An Important 19th-Century Painting
Historic San Miguel Mission
Documenting the transformation of the New Mexican
frontier by the arrival of the railroad
Léon Trousset. “Church of San Miguel,
Socorro, New Mexico,”
1885–86. Oil on canvas. 35 1/2
x 54" (original stretchers). Frame size: 43 1/2 x 61 1/4".
Signed by artist in l. r.: L. Trousset. Inscribed below in pencil:
1886. Magnificent presentation in custom Spanish Colonial-style frame
of silver leaf and black lacquer.
An exceptional 19th-century painting in the
“accurate view” tradition, Léon Trousset’s
image of the San Miguel Church in Socorro, New Mexico, is also an
important historic document. Trousset portrays the lovely San Miguel
Mission, one of the oldest churches in the United States, against the
backdrop of the Magdalena Mountains. He meticulously describes the
Territorial-style architectural details of the church and its convent
school—details that had not existed before the arrival of the
railroad to the New Mexican frontier.
Prior to the 1880s, Socorro was a typical Spanish/Mexican town in
architecture and planning. The buildings were unadorned adobe
rectangles with flat roofs and little detailing. When the Atchison,
Topeka and the Santa Fe laid rail to Socorro in 1880, it generated
not only a surge in the town’s prosperity but also a building
boom. The sudden availability of new materials and prefabricated
architectural elements encouraged a flurry of construction in the
mid-80s. Soccoro erected a host of new structures in fancy Victorian
styles imported from the East and updated existing buildings with
elements of what became known as the “Territorial Style.”
Trousset here portrays the church with its remodeled Territorial
elements including tin-plated bell towers and the school with its
scroll-cut brackets and balustrade of milled lumber.
An itinerant French artist transplanted in the 1860s to
northern California, Trousset painted in Monterey in the 1870s and
early ‘80s. In the mid-80s, he traveled back and forth to
Mexico, at one point apparently following the old Camino Réal
of New Mexico, for he created a series of paintings depicting
buildings or sites in several towns on the Royal Road: Santa Fe,
Albuquerque, Mesilla, Las Cruces, El Paso, and Chihuahua. As
paintings by Trousset are rare, the work offered here provides a
remarkable opportunity to acquire an impressive and historically
important image of San Miguel Church during its Territorial period.
In the 1930s, the building was altered once again, its façade
remodeled in the California Mission style.