Mariano Rodríguez (1912-1990)
Mariano Rodríguez (1912-1990)

Pelea de gallos

Mariano Rodríguez (1912-1990)
Pelea de gallos
signed and dated 'Mariano, 42' (lower left)
oil on canvas
25 1/8 x 29 1/8 in. (63.8 x 73.9 cm.)
Painted in 1942.
Giulio V. Blanc collection, Coral Gables.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
T. E. Bó, “Organismo cromático de un pintor americano,” Rotograbado del Diario de la Marina, Havana, 17 January 1943, no. 1(illustrated).
R. Oliva, “Pintura cubana moderna,” Diario de la Marina, Havana, 17 January 1943 (illustrated).
E.A. Jewel, “Cuba’s Pacemakers,” New York Times, New York, 26 March 1944 (illustrated).
A. de Juan, “Introducción a Cuba,” Las Artes Plásticas, Havana, 1968, p. 84 (illustrated).
G.P. Cisneros, “…trata las manos tintas de la mucha cereza,” Grafos, Havana, November – December 1942 (illustrated).
N. G. Menocal, “An Overriding Passion—The Quest for a National Identity in Painting, ” Cuba Theme Issue, The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Miami, Wolfson Foundation of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, 1996, vol. 22, p. 210, no. 22 (illustrated in color).
Mariano Rodríguez: Catálogo razonado, volumen I, pintura y dibujo 1936-1949, Madrid, Ediciones Vanguardia Cubana, 2007, p. 119, no. 42.91 (illustrated in color).
La´piz a su nube: Mariano y Lezama, Madrid, Ediciones Vanguardia Cubana, 2014, p. 79 (illustrated in color).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Modern Cuban Painters, 15 March – 30 April 1944, p. 11 (illustrated in the Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, vol. XI, no. 5 ).
Washington, D.C., National Museum, Exhibition of Works of Modern Cuban Painters, 2 -25 February 1945.
Washington, D.C., Pan American Union, Cuban Modern Paintings in Washington Collections, 1946.
Cienfuegos, Las Villas, Cuba, Pro Artes y Ciencias, Salón del Ateneo, Exposición de cuadros de pintores cubanos, 1949.
Havana, Lyceum, Los gallos de Mariano, acuarelas y dibujos, 1953, no. 2.
New York, Studio Museum in Harlem, Wifredo Lam and His Contemporaries 1938-1952, 1992, p. 134, no. 109 (illustrated in color).
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Centro Atla´ntico de Arte Moderno, Cuba Siglo XX: Modernidad y sincretismo, 16 April – 9 June 1996, p. 29 (illustrated in color).
G.P.C.: Evolución de la vanguardia en la crítica de Guy Pérez-Cisneros, Madrid, Fundación Arte Cubano, 2015, p. 76 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Alejandro Rodríguez and dated 6 October 2016.

The theme of gallos, a recurrent motif in the work of Mariano just as eroticism, fishermen, women, and religion among others, first appeared in 1941 just a year before the present work. His admiration for these animals of blinding colors and elegant bearing moved him to draw and paint an incredible diversity of these birds at several stages of his artistic life. On various occasions he mentioned that when he wanted to know how his work was developing he would paint a gallo and if the response was favorable, he would proceed working. Although it has been said that Mariano was a “painter of gallos,” this is rather a limiting assumption about his work. A detailed review of the artist’s most emblematic works would show a much more extensive and diverse gallery of works beyond the gallos.

In 1953, Cuban art critic Gladys Lauderman, organized an exhibition, titled Los gallos de Mariano which was held at the Lyceum in Havana. Here she grouped various paintings and works on paper in chronological order wherein the evolution of this theme was clearly evident in the artist’s work. Early works demonstrate dance-like compositions while works that date to the end of the 1940s, are clearly death-like rituals of rivals.

One of the works that best exemplifies that evolution is El gallo japonés which the artist gifted to writer José Lezama Lima on the feast of Saint Joseph in 1951, as the dedication on the work indicates, and which the artist himself titled. The triumphant gallo is atop his rival having killed him. Ten years separate these two works; in the earlier work, beauty, color, and harmony are the dominant elements; in the other, draftsmanship and above all, drama.

Ultimately, the great victor is Mariano whose Pelea de gallos (1942) has become one of the great masterpieces of Cuban modern art.

José Veigas Zamora, Fundación Arte Cubano

A potent symbol of virility, strength, and power, the rooster is considered emblematic of Cuban national identity. Drawing on this association, the animal also figures as one of the most representative subjects in the oeuvre of artist Mariano Rodríguez. Known simply as Mariano, the painter emerged during the late 1930s as an integral member of the second generation of modern artists in Cuba. Though Mariano’s earliest canvases depict heavily sculptural figures, revealing the influence of Mexico (where he studied between 1936 and 1938), the artist’s mature practice developed in the 1940s. This period marks the artist’s shift from an emphasis in solidity of form toward an emphasis on color, and also coincides with the ascendency of Mariano’s roosters.

In Pelea de gallos, Mariano’s masterful application of color is demonstrated in the kaleidoscope of hues that shine off the feathers of the roosters engaged in combat. Portrayed in dominantly red and blue tones, the two birds reveal opposite sides of the color spectrum, a contrast that is further emphasized by the green and earth toned background against which they fight. Such expert handling of color was praised by Cuban author José Lezama Lima, in the article, “Todos los colores de Mariano (All of Mariano’s colors).” In this essay, the leader of the Origenes cultural group in which Mariano also took part, described the painter’s canvases as where “come all the colors that want to join together, to close into one, and later, upon awakening, begin to unite through friendship or through the volatility of their desires. It is the same test that we can point to in poetry.”[1]

Critical recognition for Mariano’s art in general, and his canvases of roosters in particular extended beyond Cuban cultural circles to the United States. Significantly, Pelea de gallos was featured among the nine paintings and drawings by the artist included in the canonical exhibition, “Modern Cuban Painters.” Held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944, the show subsequently traveled throughout the United States, exposing many U.S. audiences to Cuban art for the first time. However, even prior to this groundbreaking exhibition, the Museum of Modern Art had already purchased and exhibited Mariano’s 1941 The Cock as part of its Latin American Collection. Like its counterpart El gallo pintado (The Painted Cock), now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, this painting portrays a single, proud, and preening rooster in contrast to the two - dueling birds in Pelea de gallos. Yet, despite the seeming violence of their pecking, flapping, and scratching, Mariano’s fighting cocks simultaneously seem engaged in a dance, attesting to Lezama Lima’s observation that “we observe in almost all of the canvases by Mariano a force that feeds upon its own sensuous paradox.”[2]

Susanna Temkin, PhD, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

1 “allí acuden todos los colores que quieren sumarse, cerrarse en el uno, después, despertados, empezamos a unirlos por su amistad o por la intranquilidad de sus deseos. Es la misma prueba con que podemos señalar para la poesía” “José Lezama Lima, “Todos los colores de Mariano” El Nuevo Mundo (Havana) 2, no. III (January 11, 1942), p. 4. Reprinted in Mariano. Catálogo razonado. Pintura y dibujo 1936-1949, vol. 1, (Ediciones Vanguardias Cubanas, 2008), p. 13.
2 Ibid. “Observamos en casi todos los cuadros de Mariano una fuerza que se nutre de su propia paradoja sensual,” p. 14.

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