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

Retrato de una filósofa (María Zambrano)

Juan Soriano (Mexican 1920-2006)
Retrato de una filósofa (María Zambrano)
signed and dated 'J. Soriano, 28-XII-55' (lower right)
oil on canvas
40 7/8 x 57¼ in. (103.8 x 145.4 cm.)
Painted in 1955.
Acquired directly from the artist.
Thence by descent to the present owners.
Exhibition catalogue Juan Soriano Retrospectiva, Budapest, Magyar Nemzeti Galería, 1978, no. 13 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Juan Soriano, retrospectiva, 1937-1997, Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 1997, p. 137 (illustrated in color).
Exhibition catalogue, Juan Soriano: La creación como libertad, homenaje nacional en su 80 aniversario, Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2000, p. 97 (illustrated in color).
Bogotá, Museo Galería Nacional de Bogotá, Pintura mexicana, n.d.
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Juan Soriano: Color y poesía, pinturas 1950/1976, 2 September- 10 October 1976, no. 5.
Budapest, Magyar Nemzeti Galería, Juan Soriano Retrospectiva, September- October 1978. This exhibition also travelled to Le Mans, Museés du Mans, February 1979.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Juan Soriano, retrospectiva, 1937-1997, 4 February- 2 May 1997.
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Juan Soriano: La creación como libertad, homenaje nacional en su 80 aniversario, June- September 2000. This exhibition also travelled to Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, November 2000- January 2001.
Sale room notice
Please note this work has additional exhibition history.

Lot Essay

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

An artistic prodigy and a singular figure within the history of modern Mexican art, Soriano cast himself as a quasi-abstract painter between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s. Stimulated by extended travel to Europe and readings on the art of Zen Buddhism, he explored the open symbols of abstraction as a means of self-discovery, mediated by the act of re-imagining familiar subjects. "In my case," Soriano later reflected, "abstraction was born out of a burst of self-awareness and a great faith in painting, out of the certainty that the signs meant something, that they were metaphors. If one believes in this and abandons himself to painting, the picture is born."[1]

El espejo azul (refer to Lot 28) and La filósofa (refer to Lot 25) revisit two motifs of enduring interest--the mirror and the portrait--and render their subjects through a combination of mythical allusion and projection, meditating on the nature of the individual in the world. La filósofa is an homage to the Spanish intellectual María Zambrano, whom Soriano first met in Mexico in the 1940s. "The dialogue with María Zambrano was for me something extraordinary," Soriano remarked. "Most people wear a mask. María, however, stood naked before the world. In some way, she embodied the measure of an authentic human being--an accumulation of defects and virtues, of horrible and marvelous things." Her portrait, illuminated by auroral tones of golden yellow, is both intimate and ironic. Soriano explained, "There is the head of a cat, as she had many cats; there is a snake because to me she represented Pythia; her face is like a calavera which is at the same time the moon; her arms are open as in Greco-Roman oratory; her skirt could be that of a siren or a flamenco dancer."[2]

The subjectivity of El espejo azul is both more universal and eccentric: far from a literal reflection, Soriano's mirror refracts a magical body composed of floral shapes and patterns. Distilling the whimsical and irrational side of human nature, the mirror filters the vicissitudes of the mind and the imagination. Ventana (refer to Lot 132) portrays pictorial reflection of a different kind. Here, Soriano looks outward, contemplating the picture frame as an ultimate intermediary between the self and the external world.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Juan Soriano, quoted in Sergio Pitol, Juan Soriano: el perpetuo rebelde (Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1993).
2 Ibid.

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