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

Retrato de María Luisa "Guisa" Lacy Araiza

Juan Soriano (Mexican 1920-2006)
Retrato de María Luisa "Guisa" Lacy Araiza
signed and dated 'j. Soriano, 46' (lower left)
oil on canvas
35 5/8 x 29¾ in. (90.5 x 75.5 cm.)
Painted in 1946.
Acquired from the artist.
By descent from the above.
Anon. sale, Sothebys, New York, 24 November 1999, lot 153 (illustrated in color).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Marek Keller for his assistance confirming the identity of the sitter.

As exemplified by Portrait of María Luisa "Guisa" Lacy Araiza of 1946, intense, majestic women played an important role in Mexican Juan Soriano's life and art, whether as friend, muse, mentor, or tormentor. Soriano's mother, Amalia Montoya Navarro was a soldadera in the Mexican Revolution who followed her husband to battle while giving birth en route. Juan arrived in 1920, when the violent phase of the Revolution had ended. Apart from Rafael Rodríguez Soriano, the father he resembled, young Soriano was the only male in a family ruled by his four sisters, mother, and thirteen aunts. Raised in ultra-conservative Guadalajara, Jalisco, he, like his contemporary Jesús Guerrero Galván, experienced the brutality of a subsequent war, the Cristero Rebellion of the late 1920s. To have witnessed hangings as a young boy may in part account for the solemnity, melancholy, and focus on mortality that often infused his artwork. "Nothing affected me as much as those first fifteen years in Guadalajara. Nothing of what has happened to me since has been more important than Jalisco," he affirmed late in life.[1]

Soriano's oldest sister Martha was his strongest supporter, directing his artistic path. He was essentially self-taught, but thanks to Martha's introduction, was nurtured early on by Jesús "Chucho" Reyes Ferreira's eccentricities; in the latter's home Soriano contemplated folk, Colonial, and provincial art, an extensive library, reproductions of works from Renaissance artists to Matisse, and the art of forging 19th-century saints and crowned nuns.[2] Alfonso Michel, again at Martha's urging, considered Soriano's early watercolors and deemed them to have great potential. Martha enrolled her brother in Francisco "Caracalla" Rodríguez's Taller Evolución. There, working in oil on cardboard Soriano painted portraits of family and friends, examples of which were included in the atelier's group exhibition at the Museo Regional Guadalajara in 1934. Soriano's Martha and Self-Portrait showed the artist's affinity with contracorriente (Counter-current) easel paintings of the previous decade, particularly portraits by Abraham Ángel. Soriano approached Lola Álvarez Bravo, María Izquierdo, and José Chávez Morado as they viewed these works on exhibit; enthusiastic, they pressed the fourteen year old to move to Mexico City.

In 1935 Soriano followed Martha to the metropolis. Together they frequented the Café Paris where they gathered with members of the vanguard circle Los Contemporáneos. Soriano quickly fell into the city's close-knit intellectual, artistic, and cultural milieu. He formed friendships with Luis Barragán, Octavio Paz, Frida Kahlo, María Izquierdo, Spanish Civil War refugees, and numerous other creative forces of the era, to which portraits that he painted between 1935-50 such as those of Rafael Solana, Xavier Villaurrutia, Elena Garro, and María Asúnsolo offer testimony.

Soriano's 1946 golden-hued portrait of María Luisa "Guisa" Lacy Araiza, who was his horseback riding companion and Barragán's long-time fiancée, was produced during his mature period. This canvas is a kind of companion-piece to the exquisite portraits that Soriano painted of his intimate friends Lola Álvarez Bravo and Lupe Marín the previous year. Here, as there, Soriano sculpted and caressed form with light achieving the elegance, softness, and refinement that he so purposefully sought at the time. [3]

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

1 See Elena Poniatowska, Juan Soriano, niño de mil años (Mexico City: Plaza y Janés, 1998), 60; and quoted in Edward J. Sullivan's essay in the exhibition catalogue Fragile Demon: Juan Soriano in Mexico, 1935-1950 (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press), 15.

2 Elena Poniatowska, 56-61.

3 In his life narrative related in Sergio Pitol's Juan Soriano, el perpetuo rebelde (Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1993) Soriano mentions several times the "rispidez" (crudeness, roughness) of his early work that he struggled to eliminate in his portraits of the 1940s. See pp. 11, 15, and 21, for example.

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