Diego Rivera (Mexican 1886-1957)
Diego Rivera (Mexican 1886-1957)

Lavanderas con zopilotes

Diego Rivera (Mexican 1886-1957)
Lavanderas con zopilotes
signed and dated 'Diego Rivera 28' (lower left)
oil on canvas
33½ x 25½ in. (85.1 x 64.8 cm.)
Painted in 1928.
Evaline M. Foley, Santa Fe, New Mexico (acquired from the artist).
Anon sale, Sotheby's, New York, 27 November 1984, lot 33.
Private collection, Dallas (acquired from the above).
Anon sale, Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 2005, lot 9 (illustrated in color).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Diego Rivera: Retrospectiva, Madrid, Fundación para el Apoyo de la Cultura, 1987, p. 70 & 354, no. 60 (illustrated in color).
Diego Rivera: Catálogo General de Obra de Caballete, Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes,1989, p. 112, no. 834 (illustrated).
L.-M. Lozano and J. R. C. Rivera, Diego Rivera. Obra mural completa, Cologne, Taschen, 2007, p. 600 (illustrated in color).
Detroit, Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, Diego Rivera: Retrospectiva, 10 February-27 April 1986. This exhibition also travelled to Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2 June-10 August 1986; Mexico, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, 29 September-4 January 1987; Madrid, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 17 February-4 June 1987; Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle, 23 July 1987-15 September 1987; London, Hayward Gallery, 29 October 1987-10 January 1988.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Professor Luis-Martín Lozano for his assistance cataloguing this work.

In Lavanderas con zopilotes, two women with their backs bent, toil by a stream or river. The figures are grounded, nearly rooted to the riverbank where they wash clothes. In the background, almost magically suspended and in blunt contrast, black vultures or zopilotes, scavenge for food. Rivera’s modernist flat composition and his color palette of stark hues of orange-yellow, red, and subtle violet that leads to blue and finally to black, aid in creating a contemplative mood. Indeed, the artist’s expressionistic use of yellow, perhaps symbolic of the harshness of nature, highlights the figures and zopilotes, which embody the extraordinary resilience of all living beings. Zopilotes or king vultures appear in the glyphs in Maya codices and feature prominently in the frescoes of Mayan temples. The zopilote is sometimes portrayed as a god with a human body and a bird head. According to the mythology of the Maya, this god often carried messages between humans and the other gods. It was also used to represent Cozcacuauhtli, the thirteenth day of the month in the Mayan calendar. The word “zopilote” comes from the word tzopilotl in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. [1]

Ultimately, Lavanderas con zopilotes pays homage to the dignity of work and especially the back-breaking labor of underclass women whose faces, as in this painting, are unseen. The work is in fact part of a long tradition in art that began in the nineteenth century with artists such as Jean-François Millet, Gustave Courbet and Camille Pissarro, who painted the working classes with great nobility. Similarly, Paul Gauguin’s Washerwomen at the Canalside (1888) and the haunting photograph by Tina Modotti, Hands Washing (c. 1927) present moving tributes to manual labor.

Margarita Aguilar, Doctoral Candidate, The Graduate Center, New York

1) A. M. Tozzer and A. Glover Morrill, Animal Figures in the Maya Codices, Cambridge, Boston: Harvard University 1910, accessed through The Project Gutenberg eBook of Animal Figures in the Maya Codices, by Alfred M. Tozzer and Glover M. Allen at www.gutenberg.org

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