We are grateful to María Ramos Martínez Bolster, Margarita Nieto and Louis Stern for their assistance in confirming the authenticity of this work. It will be included in their forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's paintings to be published by the Alfredo Ramos Martínez Research Project.
Recurring in Alfredo Ramos Martínez's California period paintings (1930-1946), the images of woman as flower bearer, flower vendor and participant in ritual offerings, or woman as a classical and mythological entity, seem to define the shift in his California paintings to Mexican themes. Yet, these images of woman as metaphor had already appeared in his earlier works revealing the painter's lifelong fascination with the archetypal image of woman as a powerful intermediary of mythical rituals and celebrations.
Two bucolic landscapes dated 1905 of dark haired, dark eyed and fair skinned women respectively celebrating rites of spring with floral offerings and celebrations of pastoral festivals, La primavera, and Fiesta campestre exemplify that tendency in his work. Even as late as the 'teens and the twenties in Mexico, he continued to paint genre landscapes of flower vendors in canoes floating on ponds or lakes (Vendedora de flores, n.d.) or as in Paisaje con niña y hortensias, ca. 1916, a pond with blue hydrangeas and a young woman in the foreground.(1)
But in moving to California, Ramos Martínez appropriates the two essential elements for a "modern" painterly language: the linear, columnar modernist architecture of Southern California, and the fascination with Mexican art, not only because of the enormous Mexican presence and influence of the time, but also as one of the ancient influences incorporated into the modernist aesthetic.(2) Murals and muralists and Mexican art exhibitions abound along with an awareness of the new, "streamlined" aesthetic perhaps best exemplified by the Los Angeles City Hall and quite simply, by George Stanley's "Oscar" sculpture.(3)
Aware of these elements, Ramos Martínez conceives a new woman/image, empowered by a new modernist language which becomes a geometric study of representation and abstraction. In so doing, he becomes the creator of a new painterly language, the innovative "Father of Mexican Modernism."
In Vendedora de flores, a single female figure dominates the center of the composition and gazes at us. Her gaze is strong and her eyes look directly at the viewer. Her strength is evident in her body, well-shaped arms and stance. Her plaited hair is carefully parted, forming an invisible line descending to her hands which she clasps to her chest, holding on to the reddish straps of the basket on her back. The red straps re-appear on the basket behind her making the viewer aware that she is holding this heavy basket effortlessly. The basket is filled with white, purple, reddish and blue flowers which rise above her and around her, forming a half circle, a halo of myriad smaller circular forms. The flowers appear to spring from her very being. They are not a burden, but rather, an extension of her. Her posture, stance and her gaze create a silent discourse between the viewer and the subject. Even as we gaze at the painting, this figure is appraising us, gazing out at us.
Dressed in a simple white blouse, her striped skirt which appears in the lower part of the compositions flows into the ochre background, blending into it, a background devoid of any verisimilar reference. There is only mass and volume in the ochre geometric blocks. This is the world she inhabits, a void, enriched and enlarged because it has no reference to ours. Line and color alone invent an enormous world, a world in which two aesthetics come together: a modernist classical abstract element, and the presence of ancient Mexico embodied in the hieratic presence of women/goddess.
But yet another sign appears embedded in this image. Painted during during a decade dominated by the first women pilots (it was after all, the decade of Amelia Earhart),(4) Ramos Martínez creates a visual symmetry with a modern symbol of the time: this woman's stance, her crossed arms, the straps of her basket and flowers radiating around her, remind us of an aviator wearing a parachute, who has either landed or is preparing to take off. This woman is no longer a simple peasant. She is an archtype of modern woman, empowered woman capable of flying off or landing of her own volition.
(1) These works were included in the catalogue for the exhibition on Alfredo Ramos Martínez's works since his death to be held in Mexico, Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1971-1946: Una visión retrospectiva, Mexico: Museo Nacional de Arte, April - June 1992.
(2) See L. P. Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States, New Mexico: The University of Mexico, 1989. See also, M. Nieto, "The Mexican Presence in the United States" in P. Karlstom Ed., On The Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
(3) The sculptor, George Stanley (?-1970) was very active in Los Angeles during the 1930s and worked on several Public Works of Art Projects (PWAP).
(4) Amelia Earhart (1897-1937, declared deceased, 1939) was a pioneer aviator and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.