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  Léon Trousset. “Church of San Miguel, Socorro, New Mexico,” 1885–86.  
Trousset, San Miguel

Trousset, San Miguel

An Important 19th-Century Painting
of 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.

Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot