Roberto Montenegro (1885-1968)
Roberto Montenegro (1885-1968)


Roberto Montenegro (1885-1968)
signed 'R. Montenegro' (lower left)
oil on canvas
29 ½ x 29 ½ in. (74.9 x 74.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1955.
Alfonso Romandía Ferreira collection, Mexico City.
Graciela Romandía de Cantú collection, Mexico City.
Lance Aaron Family collection, San Antonio.
XII Congreso internacional de pediatría, México 1968, Artes de México, 1968, no. 144 (illustrated).
I. Márquez Rodiles, Galería de arte del PRI, la pintura mural de la Revolución Mexicana, Mexico City, Partido Revolucionario Institucional, 1969 (illustrated).
E. Balderas, Roberto Montenegro, la sensualidad renovada, Mexico City, Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana, 2001, p. 10 (illustrated in color).
Planos en el tiempo, memorias de Roberto Montenegro, Mexico City, Artes de México, 2001 (illustrated in color).
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Roberto Montenegro, 1885-1968, exposición homenaje, August-September 1970, no. 84 (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. 69 (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

One of the most gifted and successful Mexican modernists, Roberto Montenegro did not consider himself a surrealist although his works fused various realms of diverse realities, especially in his beguiling self-portraits, and portraits of his colleagues and friends including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. His passion for all things Mexican was manifested in his expertise and promotion of Mexican folk art and artisans through books and exhibitions in Mexico and the United States. In 1934 he was appointed Director of the Museum of Popular Art in Mexico City. In 1965, he was honored with a fifty-year retrospective at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City which included more than 300 works.

Roberto Montenegro painted the first of his many convex glass self-portraits in the early 1940s and for two decades, constructed a visual record of his life as an artist in his light-filled studio surrounded by his tools, books, furnishings, and works in progress. These portraits are explorations of the self and stunning visual conundrums that delight and mystify us. Montenegro renders his world in an exquisite spiraling bubble. The viewer is instantly drawn to the intimate space where reality is transfigured. That is the power of illusion; the image reflected may exist but it is only a version of the physical world. An artist’s self-portrait has the power to lure us in—to investigate, to solve the puzzle of the enchantment before our eyes. Artists are conjurers, after all. We intellectually suspend certain laws of nature and convince ourselves that a painting is a “reality” rather than a symbol of it and only an artist can convince us otherwise.

The Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror by Parmigianino (1523-4) is a Mannerist masterpiece depicting a similar composition. The artist’s hand is contorted and appears monumental. The Italian artist completed his portrait before he was twenty but unlike Montenegro’s opus, there are no visual clues that inform us about who the young man is or where he is. In Montenegro’s dazzling portrait, his hand which holds a brush like a magic wand extends beyond the pictorial circle, inviting us into his studio. It too appears out of proportion as if to insist on its significance as the brush is emblematic of his power as a painter of images.

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

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