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.
The magnificent Flowers of Mexico is one of the rare, large-scale easel paintings where the artist makes use of the women and flower motif as a nostalgic pastoral composition. (1) The artist developed this romantic indigenous iconography from his firm belief in a modernist nationalism that sought to discover and indeed value, local characteristics of his country--its natural wonders such as volcanoes, mountains, flora and most of all--its original inhabitants. It is little wonder that the artist refers to his homeland repeatedly during his physical absence from Mexico since the 1930s onward.
Flowers of Mexico was in the collection of the late Mrs. Mildred Strong De Mott who had known the artist since his early days in the United States when he executed a mural while a guest at Rancho Yucca Loma in the Mojave Desert, California; the mural was later destroyed when the property was sold.(2) This painting was acquired by Mrs. Strong De Mott in the 1930s and was displayed at her house in the ranch. It was illustrated in The Christian Science Monitor in 1949 and later featured in Sunset Magazine.(3)
Upon his return to Mexico from Europe, Ramos Martínez became an inspiration as a much-loved teacher to a younger generation of artists who studied under him at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (later to become the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes). Upon his appointment as director in 1913, Ramos Martínez established a plein-air school, Escuela al Aire Libre at Santa Anita as an additional activity within the curriculum in order to awaken an enthusiasm for Mexico's splendid beauty and promote a national art.(4) In Europe, the artist had studied and painted the people of Brittany as Paul Gauguin had before him. He had developed a palette rich and exuberant--and had learned to appreciate the spiritual in the lives of people who worked a harsh land, which for him, held an almost mystical fascination. Ramos Martínez was not a realist painter but one who observed nature and rendered an epic version of reality. His women appear stoic and monumental, his flowers in impossible colors and sizes, evoke a boundless nature and his compositions rather than merely evocative are a testament of his love for his country. He paints paradise where nature and man are one in intimate communion.(5)
During his Californian artistic exile, Ramos Martínez developed a new refined style. His paintings such as this one, gained a new vigor in form as he became eager to take up avant-garde elements such as a cubist structure observed in the placement and realization of his figures that would infuse his work with a modernist expression. However, he did not surrender his idealist pictorial construct--utopia was to be found in the depiction of an idyllic Mexico.
Relations between the United States and Mexico were extremely cooperative and friendly from the 1920s onward, and acceptance for all things Mexican became fashionable.(6) The glamorous Dolores del Río was featured in Hollywood films; Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera received numerous commissions throughout the United States; and, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, organized several exhibitions, which included Mexican artists and themes. (7) More importantly, collectors such as Mrs. Strong De Mott and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, one of the founders of The Museum of Modern Art recognized Mexican talent and were enthusiastic early supporting patrons. Not surprisingly, it is under this climate that Alfredo Ramos Martínez gained commercial and critical success in his new home of Los Angeles almost immediately.
Collector Mrs. Strong De Mott first befriended the artist upon his arrival at Rancho Yucca Loma in the 1930s and encouraged him to do a mural there. In her daughter Ann Rivers Sudlow's memoirs, written for her children, she recalls the 1934 arrival of a "treasure of Mexico," Alfredo Ramos Martínez. The artist soon realized a mural for the ranch's living room--monumental figures of a man and a woman.(8) The ranch hosted many celebrities such as stage actress Beulah Bondi; theater producer George Abbott; screen idol Tyrone Power and his French-born wife Annabella; Ingrid Bergman; William Holden, and many others during its heyday from the late 1920s up to 1950 when it finally closed. Movie star Clark Gable spent a month there while mourning the death of his beloved wife, the comedienne Carole Lombard in 1941. Gable went hunting often with Mrs. Strong De Mott's son, Frank. Her other children, Ann and Bunny also grew up at the ranch riding horses and being close to the land. Known for her great beauty, elegant style, and sense of adventure, Mrs. Mildred Strong De Mott collected more works by the artist, among them, La Madonna mexicana, also part of this sale. Eventually, she bequeathed this patrimony to her family.
(1) X. L. Moyssen, Xavier, F. Ramírez and I. Cavazos Garza. Un homenaje a Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871-1946). Monterrey, Mexico: El Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, 1996. See Fausto Ramírez's essay, "Alfredo Ramos Martínez: A Stylistic Itinerary," p. 56. The related painting Mujeres con flores, ca. 1938 sold at Christie's in the fall of 2006. An earlier similar composition executed in 1931 is still presumably in another private collection and its whereabouts not known.
(2) The artist's daughter required medical attention at an early age. Ramos Martínez moved his family to California to seek help in or about the 1930s. The artist met a wonderful group of people during his stay at Rancho Yucca Loma owned by Mrs. Mildred Strong De Mott and Mrs. Gwendolyn Boynton Behr. The two had been inseparable school friends since their days in Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles in the early part of the twentieth century and it was Gwendolyn's mother, Catherine Boynton Thayer whose generosity had financed the dream of the ranch in the desert.
(3) Painting was illustrated in "To do A Thing Beautifully," in The Christian Science Monitor, 19 September 1949, p. 12. In the 1950s, Mr. and Mrs. De Mott built Meadow Lark Farm in Apple Valley near Victorville, California which was featured in Sunset Magazine. The painting was featured in the article, circa 1951-2.
(4) See Fausto Ramírez's essay, p. 55.
(5) Ibid., p. 57.
(6) H. Delpar, The Enormous Vogue for Things Mexican: Cultural Relations Between The United States and Mexico, 1920-1935. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1992.
(7) M. Basilio, F. Bercht, D. Cullen, G. Garrels and L. E. Pérez-Oramas, Latin American & Caribbean Art at El Museo del Barrio, New York: El Museo del Barrio and The Museum of Modern Art, 2004. See, Basilio's "Reflecting On A History of Collecting and Exhibiting Work by Artists from Latin America," p. 52-63. p. 53. Two early exhibitions devoted to art and artists from Mexico were An Exhibition of Work by 46 Painters and Sculptors under 35 Years of Age, which included Miguel Covarrubias, Fidias Elizondo and Jean Charlot in 1930. As well, MoMA organized in 1933, American Sources of Modern Art (Aztec, Mayan, Inca).
(8) Margarita Aguilar, in preparation of these catalogue notes, is indebted to the heirs of Mrs. Mildred Strong De Mott for all their valuable assistance. She has examined personal papers, photographs, and mementoes and heard stories about their "Granny" through their generosity.