition of the gaucho has been an important element in the art and folklore of both Uruguay and Argentina. The country has an impressive legacy of artistic and literary traditions, especially for its small size. The contribution of its alternating conquerors, Spain and Portugal, and diverse immigrants – Italians, Germans, Swiss, Russians, Jews, and Armenians, among others – has resulted in traditions that integrate this diversity with Native American elements.

Artists are self-supporting, but receive some funding from the government and private institutions. The Ateneo de Montevideo is a meeting place for those involved in artistic and humanistic activities.


Literature properly speaking starts in Uruguay with the country-flavoured poetry of Bartolomé Hidalgo, 1788-1822. The two leading figures of the Romantic period are Adolfo Berro and Juan Zorrilla de San Martín. Julio Herrera y Reissig was one of the great fin-de-siècle modernistas, indeed one of the very greatest and subtlest of Latin-American poets. Two leading women are Juana de Ibarbourou and Delmira Agustini, indeed Ibarbourou defined a whole period of Spanish-American sentiment towards the poetic and was immensely popular. Emilio Frugoni and Emilio Oribe were distinguished lyricists.

One of Uruguay's most famous works of literature is Ariel by José Enrique Rodó (1871-1917). Written in 1900, the book deals with the need to maintain spiritual values while pursuing material and technical progress. Florencio Sánchez (1875-1910) wrote plays about social problems that are still performed today. Sánchez remains Uruguay's most famous theatre writer.

Outstanding among the prose and fiction figures are Juan Carlos Onetti (author of No Man's Land and The Shipyard), Carlos Martínez Moreno, Eduardo Galeano, Mario Benedetti and Jorge Majfud. Horacio Quiroga was an immensely popular as well as highly individual and flavourful short-story writer who has had vast influence. Constancio C. Vigil was once a beloved, if highly moralistic, children's writer.

Visual Arts

The culture of Uruguay is rich, reflecting the amalgam between people of European, African and Indigenous origins dating back to the 16th century.

Juan Manuel Blanes (1830-1901), Uruguay's most famous 19th century artist, painted large canvases depicting the life of the gaucho, the South American cattle herder and events from Uruguay's history. Pedro Figari (1861-1938) painted detailed scenes of daily life in Montevideo and the countryside. Joaquín Torres García (1874-1949) developed what is known as constructive universalism and influenced a generation of Uruguayan painters.

Juan Manuel Ferrari may be considered as the leading Uruguayan sculptor. The realistic sculptures of José Belloni (1880-1965) can be seen in public parks and plazas in Montevideo. They depict scenes from Uruguayan life, such as a stagecoach drawn by horses, or a wagon pulled by oxen. Juan Zorrilla de San Martín sought to transcend matter in the name of emotion or thought, almost always monumental, as though the stone was imbued with spirituality.

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