Saturday, January 31, 2009

Money Talks..It Usually Says Goodbye

About 20 years ago, Costa Rica issued a series of banknotes in four denominations included the 5 Colone note pictured above. The reverse of the note features a painting depicting the coffee trade and export of Costa Rica around 1900. Shortly after they issued the notes, the currency was revalued, and the notes became obsolete. Today, 5 Colones is worth about one penny. However, the 5 colone note became popular with collectors and the tourist trade as souvenirs. San Jose tourist shops easily sell these notes for 3-5 dollars U.S.

Back in the mid 1800's Costa Rica built the National Theater, in attempts to charm some of the European operatic talent to the country. They built a masterpiece that rivals La Scala. The National Theater is truly a wonder and a "must see" for visitors to San Jose. On the ceiling, in the center of the Theater, is a very large painting. I would guess about 10 feet by 30 feet. It is the coffee trade painting featured on the 5 colone note painted in 1897 by J. Villa.

About three years ago, when I first moved to Costa Rica, and began painting, one of the workers here on the farm brought me a 5 colone note and told me I should paint it because it was "muy bonita". Well, yes, it was pretty, but..... After a few days, I got to thinking it might be interesting to paint and good practice, in any case. It took a little over a week, but It resulted in my rendition above, painted in acrylics on a 20x50 panel board. It is now hanging in our office, and gets comments from everyone who sees it.

One note of interesting little trivia. J. Villa never visited Costa Rica. He created the painting in his native Spain and had very little idea of life in Latin America. He made an error in his depiction which most people wouldn't notice, but, to Costa Ricans, and Latin Americans in general, it is a glaring mistake. The gentleman in the foreground is holding a large bunch of bananas by the stalk at the bottom. This would mean that bananas grow pointing down. They don't...they grow pointing up. Small thing, but, since Costa Rica was built on coffee and bananas, it becomes a major BOBO.


  1. This piece you painted is so fabulous. I love the warmth and richness it has, much more than the paper money. You are one talented Gringo. You should do a depiction like this of your own. It could represent The Costa Rica of today.

  2. Dear James,
    My husband and I visited Costa Rica on our honeymoon, and while we were in the town of Quepos, we saw a hand painted depiction of the 5 colones note that we absolutely fell in love with, It was at the end of our trip and was too expensive for us at that time, but we are still kicking ourselves for not purchasing it. Can you please advise us on where we can find an artist that sells either very vibrant prints, or an hand painted version of this scene to remind us of our trip? I would be so grateful.