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

El estudio del pintor (also known as Naturaleza muerta--Autorretrato)

José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949)
El estudio del pintor
(also known as Naturaleza muerta--Autorretrato)
signed and dated ‘J.C. Orozco 1944’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 7/8 x 33 7/8 in. (63 x 85.9 cm.)
Painted in 1944.
Acquired from the artist.
Irving Richards collection, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 2005, lot 56.
Anon. sale, Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, 3 October 2009, lot 189.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
J. C. Orozco, Mi Vida, 1944 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, José Clemente Orozco: pintura y verdad, Guadalajara: Instituto Cultural Cabañas, 2010, p. 472 (illustrated in color).
New York, Huntington Hartford Museum, José Clemente Orozco, 7 September-17 October 1965.
Monterrey, Mexico, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Jalisco: Genio y Maestría, May-August 1994, p. 123, no. 137 (illustrated in color). This exhibition also traveled to Mexico City, Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, February-May 1995.
Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, The Latin Century: Beyond the Border, 18 August -3 November 2002, p. 49 (illustrated).
Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery, Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art From the Audain Collection, 11 October 2011-12 January 2012, p. 131 (illustrated in color).
Whistler, Audain Art Museum, Mexican modernists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, Tamayo, 5 March-23 May 2016, p. 26-27 (illustrated in color).
Post lot text
1 Paul Wood, “Commodity,” in Critical Terms for Art History, edited by Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 392.
2 Ernesto Lumbreras, “Brainstorming Fire and Hands in Orozco’s Work,” in José Clemente Orozco: pintura y verdad (Guadalajara: Instituto Cultural Cabañas, 2010), pp. 528-536.
3 Renato Gonzalez Mello, “The Hospicio Cabañas,” in José Clemente Orozco: pintura y verdad (Guadalajara: Instituto Cultural Cabañas, 2010), p. 472.

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by an assessment of authenticity signed by Clemente Orozco V., dated 21 October 2016.
More than a still life, José Clemente Orozco’s El estudio del pintor (also known as Naturaleza muerta--Autorretrato) (1944) can be considered a meditation on painting as well as a play on artists’ depictions of their own works. This powerful tight-knit composition, painted toward the end of the artist’s life and career, represents a summary of Orozco’s aesthetic concerns related to representation and figuration.
Orozco brings together four discrete artworks in this painting: a blank canvas (or perhaps an abstract painting) propped on an easel; a grey sculptural bust whose eyes are covered by a rectangular block of white paint that mysteriously comes to life and jumps off the easel painting; a drawing of a nude that is gently folded over as though a scroll and therefore shows only the lower limbs of the figure; and an oil sketch of a disembodied hand, which abuts the other two dimensional representations within the painting. Each of these “works within the work” stands on its own—apparently on a table—but simultaneously somewhat hovers in space and exists in relation to the others. This close proximity of painted artworks brings out formal and conceptual relationships, as is common in most still lifes. Set at angles to one another and to the picture plane, the objects challenge conventional spatial relationships by both receding into space and denying depth, making it appear as though they are floating and therefore conveying an off kilter mood.
As art historian Paul Wood has attested, the still life tradition in art history conventionally marshals the depiction of objects (flowers, fruits, food, commonplace man made objects or any number of inanimate matter) to suggest “human frailty, economic power, spiritual anguish, moral laxity, and much more.”[1] The term in Spanish for still life, naturaleza muerta, literally translates as “dead life.” Orozco is not particularly known for producing still lifes—it is a relatively underrepresented genre in his oeuvre. This rare, modern take on the genre allowed him to explore aesthetic and intellectual concerns linked to his overall practice. With this collection of studio props or rather what appears to be an inventory of forms of figural representation that recall his own works, Orozco used the genre of still life to contemplate the boundaries of modern painting and representation within the context of a practice and a career focused on notions of historical struggle.
Images of hands, feet, limbs, and body parts abound in Orozco’s work and appear most prominently in his major mural cycles both in Mexico and the United States. Carving up the figure while simultaneously carving up pictorial space in large-scale epic mural paintings provided Orozco with the visual language through which he could ruminate on history. Known for his images of larger than life rebellious figures who gesticulate with aggressive poses—Quetzalcóatl, Christ, Prometheus—Orozco experimented with the representation of the body as a means to communicate historical contestation. While some might relate his obsession with hands to the loss of his own left hand in a gunpowder accident in 1904, he consistently distilled the body to communicate the tumult of broad social and historical forces at play, such as war, colonization, and migration.[2] In his work figural distortion and angst-ridden expressive figures correspond to the social or political body.
The partial views of the body depicted here make reference to a lifetime of a bold figurative practice, but these differ from the narrative and episodic sequences of his murals. Orozco scholar Renato González Mello has discussed the artist’s approach to painting as an ethic “based on what the eyes can perceive, organize, and intuit.”[3] In other words, Orozco was preoccupied with the concept of vision, which is manifest here formally through the artist’s various perspectival studies of body parts. The symbolic masking of vision through the interaction of the easel painting with the sculptural bust reinforces that concept in iconographic terms. Painterly white brush strokes evoke a prepared white ground under which a dark substrate just appears at the bottom edge of the easel painting, making it more of an abstract painting than a blank canvas. This painting within the painting bleeds over to obstruct the vision of the head perhaps an evocation of what González Mello has called the “machinery of painting” in other contexts.
In bringing together this inventory of artworks (although he was not known for creating sculptures or abstract paintings for that matter), Orozco invokes representations of artist’s studios such as famous paintings by Courbet, Picasso, and Tamayo. Unlike those examples, where the artist is caught in the act of painting, Orozco’s painting instead recalls Matisse’s Red Studio (1911) or Duchamp’s Tu m (1918) or Picasso’s Studies (1920) where the focus is on the works themselves and a consideration of their aesthetic concerns. El estudio del pintor therefore, represents a reflection on Orozco’s own particular avant-garde gambit of expressive figuration called into the service of forceful body politics. Rather than consider it a straightforward self-portrait as the subtitle suggests, therefore, we should view the work as a clever summing up of the artist’s aesthetic practice.
Anna Indych-López, Associate Professor of Latin American Art History, The City College and The Graduate Center of The City University of New York

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