María Izquierdo (Mexican 1902-1955)
María Izquierdo (Mexican 1902-1955)


María Izquierdo (Mexican 1902-1955)
signed and dated 'M. Izquierdo. 44' (upper right)
oil on canvas
33½ x 27 5/8 in. (85 x 70.2 cm.)
Painted in 1944.
Pablo Neruda, Santiago (gift from the artist).
Private collection, Rome (gift from the above).
By descent.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Mr. Andrés Blaisten for his assistance in confirming the authenticity of this work.

María Izquierdo was among the first women in Mexico to earn her living as a professional painter. She was an internationally renowned artist in her lifetime and remains one of the most notable figures in twentieth-century Mexican art history. Since the start of her career in the late 1920s, critics and colleagues have celebrated Izquierdo's art for its robust color and quintessential Mexican-ness. Like many modern artists, she was committed to creating art concerned with the life and experience of the Mexican people.

In 1944, as part of President Manuel Ávila Camacho's program to promote Mexico's cultural mission both at home and abroad, Izquierdo was chosen to represent the nation as a cultural ambassador to South America. Her campaigns in Peru and Chile were a great personal success. More than fifty works of art were sent from Mexico to exhibit and sell, in addition to what she painted while she was there.(1) In Santiago de Chile, she was honored by the acclaimed poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda. Izquierdo and her second husband Raúl Uribe, a Chilean painter, became good friends with Neruda during his own diplomatic tenure as Consul General in Mexico City from 1940 to 1943.(2) Izquierdo gave this painting as a gift to Neruda during the artist's stay in Chile.

Women were often the subjects of her paintings throughout her career, and maternity images in particular became a potent motif in her work in the decade of the 1940s. Through the symbol of motherhood, Izquierdo explored aspects of ethnicity, class, gender, nationhood, and cultural tradition. In Maternidad from 1944, a red rebozo, a shawl typically worn by native women, is draped over the head of the sitter; the length of fabric covers her arms as she cradles her baby. For artists of the Mexican School, the rebozo intentionally conflated canonical images of the veiled Virgin Mary and the rural, ethnically Mexican mother. In this way, the figure becomes an effective allegorical symbol of the nation, as notions of fecundity and protection commingle with race, religion, and the rural.

In addition to portraying an archetypal Mexican woman, this painting depicts one woman in particular: Izquierdo herself. Maternidad is a self-portrait, especially evinced by the distinct curvature of the figure's lips and deep-set eyes. In assuming the identity of the Virgin Mother figure, Izquierdo merges her personal identity with Mexican national identity and with Mexican art. Further, in aligning herself with the Virgin Mary, the country's most revered and popular woman by any measure, Izquierdo elevates herself to icon status. This was a critical strategy for a female artist determined to position herself in the public eye and in a competitive, male-dominated profession. Her own name, María, reinforces her likeness to her Madonna portraits.

Izquierdo's paintings are simultaneously infused with traditional ideals and a modern sensibility. Through her numerous maternity images as well as public statements made by the artist, Izquierdo demonstrated a high regard for motherhood. Indeed, in this era, motherhood was considered widely as a woman's paramount social role. In Maternidad the portrayal of the female figure, with her gently tilted head and softly fixed gaze, renders the act of mothering as something noble and sacred. At the same time, contrary to typical devotional images, this mother appears powerful and sensuous, accentuated by the fiery red rebozo that envelops her. Izquierdo revered cultural tradition, and she was also a progressive modern woman. As a professional artist, a public figure, a divorced woman, and a mother of three children, Izquierdo occupied an unusual place in modern gender politics.

Celeste Donovan.

1) S. Navarrete, "María Izquierdo," in María Izquierdo, Mexico, D.F., Centro Cultural/Arte Contemporáneo, A.C., 1988, 89-90.
2) O. Paz, "María Izquierdo, Seen in Her Surroundings and Set in Her Proper Place," in Essays on Mexican Art, New York, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993, 257-258.

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