We are grateful to María Ramos Martínez Bolster, Margarita Nieto and Louis Stern for their assistance in confirming the authenticity of this work. It will be included in their forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's paintings to be published by the Alfredo Ramos Martínez Research Project.
"Look at the honest sincerity of this simple picture," Ramos Martínez instructed his sister, pointing to a large watercolor hanging on the wall of their family home just weeks after he returned from nearly two decades spent working in Europe.
It is spontaneous and it has all the psychology of the people. . . My God! Why did I go to Paris? Could I only be so unsophisticated again. Art must be pure. Yes, I have learned technique, anatomy; I have absorbed a little Giotto, a little El Greco, a little Cézanne, but I have submerged my own individualism. My subconscious is a walking Louvre. I have died of too many advantages. My sympathy is here, where I belong, among my own people.(1)
Schooled in Mexico and sent on to Paris in 1891 to continue his studies, Ramos Martínez returned to Mexico in 1910 a master of post-Impressionist portraiture but estranged from his native Mexican roots. Returning to Mexico on the eve of revolution and at a moment of impassioned national feeling, he redirected the focus of his work to the foundational cultural values of Mexico's past, rediscovering indigenous subjects and creating a new, thoroughly modern, national mythology through his painting. As director of the Academy of Fine Arts, Ramos Martínez would preside over Mexico's celebrated artistic revolution of the 1920s. "Ramos Martnez is a true 'original,'" his student Rafael Vera de Córdoba acclaimed, "who will know how to direct us, so we can become mature men, artists, teachers and patriots. To raise Mexican art to a higher level--that is our destiny."(2)
In his own art, the search for a modern expression for the new, resurgent Mexico returned Ramos Martínez to Mexico's pre-Columbian heritage, and his work revived, in his words, "out of profound love for the marvelous art of our ancestors, Mayas and Aztecs."(3) Native values took on new significance for him after 1929, when he settled in California and Mexico, along with its pre-Hispanic Indian race, acquired greater metaphoric meaning in his work. In the august serenity and architectonic sensation of mature works such as Las gemelas, Ramos Martínez suggestively evokes pre-Columbian precedents, reawakening, as Leo Katz has observed, "the grand power of simplification and the great mastery of architectural design which were so characteristic of the unknown masters of ancient Mexico."(4) The twinned girls, whose larger-than-life-sized heads command the space of the canvas, powerfully embody the native sensuality of their pre-Columbian ancestors. Their faces, which combine Indian and Asian features, express an almost supernatural stillness and quietude that belie what George Raphael Small has described as the "enigmatic, strangely expectant, rather sensuous quality" of their slightly parted lips.(5) This potent femininity is constrained formally by the geometricized braids of hair that decoratively frame their faces in vertical lines; the clean lines and structural symmetry of the plaits lend the women a solemn gravitas and architectonic stability. Compressed within the frame of the canvas, the two faces manifest the timeless grandeur of Mexico's ancient sculpture; sublime and unyielding, they embody the endurance of the Indian race and its renewal in modern Mexico.
"In Martínez's work the stark simplicity of the forms masks the complexity of the color," Small has remarked, and indeed the rich pigments of Las gemelas occupy a lush and sumptuous range of browns, from auburn to burnt umber.(6) The lyricism of his color, from the mottled background to the ruddy glow of the women's faces, imbues the painting with a mellow warmth and gentle humanism. Against the seething polemics of the famed Mexican muralists in the 1930s, the work of Ramos Martínez speaks poetically to the history of the Mexican people and to its promising future. "Ramos Martínez possesses a great ideal," the Nicaragan poet Rubén Darío exclaimed, "that soon Mexico shall fill a shining place in the art of the world."(7) In the vitality of his mature work, Ramos Martínez positively succeeded in articulating the historical experience of the Mexican people and the great promise of a new, authentically Mexican art.
1) A. Ramos Martínez, quoted in G. R. Small, Ramos Martínez: His Life & Art, Westlake Village, Calif., F & J Publishing Corp., 1975, 77.
2) R. Vera de Córdoba, quoted in M. Nieto, "The Game of Circumstance," Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Beverly Hills, Louis Stern Galleries, 1991, 17.
3) Ramos Martínez, quoted in Small, Ramos Martínez: His Life & Art, 20.
4) L. Katz, quoted in M. Sodi de Ramos Martínez, Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Los Angeles, Martínez Foundation, 1949.
5) Small, Ramos Martínez: His Life & Art, 136.
6) Ibid., 151.
7) R. Darío, quoted in Ramos Martínez, Alfredo Ramos Martínez.