David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1975)
David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1975)
David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1975)
David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1975)
3 More
David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1975)

Pelea fratricida

David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1975)
Pelea fratricida
signed ‘SIQUEIROS’ (lower right), signed again, dated, titled and inscribed ‘PELEA FRATRICIDA, CARCEL PREVENTIVA, MEX, D.F. A 9 DE ABRIL 1963, ESTUDIO PARA EL MURAL, DE CHAPULTEPEC, SIQUEIROS’ (on the reverse)
oil on Masonite
11 7/8 x 17 7/8 in. (30.2 x 45.4 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
Galería Mirachi, Mexico City.
Private Collection, Los Angeles (acquired from the above).
Private Collection, Los Angeles (by descent from the above).
Further details
1 D.A. Siqueiros, quoted in Julio Schere García, Siqueiros. La Piel y la Entraña (México: CONACULTA, 1996), 137.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Prof. Irene Herner Reiss for her assistance cataloguing this work.
As indicated by the artist’s inscription on the reverse side of this painting, Pelea fratricida (Fratricidal Strife) depicts a struggle between brothers, between civilians, in which violence erupts among citizens; a struggle akin to the biblical story of Cain and Abel, and the most ancient of human conflicts.
Painted during Siqueiros’s confinement at the Lecumberri prison in Mexico City on April 9, 1963, it’s provenance--Galería Misrachi— one of the artist’s longtime galleries--is consistent with other works from this period. The artist’s wife, Angélica Arenal, often delivered his paintings executed whilst in prison to the gallery.
On the reverse of the painting, Siqueiros indicates this work is a study for his mural at Chapultepec Castle (1956-1966), left unfinished when he was imprisoned for his political statements in August 1960. And although the Revolution was indeed a struggle between brothers, in the mural, Siqueiros depicts this fight as a confrontation between two central figures. More than likely in Pelea fratricida, the artist was referring to another mural, painted at the Teatro Jorge Negrete de la Asociación Nacional de Actores (ANDA), and which also remained incomplete and censored.
The ANDA mural, La Historia del Teatro hasta la Cinematografía en México (History of the Theatre up to Cinematography in Mexico, 1958-1970), represents the struggle of laborers, including railroad workers and actors, repressed by government authorities, often in alliance with the national and international ruling class. The theme of social strife was close to the artist, who was a militant Communist and served as a soldier during the Mexican Revolution from 1911-1917, as well as a republican militiaman during the Spanish Civil War from 1937-1939. As he confessed to the renowned journalist Julio Scherer, “For me there is no beauty that can compare to action, not even art to which I have devoted my life.”1
Pelea fratricida depicts a scene that includes both men and women. Amid what can only be described as a neighborhood brawl, a woman holds a small child wrapped in her shawl. One can almost hear the screams amid the crashing bodies, as two male figures in the front row appear locked in a fist fight. The scene is reminiscent of the ANDA mural and the study for the Desfile del Primero de Mayo (1952) in which one of two fighters grabs a pistol. Here a crowd forms around the fighters, from afar their raised arms appear as clubs or ancient axes.
In a relatively small compositional space, more than twenty brown heads swirl about. The figures at the fore of the picture plane reveal larger bodies that are richly textured and appear to jump off the pictorial surface. Their clothing rendered in thick brushstrokes of white, yellow, brown and black zigzags around the bodies.
The circular composition is compact and tight, like the rings of a tree trunk, forming a powerful volume at the center against a white background of short brushstrokes applied with an accelerated rhythm, and superimposed against a grey background. The ground is painted in dark brown tones juxtaposed with yellowish and green brushstrokes. The ground is neither flat nor stable, but rather a stain or like a shadow appears stable only from the zigzagging of the dynamic figures.
This central volume is bifurcated by the representation of about twenty figures, the drip-like brushwork intended to denote movement. The figures appear to be in flight, their feet barely touch the ground. They are nearly airborne. The sheer energy of their fight seemingly sustains their dance-like movements as their bodies have become entwined. This is a dramatic scene, reminiscent of those painted by his much admired colleague José Clemente Orozco, as may be seen in his panel Luchas fratricidas (1936) in the lower section of his Hidalgo mural and in the multiple violent dramatic works he painted of the Revolution as well as his cabaret scenes.
This painting’s composition is structured through the tension between circulating and crisscrossing lines. The central volume resembles a snail’s shell, producing a spiral of concentric movement through which a diagonal line crosses the fighters in the foreground.
Pelea fratricida is related to various studies by Siqueiros. For example, Casa mutilada, painted in 1950 represents a violent protest between women. Another work closely related to Pelea fratricida, and also produced while in prison, is a double-sided biombo or screen from January 1962 originally created as part of a stage design. On one side, El colonialismo depicts a series of white women with blonde hair whose faces are distorted with racial hatred as they attack and lynch a group of black men. On the opposite side, the same women appear accusing the surviving men who are then chained and taken to prison at gunpoint by a battalion of soldiers. Ira con estruendo is similarly related to Pelea fratricida, painted the same year in 1963, depicts a struggle between two groups of women.
Siqueiros, undoubtedly, returned to this subject often inspired by his own recollections, especially an incident that took place in 1932 during his stay in Los Angeles—the Scottsboro Trial, in which nine young black men were tried and sentenced after falsely being accused of raping a white woman. The Christ figure in his mural América Tropical on Olvera Street (1932), and Caín en los Estados Unidos (1947) represents the violence and racial lynchings that occurred on the other side of the Rio Grande. The lynched figure appears again in his work in one of the so-called sculptural paintings of the Polyforum in Mexico City.
Pelea fratricida, may have also been partly inspired by his stay in New York between 1936 and 1937, while a member of the Frente Popular contra el Fascismo y la Guerra (Popular Front Against Fascism and War) with his Siqueiros Experimental Workshop, where he executed his extraordinary series of apocalyptic paintings, such as No más, (1936) Suicidio colectivo (1936) and Fin del mundo (1936). In these works he alludes to the horrors of Spain’s Civil War and Nazi fascism that culminated in the unending violence of World War II.
Siqueiros was consistent in his subject matter—he painted protest marches, sometimes these turned violent and belligerent—always exploring how best to expand and transform the formal possibilities of his compositions. In works such as Pelea fratricida— he undoubtedly demonstrates the visual dynamism of a violent scene. These efforts to render kinetic movement are well documented in a series of studies and sketches of individual or group figures, such as Para Troglodita (1963) and Lucha por la emancipación de América Latina (1961).
This search is notable in studies such as Cambio de camión (1964) and in Drama del drama (ca. 1960-1964), wherein all elements of representation are related and create a unifying dynamic. Thus, still images are imbued with the optical illusion of movement. Siqueiros’s paintings are simultaneously realistic and expressionistic, elaborated as a single visual body contorting itself into an endless elliptical dance.
Dr. Irene Herner Reiss with the collaboration of Mónica Fernanda Ruiz Castro

More from Latin American Art

View All
View All