Lot 361
  • 361


700,000 - 900,000 USD
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  • Francisco Toledo
  • A Meu Xubi
  • Signed Toledo four times and titled (on the reverse) 
  • Oil and sand on canvas
  • 57 by 39 3/8 in.
  • 145 by 100 cm
  • Painted in 1973.


Private Collection, North America (acquired from the artist) 
Thence by descent 


Mexico City, Museo Nacional de la Historia, Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes, 60 Años de Historia plástica, 2005, no. 54


Teresa del Conde et al., Francisco Toledo, Mexico City, 1981, illustrated in color p. 93

Catalogue Note

Francisco Toledo, from his earliest to his final works, has entranced us with vast visions of a universe in flux. Born to Zapotec parents in Mexico City in 1940 but raised in Juchitán, in the heart of the famed isthmus of Tehuantepec, his artistic talent was recognized early; by 19 he had his first solo exhibition in the United States, and by he 20 had won a scholarship to work and study in Paris. There he worked for five years in the atelier of master printmaker Stanley William Hayter, under whose tutelage he gained mastery across print media. He dedicated his free time there to painting, and also came under the wing of a more established Oaxacan painter living in Paris—Rufino Tamayo—as well as Nobel laureate poet Octavio Paz. Toledo recalled, “It was wonderful; Tamayo invited me to his house and he started to sell my paintings. When the collectors would come to visit him, he'd say, 'Here is a young painter whose paintings are much cheaper than you can buy mine for’" (quoted in Christopher Goodwin, “His name is Francisco Toledo, but everyone calls him El Maestro,” The Guardian, May 28, 2000, n.p.).

The immense productivity and commercial success of his Parisian sojourn allowed Toledo to return to Mexico a small celebrity. In 1965 he settled first in Juchitán, and later in Oaxaca City. Renowned for its biological diversity and distinct culture, Toledo’s native Tehuantepec has been for thousands of years a site of convergence and cultural abundance, with visitors and invaders ranging from nearby indigenous groups to Spanish conquistadors, enslaved and free Africans and migrants from Asia. The Isthmus became a locus of Mexico’s cultural imagination and identity-forming in the early twentieth century, its most famous export being from the Tehuana costume prized by Frida Kahlo. The impact of this abundant environment is fundamental to Toledo’s work: “For Toledo, then, to be Zapotec meant to be immersed in a tight, hammock-like web of community ties in which the whole life cycle from birth to death was choreographed in ritual and celebrated in song, folktale and belief” (Howard Campbell, “Francisco Toledo: Mesoamerican Artist and Activist” in El Maestro Francisco Toledo, Art from Oaxaca 1959-2006 (exhibition catalogue), Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at The University of Texas at El Paso, 2007, p. 32). Upon return to Mexico, Toledo expanded his production to include media from painting and printmaking to ceramics, tapestry, painted turtle shells, magazine covers, bronzes, polaroids, book illustrations, digital collages, wall paintings and ephemeral adobe reliefs. Immersed in the culture of his childhood, he synthesized the diverse influences of the Paris years (including the work of Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, Francisco Goya and James Ensor) with the rich natural world and Zapotec myths and tales that surrounded him. His works are characterized, like Meu Xubi, by swirling galaxies of animal and human life and activity; iguanas, dogs, cats, fish, cows, deer, rabbits, people, scorpions, centipedes and turtles are born, die, copulate and transform into one another in an endless cycle. Toledo’s probing at the intersection of human and animal has multiple origins. It is directly traceable to the Mesoamerican tradition of the Nagual, a human endowed with the power to shift into animal form, but also to the work of Goya and Kafka, in which blurred lines between animal and human forms to speak to the ambiguity and ambivalence of our deeper nature. “In Toledo’s pictures, that exchange of identities happens in uncountable disguises, ranging from indigenous symbolism to metaphor to fable” (Joachim Homann, “Francisco Toledo: The History of the Eye,” in ibid., p. 20).

In Meu Xubi, roiling rivers of scorpions carry along patterned turtles whose shells morph into sexual organs; lavender clouds rise from the surface of the canvas with a glittering intensity that derives from the sand embedded in Toledo’s pigment. The rich, generative energy of these sexual forms hangs in precarious balance with the fatal, destructive power of the scorpions, threatening yet transfixingly rendered in forms that echo the sign for infinity. Eternal battles between opposing forces of life and death, good and evil unfold before us in a vision of collective energy; "Individuality explodes, it rips, it actually multiplies, by the powerful push of the chain of life. [In Toledo’s work] The body may open itself up to cosmic space like a radar, it belongs to both the stars and to the stones” (Verónica Volkow, Francisco Toledo, Mexico City, 2002, p. 48).

Toledo’s artistic praxis was expansive and regenerative not only in his imagery and mastery across media but in his activism. While in some ways harkening the democratic intent of Los Tres Grandes of Mexico’s Muralist movement (Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros), Toledo’s political work has always been more personal than performative; one of his most memorable acts was to halting the sale of a seventeenth-century Oaxacan church by the Mexican government to a hotel chain by placing “For Sale” signs in all of the city’s historic churches. Over his 79 years, Toledo established a network of thriving artistic institutions in Oaxaca City, including the Instituto de Artes Gráficas of Oaxaca, Centro Fotográfico Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Biblioteca Jorge Luis Borges, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, Fábrica de Papel de San Agustín Etla, Ediciones Toledo, Centro Cultural Santo Domingo and the cultural-environmental preservationist group Patronato pro Defense y Conservation del Patrimonio Cultural y Natural de Oaxaca, leading the city to claim its place as one of Mexico’s foremost cultural, artistic, and political hubs. Beyond the prodigious impact of his artistic production, these institutions and the legacy of his life’s dedication to the people and culture of Oaxaca are indelible, and embodied the spirit first expressed by Pierre de Mandiargues in a 1964 review: “Wherever he is, at any time, forms emerge from his hands and he imposes a renewed freshness upon all objects that pass through his fingers, as if he could not bear the weariness an stress of today’s world, and as if he would breathe life into the tired or dead things that are our daily existence.” (Pierre de Mandiargues, “Toledo,” XXe Siècle, December 1964, n.p.)