María Izquierdo (artist)

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María Izquierdo
María Cenobia Izquierdo Gutiérrez

October 30, 1902
San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco
DiedDecember 1955 (aged 53)
Mexico City
EducationEscuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts)
Known forPainting
Notable work
Sueño y presentimiento
Spouse(s)Married/Divorced Cándido Posadas

María Izquierdo (October 30, 1902, San Juan de los Lagos – December 2,[1] 1955, Mexico City) was a Mexican painter.[2] She was born María Cenobia Izquierdo Gutiérrez in San Juan de los Lagos in the state of Jalisco;.[2] At the age of 5, she moved with her mother to Torreón after the death of her father. Her mother later married Dr. Nicanor Valdes Rodríguez, at which point Izquierdo was raised by her grandparents and relatives in small towns in Northern Mexico.[3] Both her grandmother and aunt were devout Catholics and much of her upbringing revolved around daily Catholic traditions.[4] At age fourteen she had an arranged marriage to a senior army officer, Colonel Cándido Posadas,[4] and bore three children by the time she was 17 years old.[2] In 1923, she and her family moved to Mexico City,[3] where she first began to develop into a professional artist. She had a short-lived marriage, divorcing from her husband around 1928.[3] Izquierdo has three children, two boys and a girl. It is said that her daughter has influenced some of Izquierdo's work, including "Niñas Durmiendo". Izquierdo and her family moved to Mexico City where she was able to go to school to study art. There she met her mentors Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo, who was also said to be her lover. [5] Izquierdo had a second marriage, also short-lived, with Chilean painter Raul Uribe.[6]

Always interested in art, Izquierdo spent much of her time alone teaching herself new art techniques. When she and her family moved to Mexico City in the 1920s, she acted on her passion and left her husband.[7] In the early 1920's, Izquierdo began associating herself with the Movimiento Pro-Arte Mexicano and the Contemporáneos. One of her colleagues and close friend, Lola Álvarez Bravo remembers her as "a very cheerful woman with a folf spirit... like a jar full of pure fresh water... The inclination that Maria had for folklore was not that of a distant viewer, she seemed rather to be an insider, like one more folk element."[8]

María Izquierdo is known for being the first Mexican woman to have her artwork exhibited in the United States.[4] She committed both her life and her career to painting art that displayed her Mexican roots and held her own among famous (important figure in mexicanismo) Mexican male artists: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.[citation needed]

In December 1955 she died of a stroke in Mexico City.


Upon ending her marriage to army colonel, Cándido Posadas, María Izquierdo enrolled at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts).[4] Her move to Mexico City in the 1920s evoked her to explore her growing passion for art and came about the same time a paradigm shift occurred in Mexico. At the same time Izquierdo made her big move to Mexico City, the Mexican Revolution came to an end, bringing along a change of values in Mexico. Through President Álvaro Obregón, many new reform policies were emphasized, pushing for more social and educational institutions that upheld traditional Mexican beliefs and culture. These ideals resonated with Izquierdo, drawing her to attend the art academy. In January 1928, she began her classes at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts).[4]

Early training[edit]

Prior to Obregón's reforms, European art served as the model in art institutions. His new reforms drew in many of Mexico's most talented artists, commissioning their creation of murals addressing the importance of traditional Mexican values, which were painted on both schools and government buildings. While attending the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts), Izquierdo was instructed by Rufino Tamayo, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano,and German Gedovius. She was also highly influenced by Diego Rivera, who served the director of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts) in 1929, and later became pivotal in helping launch Izquierdo's career. Recognized as one of Rivera's favorite students, the praise she received by Rivera lead to her undergoing frequent hostility from her peers. In February 1931, Izquierdo left the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts) because of the animosity she received from her classmates and her frustration with the school's growing concentration on art serving only as a catalyst for political change. In the early 1920's a circle of young writers and artists, Including Maria Izquierdo, published a magazine called the Contemporáneos. The group would later adopt this name to identify themselves. Izquierdo, along with Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Rufino Tamayo, and Julio Castellanos, all had been associated with the Movimiento Pro-Arte Mexicano, founded by Adolfo Best Maugard. Beyond the status of colleagues and friends, the Contemporáneos were collaborators. For the Contemporáneos, the city was a hub of Mexico's evolving modernity. While celebrating Mexico's unique traditions, the Contemporáneos embraced this idea of universal cosmopolitanism,and believed that Mexican culture should remain open to international influences and to the voice of the urban intellectual.[9]

