A picture that really is worth 1,000 words

·3 min read
A scene in Valparaiso, Chile, painted by Guillermo Yanquez. (Photo submitted by Matthew Cook  - image credit)
A scene in Valparaiso, Chile, painted by Guillermo Yanquez. (Photo submitted by Matthew Cook - image credit)

Yukoner Matthew Cook was feeling a little restless.

He likes to travel, but pandemic restrictions have forced him to stay in Whitehorse. So he went online to find something that would remind him of one of his favourite places.

He wound up purchasing a painting of a scene in Valparaiso, Chile, from a gallery in California. The purchase took him on quite a journey.

"It's a beautiful painting, and there was just something about it that drew me to it," said Cook. "I can't put it into words, there was just something mysterious about it. And on the very back of the painting there's two names written. It says 'The hills of Valparaiso, Chile' and it says 'To Bill and Max.' So when I saw that, I thought there's a story to this."

The inscription written on the back of a painting by Chilean artist Guillermo Yanquez.
The inscription written on the back of a painting by Chilean artist Guillermo Yanquez.(Photo submitted by Matthew Cook.)

Cook posted an image of the painting on the website Reddit looking to fill in a few blanks, and soon learned more about the painting and the artist, Guillermo Yanquez.

Yanquez was a silent film star in his native Chile. He moved to the United States in the 1930s to try to make a name for himself in Hollywood. He was a talented artist, and painted to supplement his income.

Cook was directed to a website about Yanquez that's maintained by his son, William [Bill] Yankes.

"I emailed Bill and I attached photos of the painting and I said, "Do you recognize this?' and he emailed me back within the hour," said Cook.

Artist moved from Chile to U.S.

Guillermo Yanquez couldn't break into the Hollywood film scene in the 1930s, so he returned to Chile and resumed his career. He wound up starring in the first talking motion picture shot in the country, and enjoyed a good career. He was also a trained artist and continued to paint and draw throughout his life.

His son also said Yanquez served as consul general to Panama, Argentina and Brazil, and eventually married and had a family.

But things changed in Chile as the 1970s dawned. Salvador Allende was elected president and launched a series of reforms. Corporate interests were dismayed by Allende's socialist leanings and appealed to foreign governments for help. The U.S. responded, eventually supporting a coup that toppled Allende in late 1973.

Yanquez knew what was coming, and he and his youngest son moved to California before the coup. Yankes and his mother followed later.

"We all moved here, changed our lives and started over, from a different rung in society," said Yankes. "Since then, luckily my brother became a doctor and I obtained my PhD and eventually we overcame those potholes in the road."

Yankes believes his father actually finished the painting in Chile and brought it with him when he moved back to the U.S. His brother has several of their father's works, but he remembered this particular painting and was sure he would never see it again.

"That painting was made at a very poignant time in our lives," said Yankes.

Once Cook learned of the painting's history, he arranged for the dealer to keep the painting and allow Yankes to come and pick it up. It turns out Yankes lives about 120 kilometres from the gallery.

"The day he got it was the anniversary of his dad's passing in 1984," said Cook. "I think it's fate, I can't think of any other reason I would have been drawn to this painting ... (Yankes) said getting this piece was like getting a bit of his childhood back."

The painting is now on the wall of Yanke's study, right beside a photograph he took of his father when he was 12 years old.

William Yankes stands beside the painting created by his late father.
William Yankes stands beside the painting created by his late father.(Photo submitted by Matthew Cook.)