Faulques, the protagonist of this Spanish novel, is, like its author, a celebrated war photographer. However, after thirty years of jetting from one war zone to another, he’s hung up his Leica and is now occupied in painting the many horrific images indelibly imprinted on his retina – rape, torture, burning cities – onto the circular wall of the remote watchtower he lives in by the sea. By his own admission he is not a very good painter, but he feels compelled to paint a vast mural of battle scenes which will capture the meaning of war; hence he becomes the eponymous painter of battles. Although he has published a definitive collection of his photographs, The Eye of War, he is disillusioned with the ‘cold art’ of photography and has abandoned his camera for a brush and the more visceral, expressive medium of paint.
Faulques is referred to throughout the novel as the painter of battles – ironically you suppose, because of the slightly mad, grandiose nature of his undertaking. He has closely studied paintings of battles by great masters like Goya and Picasso over the years, and is now obsessively and urgently pursuing