María Izquierdo

1902San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico | 1955Mexico City, Mexico

Mexican painter.

Born in a rural environment deeply attached to nineteenth-century Mexican Métis traditions, Maria Izquierdo was raised by her maternal grandparents, who pushed her to marry a soldier when she was fourteen years old. In 1926, after leaving her husband and distancing herself from her maternal family, she found herself alone in Mexico City with her three children. From 1927 to 1928 she studied at the prestigious San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts. Diego Rivera, whom she met during this period, wrote in 1929 that “her personality is like her painting: classically Mexican” – a formulation that would serve as a kind of baptism into the post-revolutionary artistic movement, a movement that viewed distinguished between artistic investigation and investigation into identity. 1929 was also the year in which she met Rufino Tamayo, whose influence proved decisive for her work, along with the more indirect influences of Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Giorgio de Chirico. In addition to sharing a life and a studio until 1933, the couple shared a personal, highly intimate approach to painting which gradually distanced them from the triumvirate of D. Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, who accepted painting only insofar as it was a political tool for grandiloquent claims to “Mexicanness”. R. Tamayo taught the young woman techniques suited to small formats; together, they applied watercolours in small brushstrokes, a method particularly suitable for representing the dark spaces and implements of the indigenous world.
In the early 1930s, the painter’s watercolours and gouaches were dominated by an earthy palette. Antonin Artaud in particular was especially impressed by them during his stay in Mexico in 1936. Admiring what he referred to as the “primitive”, “sincere”, and “disturbing” dimensions of her work, he held portrayed her as a shaman with the key to the country’s virgin soul and exalted the hallucinatory qualities of her painting in an article, “Le Mexique et l’esprit primitif : Maria Izquierdo” [Mexico and the Primitive Spirit: María Izquierdo] (L’Amour de l’art, №. 8, 1937). His initial enthusiasm subsided, however, as he identified the influence of modern European art in the painter’s work. Nevertheless, he returned to Paris with several watercolours, which became the subject, in 1937, of the artist’s first European exhibition. (She had already been the first Mexican woman to exhibit in the United States, in 1930.) Although M. Izquierdo is often grouped with the surrealists, in fact A. Artaud’s remarks remain her only link with the movement. Alegoría del trabajo [Allegory of Work, 1936] and Alegoría de la libertad [Allegory of Liberty, 1937] attest to the temporary influence of A. Artaud on the artist, seeming to respond to his metaphysical expectations.

From then on, the painter would remain faithful to her chosen subjects: village circuses, peaceful horses, still lifes, self-portraits, and portraits (although the latter was not her favourite genre because she preferred to paint from memory and without the constraints of realism; some are nevertheless remarkable, like that of Henri Chatillon, Retrato del turista [Portrait of the Tourist, 1940]). Her self-portraits highlight her indigenous features by portraying her wearing the traditional ornaments that she would also wear in daily life, a gesture of resistance to the country’s accelerated urbanization, which increasingly relegated traditional clothing to the rank of costume. And the theme of the circus gave her the opportunity to depict a kind of microcosm that she loved for its purely formal existence on the margins of history. Her still lifes rely on the theatrical representation of religious subjects in colonial art: everyday objects, treated with reverence and with a devotional frontality, are mixed with images evoking religious figures, as in Ofrenda de Viernes de Dolores [Good Friday Offering, 1944-1945]. In 1945, following a triumphant trip to South America during which she was welcomed as a hero by the political and artistic elite, she learned that the fresco she was meant to paint at the Mexico City Hall had been cancelled: D. Rivera and D.A. Siqueiros had argued that such a work was beyond the capabilities of an artist with no experience in muralism. From this point on, her artistic life would become more difficult. Preoccupied by a full-on war against the artistic dictatorship of the muralists and by illness, her productivity would gradually decrease. The shadow cast by the muralists and the dismissive nature of the labels attributed to her work have contributed to the relative neglect of this artist who was nevertheless a major figure in Mexican modernism.

Liliana Padilla

Translated from French by Anna Knight.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
María  Izquierdo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

María Izquierdo, Autoportrait, 1940, oil on canvas, 140 x 87 cm, collection Blaisten, © María Izquierdo

María  Izquierdo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

María Izquierdo, Autoportrait, 1946, oil on canvas, 53 x 45 cm, private collection, © María Izquierdo

María  Izquierdo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

María Izquierdo, Mis sobrinas [My nieces], 1940, oil on canvas, 139.8 x 99.8 cm, Courtesy Museo Nacional de Arte, © Museo Nacional de Arte, © María Izquierdo

María  Izquierdo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

María Izquierdo, Maternité, 1944, oil on canvas, 85 x 70.2 cm, private collection, © María Izquierdo

María  Izquierdo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

María Izquierdo, La nina indifférente [The indifferent girl], 1946, oil on canvas, 85.5 x 66 cm, Courtesy Galeria de Arte Mexicano, © María Izquierdo

María  Izquierdo — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

María Izquierdo, Rêve et pressentiment, 1947, oil on canvas, 45 x 60 cm, private collection, © María Izquierdo

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