We are grateful to Louis Stern for confirming the authenticity of this work.
Alfredo Ramos Martínez, as an artist and educator, was a pioneer of Mexican modernism at the end of the Porfirian Era (1876-1911). He and other key figures of his generation such as Joaquín Clausell, Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl), and Julio Ruelas, opposed the then-stagnant, neoclassical-based training of San Carlos Academy and advanced varied approaches to modernismo, a style of synthesis that drew from the lessons of European symbolism, impressionism, and post-impressionism in combination with Mexican regionalism. The Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío, who gave birth to literary modernismo—the deliberate infusion of Spanish with elements of Italian and French—lived with Ramos Martínez for a time in Paris and remained a lasting influence and long-term friend.1 Ramos Martínez’s Botticelli and Gauguin-inspired post-impressionist works created during his successful decade in Europe, were much celebrated upon his return to Mexico City in 1910. From that year’s outbreak of the Mexican Revolution up until his life-changing move to Los Angeles, California in 1930, Ramos Martínez’s personal production vacillated between commissioned Goya-like portraits of elite women,2 decorative modernista paintings of criollas in fashionable china poblana dress, and paintings that participated in indigenismo, a Latin American movement led in Mexico by anthropologist Manuel Gamio, focusing on the Indian race and native cultures as the root of Mexican identity.
Ramos Martínez’s greatest achievement in Mexico was without question his conception and directing of the Escuelas de Pintura al Aire Libre (EPAL, Open Air Schools, 1913-14 and 1920-28), which formed the basis for modern Mexican national art.3 Open Air School students and/or teachers, including artists Fernando Leal, Jean Charlot, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Frida Kahlo, worked in the rural outdoors with live models, painting everyday subjects and became the emergent Mexican vanguardia of the 1920s and 30s post-Revolutionary era. Ramos Martínez’s clear commitment to a folkloric indigenismo,4 indebted to the primitivism(s) of Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Diego Rivera, only occurred when he left his native land with his wife and newborn child to take up permanent residence in California (1930-46). It is there that he developed a mature signature style in his easel painting and mural production, and cultivated a Hollywood clientele hungry for his imagery of noble, eternally youthful Indian women presenting offerings of local fruit, flowers and artesanía. Mujeres con flores belongs to this period.
In this large-scale work a young woman gazes hesitantly at the viewer as she effortlessly supports the weight of a hand-crafted vessel filled with blossoms. Her companion bears luscious, freshly plucked pitayas and on her head, an abundant basket of flowers. Both women, gracefully poised, are dressed in simple woven garments. Their flawless, bronzed skin appears as if molded from clay or sculpted from stone. In sympathy with Gauguin’s Tahitian women and Rivera’s flower-bearers, Ramos Martínez creates a timeless, still, and primitive paradise. A devout Catholic, the artist treats the Indian women as virginal, sacred, and humble. While any overt reference to duality—woman as Eve, Malinche, or the femme fatale—is absent here, interesting to note is Ramos Martínez’s provocative inclusion of floripondios, also known as brugmansia, datura, toloache, or Angel’s trumpets. Sweetly fragrant, delicate, and resembling a wedding dress in shape, floripondios are also highly toxic, narcotic, and quite deadly. Notwithstanding, Ramos Martínez, who as his daughter recounts, found constant inspiration in the many varieties of flowers blooming in his California home garden,5 emphasizes the floripondio’s aesthetic qualities over its symbolism. The artist sought to achieve a perfectly balanced, harmonious figure–ground relationship in his canvases; he accomplished this, as seen here, by merging the figure in her environment through simplification and rhythmic repetition of form, as well as meticulous shading.
Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio
1 See Amy Galpin, “A Spiritual Manifestation of Mexican Muralism Works by Jean Charlot and Alfredo Ramos Martínez,” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Chicago, 2012), 210-12.
2 For an analysis of Ramos Martínez’ 1920s artistic production see Karen Cordero Reiman, “Alfredo Ramos Martínez: ‘un pintor de mujeres y de flores’ ante el ámbito estético posrevolucionario (1920-1929)” in Alfredo Ramos Martínez: Una visión retrospectiva (Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Arte, 1992), 61-78.
3 For more on EPAL see essays by Laura González Matute in the recent exhibition catalogue from the Museo Nacional de Arte, Escuelas de pintura al aire libre: episodios dramáticos del arte en México (Mexico City: Instituto de Bellas Artes, 2014).
4 Important to note is that Ramos Martínez also produced several works during his California period that clearly denounce the Indian’s on-going oppressed social condition. Depictions of bound peasant Indians such as “War,” “Sacrifice of Humanity,” and “War Attacks Them All,” produced in tempera on newsprint serve as examples.
5 See María Ramos Martínez Bolster, “Comments from the Heart,” in Alfredo Ramos Martínez (Beverly Hills: Louis Stern Galleries, 1992), 6-7.