Juan Soriano (1920-2006)
Juan Soriano (1920-2006)

Apolo y las musas

Juan Soriano (1920-2006)
Apolo y las musas
signed and dated 'J. Soriano 9/54' (lower right)
oil on canvas
52 x 81 ½ in. (132.1 x 207 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
Donato Ruiz, Guadalajara, Jalisco (acquired directly from the artist).
Jorge López Páez collection, Mexico City.
Lance Aaron Family collection, San Antonio.
S. Pitol, Juan Soriano, el perpetuo rebelde, Mexico City, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Ediciones Era, 1993, p. 88, no. 51 (illustrated in color).
D. Bruiolo Destéfano, Juan Soriano, pintor de antiguos y nuevos dilemas, Mexico City, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1996 (illustrated in color).
Juan Soriano, el poeta pintor, Mexico City, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 2000, p. 340 (illustrated in color).
O. Debroise, "Soriano incurso", Reforma, Mexico City, 10 July 2000, p. 4C (illustrated in color).

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Retrospectiva, September-October 1984.
Morelia, Michoacán, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Juan Soriano y sus obras, December 1984-January 1985, p. 49, no. 43 (illustrated in color).
Aguascalientes, Museo de Aguascalientes, Juan Soriano y su obra, April-May 1985.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Juan Soriano, 1937-1997, February-May 1997, p. 133, no. 24 (illustrated in color and again on the exhibition flyer).
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Juan Soriano, la creación como libertad, homenaje nacional en sus 80 aniversario, June-July 2000, p. 89 (illustrated in color). This exhibition also travelled to Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, October 2000-January 2001.
Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Siglo XX: Grandes maestros mexicanos, los espacios inconformes, January-June 2003, p. 114, no. 206 (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. 47 (illustrated).
Mexico City, Museo Soumaya, Juan Soriano, santo y seña, November 2006-April 2007, p. 53-54 (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

We are grateful to Marek Keller for his assistance cataloguing this work.

Apolo y las musas is one of three known paintings, and numerous drawings, that Juan Soriano produced in the mid-1950s on this particular theme that testifies to the artist’s dramatic artistic transformation as a result of travels to Rome and Crete. So radical was the shift in the artist’s production, that upon seeing this canvas his friend, the poet Octavio Paz commented, “Everything is open to change. Soriano has already become another. He is, in the end, his very self. He has discovered the old secret of metamorphosis and he has remade himself.”[1] Soriano explained that his desire at the time to create paintings that were “less figurative, less recognizable, (and) more inventive,”[2] gave birth to Apolo y las Musas.

Soriano recounts that the painting initially was not well received. When he returned from Rome to Mexico City in 1954, Galería de Arte Mexicano’s Inés Amor, who represented him, rejected and refused to exhibit the new work.[3] Presented instead at the Salón de Artes Plásticas, Soriano recalls the harsh criticism he received in the press that questioned both his technical abilities and his nationalism. To the contrary, Manuel Felguérez remembers this very exhibition with admiration, commenting on his experience of Apolo y las musas as “a work of great innovation,” that for himself and other young artists, Soriano had set an “example of freedom and bravery.”[4]

A child prodigy who left his native Guadalajara for Mexico City at age fifteen to pursue a career in art, Soriano became known as a portraitist and friend of the artistic elite, writers and actresses who he painted in his characteristic way with an at once ethereal and sculptural treatment of the figure. He also produced enigmatic still lives, and paintings of children in interior settings, often with a hint of erotic danger. Scholars considered him part of the contracorriente (Counter-current), among those artists who, divergent to the dominant Mexican muralists, worked on a smaller scale as they considered the non-political, the personal, and the international.

A powerful departure from his committed figuration of the 1930s and 40s, Apolo y las Musas indeed embodied the artist’s new found freedom and a stylistic breakthrough. Such work initiated the Ruptura era in Mexican art, the “break away” from the well-established Escuela mexicana de pintura y escultura (Mexican “School” of Painting and Sculpture). Diego Rivera confirmed Soriano’s achievements in a 1956 interview with Raquel Tibol that was printed in the daily paper Novedades where the famous muralist scandalously proclaimed that in effect, monumental, social realist, figurative work was no longer the “only way,” but that in current Mexican painting Rufino Tamayo was the shining example to follow, and that Soriano personified the new generations; both Tamayo and Soriano were stylistically painting within lyrical abstraction (informalismo) at the time, proposing a universal language, rather than specifically nationalist imagery.[5] Highly representative of contemporary Mexican art, Apolo y las musas was in fact shown at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1966 as part of the Confrontación 66 para las nuevas generaciones exhibition, an official response to the increasingly heated public debate in Mexico City over the value of figuration versus abstraction.

