Lot 194
  • 194

ÁNGEL ZÁRRAGA | El Lector Juan Ramón Jiménez

200,000 - 300,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Ángel Zárraga
  • El Lector Juan Ramón Jiménez
  • Signed Ángel Zárraga and dated 1917 (lower center) 
  • Oil on canvas
  • 36 1/2 by 29 3/4 in.
  • 93 by 75.5 cm
  • Painted in 1917.


Private Collection, Mexico 
Acquired from the above circa 1998 


María Luisa Novelo et al., Zárraga, Mexico City, 1997, illustrated in color p. 108
Lupina Lara Elizondo, Referencias de Picasso en México, Mexico City, 2005, illustrated in color p. 142
Miguel Angel Echegaray et al., Ángel Zárraga: Primer realista mexicano del siglo XX, Durango, 2006, illustrated in color p. 21


This work has been lined onto a slightly transparent film, which reveals the signature, title and date on the reverse. The lining may be applied with wax, but it is supporting the paint layer quite well nonetheless. The paint layer is slightly dirty and the old retouches have discolored. Under ultraviolet light, one can see retouches that have been applied to reduce some cracking in the figure's beard, in the shadow beneath his right hand, in the red triangle above the signature in the lower right, and in a few other isolated spots. There is one small retouched paint loss in the forehead. The work could be hung as-is. (This condition report has been provided courtesy of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.)
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

El Lector Juan Ramón Jiménez is an outstanding example from Angel Zárraga’s brief period of Cubist production. One of very few portraits executed in this style, the painting depicts the Nobel Prize-winning Spanish Modernist poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, whom Zárraga came to know well during his years in Paris and Madrid as a young artist. Although born in Mexico in the same year as Diego Rivera, Angel Zárraga’s career as a painter took a dramatically different path from the revolutionary muralist’s. Upon moving to Europe in 1904 at the age of eighteen, he remained there until 1941, a few short years before his death in 1946. Drawn by his friendship with Modernist poet Rubén Dario into various avant-garde circles ranging from the Modernists in Madrid to the Symbolists in Paris, Zárraga immersed himself in Europe’s artistic hotbeds and synthesized a variety of influences to create the plastic vocabulary that would define his mature work.

Zárraga’s Cubist period was short in length and limited in production, beginning around 1913 and ending in 1917. In his studio in Montparnasse, Zárraga welcomed pioneers of Cubism including Jean Metzinger, Marcel Duchamp, and Albert Gleizes, at once admiring and debating the principles on which their explorations of three-dimensional space in two-dimensional representation were founded. Where the orthodoxy of Cubism asserted color to be of secondary importance to form, Zárraga rejected what he saw as unnecessary asceticism, stating “I do not see why Cubism must be puritan regarding color… Why speak so much of sacrifices? Sacrifice is acceptable when it serves a purpose. But should a painter deny himself the pleasure of rich pigments, of the attraction of the material, of the play of light across landscapes and figures?” (quoted in Lupina Lara Elizondo, Referencias de Picasso en México, Mexico City, 2005, p. 143)

Zárraga masterfully manipulates color in his Cubist work to support the underlying geometry of his compositions. Here, he plays with subtle distinctions of white and cream both to capture the effect of sunlight and to draw a subtle, meaningful connection between the soft white of the pages and the sitter’s alabaster visage, a visual nod to Jiménez’ identity as a poet. Zárraga places Jiménez at a startling angle, the strong azure diagonals of his arms and back leaning outward into our space as he gazes pensively out towards us, seemingly startled from his reading; the pages of his book lift slightly to emphasize the fleeting quality of the moment. The striking dimensionality of El Lector Juan Ramón Jiménez embodies Zárraga’s unique approach to Cubism in which he “internalizes geometric abstraction and assumes, not an orthodox Cubism, but the possibility of simultaneously representing multiple aspects of an object at once” , and exemplifies his power as a portraitist to capture the dynamic psychological presence of his sitter. (Miguel Angel Echegaray, Angel Zárraga: primer realista mexicano del siglo XX, Durango, 2006, p. 35) His ethos is well-captured in the line of Jiménez’ poetry best-known to the English-speaking world as the epigraph to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”