Mexico City, Casino Español, Exposición de Sesenta obras del Pintor David Alfaro Siqueiros, January 25-February 15, 1932
Mexico City, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Exposición de Homenaje a David Alfaro Siqueiros, 14 April-July 13, 1975
Florence, Sala D'Armi, Palazzo Vecchio, David Alfaro Siqueiros e il Muralismo Messicano: Mostra Antologica, November 10, 1976-February 15, 1977
Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Arte; Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Portrait of a decade, 1930-1940: David Alfaro Siqueiros, November 28, 1996-July 22, 1997, no. 20, p. 124, illustrated in color
In Seated Woman, the anonymous figure faces slightly away from us; voluminous textiles almost completely cover her, as well as the infant she holds. Siqueiros once referred to the [OU1] work as his "first peasant mother," alluding to a much larger and more famous painting of that name, now in the collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City.
The technique is typical of works he completed while living under house arrest in Taxco (November 1930 to April 1932). According to a contemporary observer, Siqueiros "uses a gunny-sacking made of maguey fiber as a canvas and coats it with lime. As the cloth is rough, he shaves the fibres smooth before coating." He then applied oils, sometimes mixed with other organic material, in a thick impasto coat. Given his precarious economic situation at the time, Siqueiros may have chosen burlap bags as an inexpensive substitute for traditional canvas, but he surely embraced the direct correlation between his proletarian subjects and this overtly proletarian material.
In Me llamaban el Coronelazo, his published memoirs, Siqueiros explained in detail how he came to paint this powerful image. "One day a peasant woman came to my door, she was about sixty years old. When I opened the door she said, 'They have told me you do portraits of people. And I want to have a portrait done in oil.' [...] She was so beautiful and interesting that I would have painted her anyway, just for me." When Siqueiros asked her what she could pay, she offered him the modest amount a local photographer charged for hand-painted photographic portraits.
"The woman found it strange that I wanted her to come several times to pose. I think she once was at the point of saying 'You know, [the photographer] does this a lot quicker.' [...] With an extraordinary punctuality she came every day, sat in the assigned place, and never asked to see what I was doing.... I remember that she had a dark green skirt and a pinkish rebozo. The old woman was completely austere, with that hieratic expression of the Mexican peasantry.... Without a doubt, it is one of my small works done with the most tenderness."
From the beginning of their "negotiations," Siqueiros informed the woman that he wanted to paint a copy for himself; she misunderstood him, however, and offered to buy the additional copy at the same price (just as one would from a photographer). A bit frustrated, Siqueiros finally made the copy without informing her. Thus, two versions possibly exist of this painting. One remained in the home of the subject (and is presumed lost): "many Mexican and foreign tourists offered her a thousand percent of what she had paid me. But she never wanted to sell it."
In El Coronelazo, Siqueiros spoke of very few paintings in any detail; many of his most famous works are not even mentioned. The extensive narration he devotes to this work, however, indicates that he placed historical importance on the circumstances surrounding its production. The story presents him as a "craftsman" on the same social and artistic level as the local portrait photographer and places him in an intimate relationship with a working class patron.
The present version (originally entitled, simply, "Mujer") was exhibited at the artist's first major one-man show, organized by Anita Brenner and William Spratling at the Casino Español in Mexico City. Soon thereafter, Siqueiros brought it to Los Angeles, where it entered the collection of actor Charles Laughton. Subsequently it was sold to Mrs. Malcolm L. McBride, a major collector of Orozco's work.
Walter Gutman, "News and Gossip," Creative Art 12:1 (January 1933), p. 75.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Me llamaban El Coronelazo (Memorias) (Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1977), pp. 297-98.
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