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.
In 1933, three years after arriving in Los Angeles, California from Mexico City, Alfredo Ramos Martínez's The Lonesome Indian (El indio solitario), was included in a solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco. In it, a solitary mature male figure impassively and somberly confronts the viewer; he is seated amidst a landscape of magueyes whose broad leaves have been lopped off, a few pieces of which lie near his broad brimmed hat. His white pants and shirt, the traditional garb of the Mexican peasant, contrast against the limited palette of brown ochre, gray-green tones and grays of the landscape behind him. A grayish-clouded sky lies beyond the low hills. Monumental in scale, and enhanced by the foreshortening of legs and body, the figure is further defined by the tree trunk, which creates a diagonal line across the upper right hand corner behind him. The curvilinear hills in the background are in contrast to the maguey stumps of varying height that balance the figure on the left.
It is a work that illuminates the state of loneliness and solitude in which the artist must have found himself in Los Angeles. It was 1930, the beginning of the Great Depression. A sudden personal emergency had dictated an enormous shift in his life. Nearing fifty years of age, he was confronting the necessity of creating and selling his artwork for a living acutely aware that the precarious health of his infant daughter, María, whose congenital bone disease had precipitated this move to the United States, depended solely on him. He had resigned as Director of the Escuela Nacional de Arte (National School of Art).
These events changed his work as well. Ramos Martínez abandoned a painterly world of elegant female portraits, of still lifes of vases of flowers, of dancing maidens bearing garlands of flowers, of landscapes of shimmering ponds surrounded by hydrangeas and wisterias. Self-exiled from family and friends, from the familiar and comfortable environment of his homeland, Ramos Martínez began to paint Mexicans and the Mexican landscape.
In 1930, Los Angeles knew already of Ramos Martínez, and he knew Los Angeles as well. In 1925, his students had participated in the International Pan-American Exposition with a traveling exhibition of art produced by children at the Open Air Schools, an exhibition that also traveled throughout Europe. (1) In 1930 within three months of his arrival, William Alanson Bryant, the Director of the Museum had visited his studio-home in Hollywood and immediately organized an exhibition of Ramos's work at the Los Angeles County Museum, undoubtedly impressed by a phenomenon which rarely occurs so dramatically in a painters life, Ramos Martínez was creating a new narrative of images of indigenous people, actually performing some of the same tasks that his prior subjects had been depicted performing. The radical difference lay in the composition, the palette, the line and volume and in the world he was now portraying. Undoubtedly aware of the influence and importance of the Mexican painters in California at this time, this shift could be attributed to the demands of the art market. The controversies that had swirled around the Diego Rivera murals in San Francisco, José Clemente Orozco's Prometheus, at Pomona College and Ramos's admirer and former student, David Alfaro Siqueiros's mural, América Tropical at Olvera Street in Los Angeles were still alive.
The 1933 exhibition in which this work appeared introduced the artist to a significant new patron, Albert Bender. Bender, whose collection would one day enter the San Francisco Museum of Art, bought The Lonesome Indian, as a donation for the Museum as well as a number of other works. Perhaps as important as his patronage is the revelatory documentation of the relationship between the two evident in seventeen unedited letters from Ramos Martínez to Bender, which date from 1933 to 1939. (2) In them, the painter voices his gratitude for Bender's support and patronage while making constant reference to his beloved daughter. He refers to important sales and commissions. And although Ramos Martínez was a major figure in the Southern California art world of the thirties exhibiting in major galleries and fulfilling important fresco commissions, the tone of these letters reveals the tensions of this new life as well as his tender affection for his wife and above all, his daughter.
These are especially important because there are no Ramos Martínez archives.(3) Through the letters, we catch a glimpse of an awareness born of exile and solitude, the essence of a conscious artist, a superb painter, a loving human being who left behind everything in order to create a better life for his child and in doing so, opened up a new world of painting in his work.
2 April 2007, Los Angeles, California
(1) In 1925, Ramos Martínez becomes director of four Open-Air Schools of Painting, a project he had initiated in 1913, upon his return from studies in Europe. That same year the first exhibition of work by these students was held at the Palacio de Minería in Mexico City, followed by the Los Angeles exhibition. In Los Angeles, prizes were awarded to Diego Rivera (the Purchase Award for (Flower Day), and three of Ramos Martínez's students were awarded prizes. In 1926, President Plutarco Elias Calles approved a traveling exhibition of some 200 works by students under the age of 12 from the Open-Air schools. The exhibition traveled to Paris, Madrid and Berlin as part of a larger Mexican trade exhibition. (Louis Stern Galleries, Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1872-1946), catalogue, 1992: Beverly Hills, CA).
(2) The Albert Bender Papers, 1920-1941. The F.W. Olin Library, Special Collections and Archive. Mills College, Oakland, California. With special thanks to J. Braun.
(3) Alfredo Ramos Martínez returned to Mexico City from 1942-1945 with his family, to execute a series of frescoes at the Escuela Normal. Upon their departure, they stored the artist's files at the home of some friends who lived in the San Fernando Valley. A brush fire destroyed the home along with these files.