It was on scholarship at the workshop of Eduardo Chicharro in Spain when the young Diego Rivera first visited Paris in 1909 and subsequently discovered the relevance of post-impressionist pictorial languages. In Paris, he marveled at everything he saw, the work of Claude Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin and particularly Paul Cézanne produced a deep and long lasting impression. Rivera returned to Mexico briefly in 1910 only to depart once again for France to set up his studio in Montparnasse where he relocated in 1911 with his young wife Russian painter Angeline Beloff. As an artist, Rivera’s first approach to painting produced pointillist landscapes visibly influenced by Georges Seurat and presented at the Salon des Independants in 1912. After a long sojourn in Catalonia however, Rivera and Beloff left their studio located on Avenue du Maine and moved to the Spanish city of Toledo, accompanied by Mexican artist Angel Zárraga.
Guided by Zárraga, Rivera delved into the study of the work of sixteenth-century Mannerist painter, Doménikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco). Almost immediately, the young painter assimilated innovative pictorial solutions and elongated figures in several large canvases. Rivera’s individual approach to the painting of El Greco became evident in the two works he submitted at the Salon d'Automne in Paris that year. Soon thereafter, he returned to Paris in September 1912, just in time to finish some of his most ambitious works: canvases that displayed a groundbreaking interlude between El Greco and the European avant-garde. Once in a new studio in the rue du Départ, he began working on compositions that would eventually lead him to the threshold of Cubism.
This remarkable landscape from 1913—one of the few remaining in private collections—corresponds to a moment of intense experimentation when both traditional compositional elements and avant-garde notions of space are synthesized. Rivera’s mastery of perspective coexists with the appearance of numerous diagonal axes. Together they create a dynamic cross-linked geometric plane of great intensity and volume. This spatial dichotomy is particularly evident on the roof of the farmhouses located on the outskirts of the city of Toledo. The result is a Proto-Cubist painting where a gradual decomposition of space is particularly visible in the Mondrianesque trees that appear on the foreground.
Several decades later in the 1950s, Diego Rivera remembered his stylistic progression for his biographers. In the year 1913, "I wanted to get to Cubism on the basis of what it really was, the resulting logic of Seurat, Cézanne and El Greco.” These theoretical constructs are perfectly embodied in Paisaje cerca de Toledo.
Professor Luis-Martín Lozano
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