This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Alejandro Rodríguez Alomá, dated 9 December 2016.
We are grateful to Fundación Arte Cubano for their assistance cataloguing this work.
Mujer con gallo features two of the most symbolically charged and frequent subjects explored in the work of Mariano Rodríguez, a key member of Cuba’s second generation of vanguardia artists who emerged in the 1940s. Painted in 1941, the work dates to a critical year in Mariano’s career, as he began to shift away from his focus on solid, volumetrically rendered figures to more expressively rendered canvases. This year also coincides with the first appearance of the rooster, an emblematic symbol and recurring motif in his subsequent trajectory that would come to define much of his career. Combining both subjects in a sensually charged canvas, Mujer con gallo thus synthesizes the artist’s work at this time.
With crossed legs and thrust back arms, the woman’s body in Mujer con gallo is consistent with the artist’s robust figurative approach, which draws from his studies in Mexico in 1937. Unlike the previous generation of Cuban artists who traveled to Europe, Mariano turned to the Americas, and particularly Mexico, for inspiration. Barely supported by her chair, this female figure belongs to a group of swooning women who appear in Mariano’s work from the early 1940s. Often, these women look to the sky in a seemingly ecstatic state, and are frequently paired with another figure, or with a bird, as is the case of Mujer con gallo or the artist’s related work, La paloma de paz (1940). Painted slightly earlier, this pendant work depicts a standing woman on the seashore, a dove suspended in a red handkerchief outstretched between her hands. Counterparts in Mariano’s production, these two images of voluptuous women subtly allude to the artist’s communist spirit (he had joined the party in 1934). Indeed, simply dressed and with bare feet, the women evoke a simple peasant carnality, while the touches of red such as the painted fingernails of the Mujer con gallo, convey both politics and more earthly passions.
Thrusting the rooster above her head, the woman’s contorted pose references the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, in which a disguised Zeus descends from the heavens to seduce the mortal Leda. This erotic scene was repeated throughout Western art history, and taken up by such artists as Michaelangelo and Peter Paul Rubens. Exchanging the swan for a rooster, and Leda for a robust peasant, Mariano transfers this story to a distinctly Cuban setting, as defined by such architectural tropes as the column, decorative railing, and shuttered window crowned by a medio punto. Notably, the geometric pattern of the stained glass echoes the rainbow hues and feathered forms of Mariano’s rooster, who preens above the woman’s form. Exquisitely rendered, this simple animal who Cuban art historian José Gómez Sicre describes as Mariano’s “plebian cock,” is revealed as a potent symbol of strength and virility.
Susanna Temkin, Ph.D., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University