Federico Cantú (1908-1989)
Federico Cantú (1908-1989)

Federico Cantú (1908-1989)

Federico Cantú (1908-1989)
La vida del arlequín I (also known as Triunfo de la muerte I)
signed and dated 'Federico Cantú MCMXXXIV' (lower right)
oil on canvas
68 ½ x 74 7/8 in. (174 x 190.2)
Painted in 1934.

La vida del arlequín II
signed and dated 'Federico Cantú A.D. MCMXXXIV' (lower right)
oil on canvas
68 7/8 x 59 in. (175 x 149.9 cm.)
Painted in 1934.
Two in one lot.
Papillon Bar, Mexico City (commissioned in 1934 by Manuel del Valle).
Leon Tissot collection, Mexico City/San Diego.
Luis Cantú collection, Mexico City.
Lance Aaron Family collection, San Antonio.

M. M. 'La decoración del Papillon Bar', Revista de revistas: Semanario nacional, 24, no. 1285 Mexico City, December 1934 (illustrated).
Amigos de Bellas Artes, Year X, No. 4, August-September 2005, p. 4 (illustrated in color).
Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, De artesanos y arlequines: Forjando una colección de arte mexicano, July 2005-April 2006, p. 49 (Triunfo de la muerte I illustrated in color).
Austin, Mexic-Arte Museum, From Revolution to Renaissance, Mexican Art from the Aaron Collection, April 2007–January 2008.
San Antonio, Museo Alameda Smithsonian, Revolution & Renaissance, Mexico & San Antonio, 1910 –2010, November 2010–August 2012.

Lot Essay

These works are accompanied by certificates of authenticity signed by Luis Edmundo Cantú Elizarraras, dated 7 March 2003.

Born in 1907 in Monterrey, Federico Cantú was a prodigious talent who as a youngster barely fourteen years of age, set off on an artistic path. He enrolled in Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s newly established experimental school in Coyoacán, Mexico City in 1922. There, he absorbed his teacher’s impressionistic lessons.[1] Not soon after, the young man found work as assistant to Diego Rivera newly arrived from years in Europe and about to unleash an extravagant mural project that changed the capital city and propelled the careers of numerous artists.

Mexican humanist and intellectual Raúl Rangel Frías eloquently described Federico Cantú’s colors as being “…full of lyrical emotion…” His “…luminous reds and greens create and add substance to the immaterial.”[2] Indeed, he believed the artist had a magician’s touch that enabled him to endow his very pigments with life. More importantly he considered Cantú’s draftsmanship, even as a young artist, full of energy as the delicate lines of his compositions conveyed rhythmic vigor.

Cantú, however, did not stay long in Mexico City and sailed for Paris in 1924. Almost immediately he found himself amid all the avant-garde luminaries such as Pablo Picasso, André Breton, and others. These portable murals, La Vida del Arlequin 1 and 2, although executed upon his return to his homeland for the Papillon Bar (1934), reflect the bohemian spirit of Montparnasse, the epicenter of European modern art where Cantú lived. He was commissioned by Leon Tissot who resided in Mexico City and was joined by Roberto Montenegro who also created murals for the space

The figure of the harlequin for Cantú provided immense inspiration as he exploited the theme in his numerous drawings while living in Paris. He summarized the gritty, intoxicating and at times, poetic life of performers and artists like him with remarkable clarity in colors that reveal his understanding of humanity, melancholy and above all vitality.

Margarita J. Aguilar, Doctoral candidate, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

1 R. Rangel Frías, Federico Cantú (Monterrey, Nuevo León: Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Fondo Editorial de Nuevo León, 2008), 7.
2 Frías, 10

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