David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexican 1896-1974)
David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexican 1896-1974)

Mujer llorando

David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexican 1896-1974)
Mujer llorando
signed and dated 'SIQUEIROS, 44' (lower center)
Pyroxilin on masonite
31 x 23 7/8 in. (78.7 x 60.4 cm.)
Painted in 1944.
Norman Krasna collection, Beverly Hills (acquired circa 1945).
By descent to the present owner, Nashville.

Lot Essay

The image I saw of Mujer llorando is a portrait of a woman visually described through the use of very severe foreshortening--a distinctive stylistic device championed by David Alfaro Siqueiros. This torso is an innovative appropriation of the compositions of great masters such as Masaccio and Leonardo da Vinci, and of the artistic statements of Pablo Picasso and Carlo Carrá, as well as Pre-Columbian sculpture. It also brings to mind elements Siqueiros learned in the United States, of Walt Disney's animation and cinematic know-how, and hints to the so called "action painting." This mestizo experimentation--integrating a new form by combining the most diverse artistic codes in a creative way--is at the heart of Siqueiros work. Previously unpublished, this work has remained unknown until now and as such, constitutes an important discovery. It endows with great detail and mastery the characteristics of important works by Siqueiros dating to the 1940s. The work belonged to Oscar-winning screenwriter and playwright Norman Krasna, a leading Hollywood figure who acquired it in 1945 and in whose home in Beverly Hills, it hung for many years.

The woman's head is that of a campesina who seems larger than life and almost inhabits the entire composition's space. Her demeanor seems to overtake the place she inhabits. She is wrapped in a rebozo painted in blue tones that sharply contrast with the colors of the surrounding landscape--an abstract and explosive cosmic red. Nevertheless, the blue of her shawl becomes the blue sea that mixes with the fiery space. Part of her face, mouth, and nose, are covered by a white kerchief. Her wrinkled brow and her dark profound eyes gaze frontally at the spectator, full of sadness and expressing anguish. She weeps a sea of tears and her colossal hands seem to surge from liquid lava. They resemble columns--the artist had previously explored the articulation of space and volume in a self-portrait from 1930 in which his hands and forearms crossed over his chest give the jarring impression of being disconnected as separate entities. They have their own architecture and are described in cubist terms and seem disembodied. These hands recall the many exercises in severe foreshortening within the great body of work by the artist--especially Sollozo, a painting from 1939 that also depicts a portrait of a crying woman. That is a recognized portrait of Angelica Arenal and hints at the great sorrow and pain she shared with the artist upon their return to Mexico after the defeat of the Republican forces by Francisco Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Her hands and forearms cover her face and conceal her identity thus transforming her into a universal icon of sorrow.

In Mujer llorando, the massive hands are an expressionist construct--powerful and energetic; they take form out of the paint itself and evolve out of the explosive mixture of Pyroxilin applied with great mastery. The bones of her hands appear to come through the colored mass of flesh--they take the appearance of X-rays and recall the expressionist details of Oskar Kokoschka.

The many spectacular monumental figures painted by the artist in 1939 wherein his use of severe foreshortening is deployed, are a consequence of his monumental paintings executed in Taxco in 1931, added to his experimental process of 1936/7 in which he incorporates an abstract and expressionist language. Siqueiros is the pioneer of "action painting." He shared his ideas with the artist-members of his Siqueiros Experimental Workshop during his stay in New York City--his handling of industrial paint, materials and tools came to be known as "controlled accidents."

From 1939 onwards, Siqueiros painted abstract expressionist landscapes that recall Leonardo's sfumato technique. He added to this apocalyptic spectacle, explosive and monumental figures through the use of distortion and severe foreshortening, thus giving them a cinematic quality. The spectators movement in front of the picture, is the switch that starts the movement--the action of their tragic theatricality.

During the years 1941/1943, Siqueiros was exiled in Chile and Cuba after an attempt against Leon Trotsky's life in Mexico. There, he devoted himself to painting and executed his mural Muerte al invasor (Chile). As well, he applied himself to further advancing his theories about a pictorial language that is at once energetic and forceful, and cinematic in style--with characters whose forms are described through nervous tension, vivid colors, and chiaroscuro, that seem to burst onto the front plane of the composition as if occupying real space. These explorations with great volume and cosmic space will develop into sculpto-paintings.

Upon his return to Mexico in 1944, Siqueiros painted the mural Cuauhtémoc contra el mito, in his mother-in-law's (Electa Arenal) house. The mural covered two floors of the house and incorporated architectural details of the building as sculptural elements within the composition. One of the international visitors was the American actor and director Orson Welles who became fascinated with his dynamic work. Two extraordinary pictures from this period are El centauro de la conquista, a monumental work depicting a horse and rider that surge from a centifrugal mass within a volcanic, fiery and dynamic landscape, and El esteta en el drama (Santa Barbara Museum of Art)--a portrait of a woman slightly in profile on which Raquel Tibol, Justino Fernández and Jorge J. Crespo de la Serna, have written on.

In that portrait, the subject is also wrapped in a rebozo, her torso and hands are towering, unusually large in comparison to the landscape, which recalls the work of Leonardo, but re-interpreted through an expressionistic and cinematic vision achieved through the strict diagonal that separates this figure from one that appears completely wrapped in a shawl at the upper left corner. The dark-skinned woman's mouth is large and she is beyond despair. She is the very representation of the same tragic theatricality he sought, although larger in size, in Mujer llorando. There is a definite link between the two images and both have antecedents in the features of the woman Siqueiros painted a year after in his mural Nueva Democracia in the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Mujer llorando is a very Siqueirian image. It represents a mother, wife, daughter, the earth--the whole of humanity that shares, yesterday as today, the same suffering and weeps over the same old war, fought at different times, on different fronts and battles. 1944 was a year of death that saw the destruction of both civilian and combatant populations alongside millions of innocents who perished in Nazi concentration camps.

Irene Herner, Tepoztlán, Morelos, April 5, 2011

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