We are grateful to María Ramos Martínez Bolster, Margarita Nieto and Louis Stern for their assistance in confirming the authenticity of this work. To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's paintings to be published by the Alfredo Ramos Martínez Research Project.
Alfredo Ramos Martínez spent the last nearly twenty years of his life in Southern California, during which time he committed himself to, and fully developed the particular form of indigenism seen in Mujeres con frutas of ca. 1930. Art historian Fausto Ramírez proclaims, "this last creative period constitutes one of the most fortunate contributions by the painter to the artistic panorama of Mexico," while also acknowledging that the artist's vision of an idyllic Indian life, grounded in Paul Gauguin's Tahitian women and Diego Rivera's iconic flower sellers, was popular among California collectors, appealing to the North American taste for the exotic, or the era's all-pervasive "enormous vogue for things Mexican."
Mujeres con frutas exemplifies the signature style Ramos Martínez embraced during his period of self-exile from his homeland. It is a hybrid aesthetic that synthesizes his previous forty years of experience. Born in Monterrey, Nuevo León in 1871, his formal training began in 1890 when he won a scholarship to the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts School, ENBA) in Mexico City. After six years of study he rejected the Academy, preferring to work independently outdoors in pastels and watercolors--uncommon mediums at the time. During his residence in Paris from 1900-09, partially subsidized by the philanthropy of Phoebe Appleton Hearst, he formed friendships with Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, and the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío while participating regularly in the Salon d'Automne where his canvas Spring won a gold medal in 1906. He returned to Mexico in 1909 a proponent of modernismo in his own art and of reform in arts education. 
As Director of ENBA from 1913-14 and 1920-28, Ramos Martínez founded the experimental Escuelas de Pintura al Aire Libre (Open Air Schools of Painting) initiating a democratic and stylistic opening in the modern arts of Mexico.  Indian Couple with Watermelon of ca. 1914, which served as a model for the similar formal treatment of indigenous subject matter by Open-Air students Fernando Leal, Ramón Cano Manilla, and even Frida Kahlo, contains many of the elements--male and female figures displaying strong Indian features, dark skin, and native fruits of the land placed against shallow tropical backdrops--that he would exploit during his California period in his murals, and easel paintings such as Mujeres con frutas.
Here two slight, bronze-skinned young women, presumably Tehuanas from southern Oaxaca's famed Isthmus of Tehuantepec, balance handcrafted vessels filled with mangos and dragon fruit on their heads. One supports a gourd filled with flowers on her palm, the other cradles pineapples in her arms. One face is stoic; her eyes are fixed on her companion, who looks towards the viewer with curiosity, a hint of surprise or desire parting her lips. They are framed by thick tropical foliage and set against a shallow backdrop, recalling an abstracted petate mat woven from palm fronds, a typical strategy Ramos Martínez employed at this time to push his figures to the foreground. Deep outlines, soft modeling, sculptural and simplified form produce an overall effect of a low-relief carving, not dissimilar from the Brazilian indigenist Vicente do Rêgo Monteiro's symmetrical, rhythmic warriors painted in the 1920s as the latter looked to Fernand Leger's tubular forms and Marajoara ceramics for inspiration. So too did Ramos Martínez marry pre-Columbian sculptural form, craft and modernism, in this case evoking the vivid color and decorative motifs of arte popular while invoking lessons of the European avant-garde, such as, for example, those of Paul Cézanne or Amedeo Modigliani.
Teresa Eckmann, Assistant Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas, San Antonio
1 Fausto Ramírez, "Alfredo Ramos Martínez a Stylistic Itinerary," in Un homenaje a Alfredo Ramos Martínez (Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporneo Monterrey, 1996), 57-59.
2 See the excellent biographical essay, Israel Cavazos Garza, "Alfredo Ramos Martínez: The Man," in Un homenaje a Alfredo Ramos Martínez (Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Monterrey, 1996), 73-81.
3 While modernismo was a literary movement initiated by Ramos Martínez's friend, the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, in Latin American visual arts modernismo tended to combine local content with Symbolist and Art Nouveau flourishes. After his return to Mexico Ramos Martínez, like his fellow modernista Saturnino Herrán, favored women as the subject of his art, stylized in the manner of the Spanish Symbolist Ignacio Zuloaga, who in turn, looked to Goya. Ramos Martínez's women were idealized, doe-eyed criollas at times dressed as china poblanas framed by Colonial architecture, executed in pastel with an Impressionist palette.
4 For more on the Escuelas de Aire Libre see, for example, Laura González Matute, "A New Spirit in Post-Revolutionary Art: The Open-Air Schools of Painting and the Best Maugard Drawing Method, 1920-1930," in the exhibition catalogue Mexican Modern Art 1900-1950 (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1999), 193-210.