A synthetic, non-narrative expression, Apolo y las musas emerged from Soriano’s long-held interest in Greek mythology. The artist recalls that as a young man he devoured copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey, titles printed under Minister of Education José Vasconcelos’ “Great Books” project and distributed throughout Mexico during the post-Revolution literacy campaigns. In Rome, Soriano visited the Vatican Museum’s Hall of the Muses to draw the classical Roman marble sculptures from the 2nd Century of the goddesses.[6] No sign of the classical sculptures can be found in Apolo y las musas, but rather, Soriano looked to the Mycenaean civilization of ancient Greece for his inspiration. During his travels to Crete surely he visited the Heraklion Archaeological Museum with its important collection of Minoan antiquities. There he would have seen the small terracotta goddess figures from the 14th and 13th centuries BCE. These are categorized as Psi and Phi figures based on their shape. Psi-types have circular bodies like the Greek letter psi, while Phi-types have arched, u-shaped arms as seen in Apolo y las musas; additionally, their protruding breasts, triangular faces with painted eyes and mouths, cylindrical legs, and at times, joined bodies point to these ancient clay figures as an important source, if not the key source of inspiration for Soriano’s sculptural and schematic treatment of the muses. Even so, Soriano’s cultural synthesis is affirmed in art historian Teresa del Conde’s revelation that Soriano based the muses’ faces on his memory of visiting a Mexican colonial village plaza where its portals appeared a “dance of archways” transformed here into a continuous frieze, a mask of eyebrows and noses.[7] Soriano’s muses form a single body lacking individuation and wearing a single crown of laurel leaves.

Historian Enrique Krauze succinctly described Apolo y las musas as “a phallic deity presenting his nine muses, who are nine and (at once) one—one single multiform face and a multitude of breasts, wombs, and legs. One of the muses touches the god with the palm of her hand; he looks forward, naked.”[8] In Greek mythology, Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess of memory, gave birth to the nine muses, Zeus’ daughters. She taught her children the history of Olympus, and they in turn, under the tutelage of Apollo, god of music, turned their mother’s stories into poems and songs. Each of the muses, named by the 8th century BCE poet Hesiod as Erato, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Urania, Clio, Polyhymnia, and Calliope, had their own special art, talent, and attribute or instrument. Patron goddesses of the liberal arts and sciences, including dance, music, poetry, and comedy, they inspired those who invoked their gifts.

But Soriano’s Apolo y las musas was neither narrative, nor naturalistic. Akin to Willem de Kooning’s Women series of the same period, which simultaneously drew from ancient art and commercial advertising to create fresh and provocative imagery, Soriano’s Apolo y las musas is timeless, at once ancient in theme, modernist in treatment, and yet, highly contemporary. This canvas, its sister piece, and other powerful, contemporaneous paintings of Soriano’s such as La vuelta a Francia of 1954, El pez luminoso of 1956, and the thirty abstract portraits he produced of Guadalupe Marín between 1961-62, secured Soriano’s place in the history of Mexican art as a pioneer of the Ruptura era.

Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor, Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

1 Octavio Paz quoted in Sylvia Navarrete Bouzard, ed. Juan Soriano 1920-2006 (Mexico City: Museo de Arte Moderno, 2016), 86. Author’s translation.
2 Sergio Pitol, Juan Soriano: El perpetuo rebelde (Mexico City: CONACULTA, 1993), 30. Author’s translation.
3 Ibid, 29.
4 Manuel Felguérez quoted in Sylvia Navarrete Bouzard, ed. Juan Soriano 1920-2006 (Mexico City: Museo de Arte Moderno, 2016), 57. Author’s translation.
5 Raquel Tibol, “Vamos a la exposición” in xico en la cultura suplemento a Novedades, Nov. 4, 1956 (Mexico City): 4.
6 Sergio Pitol, Juan Soriano, 26.
7 Teresa del Conde, “Juan Soriano en perspectiva,” (1984), accessed October 8, 2017. https://www.juansoriano.net/biografia/textos/teresadelconde001.html
8 Enrique Krauze, “Juan Soriano: pintor auroral,” (2008), accessed October 5, 2017. https://www.enriquekrauze.com.mx/joomla/index.php/biogr-retrato/93-biogra-critica-social/652-juan-soriano-pintor-auroral.html. Author’s translation.

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