José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949)
José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949)

Las generalas

José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949)
Las generalas
signed 'J.C. Orozco' (lower right)
oil on canvas laid on board
18 x 15 3/8 in. (45.7 x 38.9 cm.)
Painted circa mid-1940s.
Clemente Orozco, Mexico City.
Mrs. Emil Haas collection, Washington, D.C..
By descent from the above to the present owner.
Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, January-February 1963.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Clemente Orozco and Margarita V. de Orozco, dated 1961.

This work is also accompanied by a declaration of authenticity signed by Clemente Orozco, dated 10 October 2015, and is registered as number 71 in the Fundación José Clemente Orozco archives.

We are grateful to Mr. Clemente V. Orozco for confirming the authenticity of this work.

Throughout his career, from his earliest murals painted between 1923-26 at the National Preparatory School in Mexico City such as La trinchera, Los aristócratas, El banquete de los ricos, and Franciscanos, to this late easel painting Las generalas likely dated to the mid-1940s, Mexican José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) condemned war—whether the Spanish Conquest of the New World, the Mexican Revolution, or as is the case here, World War II—as devastation brought on by the perversions of the social, military, and religious elite.1 Orozco experienced several national and global wars during his life, which spanned the late Porfirian era to the Cold War. Whether Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortéz, Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, or Adolph Hitler, Orozco frequently equated the despot—his hunger for land and political control at all costs, and the resulting war and genocide—with sexual corruption visually represented as the prostitute on one hand, or the military tyrant, at times a Don Juan, on the other.

In Orozco’s mural Catharsis of 1934 in Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts, for example, the garrish, cackling prostitute La Chata lies on her back opening her legs to a mass of weapons and warring men2; or in the small easel painting La victoria of 1944, Lady Liberty is no longer Eugene Delacroix’s bare-breasted maiden leading the masses to victory or Antonio Rivas Mercado’s gilded Angel of Independence silhouetted balletically against blue skies, but a corpulent, decaying whore who wades through a bloodbath followed by a throng of cadavers, or as we see in Las generalas, carries a black flag symbolic of death.3 In Don Juan Tenorio of 1946, the bearded and mustachioed, lecherous conquistador of women is a sword-wielding decorated general in military dress; in Don Juan of 1945, Orozco’s costume design for the protagonist of Gloria and Nellie Campobello’s ballet Pausa, Don Juan wears the sacrificial hearts of his victims, a carnage of discarded females at his feet.4 It is the General Don Juan, rapist of the weak (Nación pequeña, 1946) whose official portrait hangs behind las generalas as role model, as hero, as witness.

Certainly Orozco’s command of acerbic satire is evident here, as well as his biting caricature that reveals, not humor, but the snarling face of evil. Responding to WWII with his anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist stance, perhaps Las generalas presents the Führer himself embodying a grotesque grand madam, who grasps her rapier while exchanging intimacies, breasts exposed, with her cohorts in crime. Orozco’s burly soldieresses bring to mind competing images of women in WWII-era mass culture—Norman Rockwell’s butch Rosie the Riveter, or shapely blondes in military dress selling Coca-Colas. Orozco’s Las generalas may very well parody such stereotypes of women prevalent in advertising in the mid-1940s when Orozco was living in New York City. Moreover, Orozco’s loose, expressively malicious brush prefigures Willem de Kooning’s mid-century series of women.

Orozco democratically lambasts abuses of power here. Las generalas becomes timeless and universal in its lack of specificity, yet historically relevant in its evocations. Not only does Orozco herby summon and damn all perpetrators of WWII atrocities, so too he decries U.S. interventionism, as well as invokes the line-up of strongmen of decades previous at home; in Las generalas we recognize the avarice of the Mexican generals Álvaro Obregón, Adolfo de la Huerta, the Jefe Máximo Plutarco Elias Calles and their post-Revolutionary caudillismo (rule by personalism). We can hear the resounding echo of corruption in Obregón’s arrogant declaration that he would easily win the presidential seat in 1920 “because, since the people knew that he only had one arm, he would steal less.”5 Highly Orozquian in its provocatively caustic content and dynamic execution, Las generalas packs a loaded punch.

Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

1 I want to thank Major Michael R. Eckmann, Dr. Mary K. Coffey, and Dr. Marion Oettinger for their most helpful discussions with me of this work. I am indebted to Laura Gonzalez Matute for generously sharing with me her scholarship highly relevant to this work.
2 See Mary K. Coffey’s re-consideration of Orozco’s gender politics and her reading of Catharsis in “‘Without Any of the Seductions in Art’: On Orozco’s Misogyny and Public Art in the Americas,” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas 83 (2003): 99-119.
3 See Renato González Mello’s discussion of La victoria in “La utopía y el cementario, la victoria y los libros,” in Orozco en la colección del Museo Carrillo Gil (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1999), 52-81, which also contains reproductions of the related works Don Juan Tenorio and Pomada y perfume, both of 1946.
4 See Laura González Matute, J.C. Orozco, escenógrafo (Guadalajara: Intituto Cultural Cabañas, 2000).
5 See Natalia Almada’s exquisite, powerful film El general (2010) about her great-grandfather, Plutarco Elias Calles.

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