Late training[edit]

An instructor who continued to serve as a mentor even after she left Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts) was Rufino Tamayo. Sharing a studio with the young artist for 4 years, Tamayo had a profound impact on Izquierdo's early development as an artist. Introducing her to watercolor, the two shared similar subject matter and color palettes. Both believed art should serve more as a poetic outlet than a political one, and while their professional relationship grew, so did a romantic one. Throughout their relationship, Izquierdo remained independent. Becoming an active part of the Liga de Escritres y Artistas Revoluctionaros (LEAR; League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists) in 1934, Izquierdo went on to use the artistic techniques that Tamayo helped her develop to create her own artistic style.

Career and exhibitions[edit]

Within just her first year at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts) María Izquierdo participated in four art exhibitions.[7] The first art exhibit opened on November 19, 1928, and was organized by the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts) student union, showcasing three of her paintings: Marina (Seacape), El juicio de Toral (The Trial of Toral) and Cámara con gallo (Camera with Rooster). The exhibition was well attended by those who held prestigious roles at Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts). Gaining praise from art academy leaders like Assistant Secretary of Education, Moisés Sáenz, the crowd was immediately impressed by her talent.[7] Gaining prominence within the art world, Izquierdo's name continued to spread in the years that followed. Diego Rivera described her at her first individual exhibition as "one of the most appealing figures in the art scene in Mexico".[7] He often described her as "one of the best at the academy"[7] and many publications reviewed the 1929 solo exhibition highlighting Rivera exclamation that Izquierdo "was the only real artist with merit" at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts) (Craven).

Izquierdo's art gained international recognition in 1930 when she became the first Mexican woman to have a solo exhibition in the United States.[4] An exhibition funded and organized by Frances Flynn Paine, Izquierdo's works were displayed at the Art Center in New York .[4] While Izquierdo's art was being exhibited in New York, two of her other paintings were a part of René d' Harnoncourt's traveling exhibition. Both the paintings that made up her solo exhibition and were included in René d' Harnoncourt's traveling exhibition, went on to become a part of an extensive exhibition at the Art Center on 56th street for 5 years.[10] Her art was exhibited in New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1940 and that same year was also exhibited in Paris.[11]

Quickly becoming an internationally known artist, Izquierdo hit the peak of her career in the early 1940s. In May 1944 she began serving as the cultural ambassador for Mexico and traveled to several South American countries until late September.[4] Her career, however, hit both a financial and artistic rough patch in the mid-1940s when she had her first stroke. That same year, she lost her commission to paint a cycle of murals in the Palacio del Departamento del Distrito Federal (The District Federal Department) to "Los Tres Grandes". Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and David Siquerios all proclaimed she lacked both talent and experience to complete such a large project. Diego Rivera, the man who once served as her number one supporter, now hindered her career.[4] Izquierdo is well known for rebutting the Mexican muralist actions with her famous quote: "it is a crime to be born a woman and have talent".[12]

Izquierdo later suffered from another stroke and in 1955, she died. Although her last years were some of the most painful in her life, she did not stop painting until she was physically unable.


Classified by some as a surrealist painter, María Izquierdo never identified herself as a surrealist. Still, many of her paintings contain unusual subject matters and interesting juxtapositions. Known for her use of bold, rich, and bright colors, most of Izquierdo's paintings were done using oil paints or watercolor.[4] Although she was and is still often compared to Frida Kahlo because both woman launched their careers at similar times, the two have very individual styles. At the beginning she would paint still life and portraits. She experimented with many different styles and techniques; such as, oil painting, watercolor, still life, and landscape. [13] During her time as Diego Rivera's star pupil, he described her artwork as "proud yet modest". Maria's portraits are mature studies in interpretation, they are stylistically very feminine and unmistakably Mexican.[14] In 1937, reviews of her work began to use words like "primitive" and to define her work as primitivist, these comments gained certain regional isolationism[8].

Subject matter[edit]

Early on, Izquierdo established herself as a painter of still lifes, altars, circus scenes, and portraits of women. Making it a point to tie her art with Mexican popular tradition, Izquierdo pushed back from what many of her peers at Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (Academy of Fine Arts) were doing. Instead of painting political messages, she painted images that held personal meaning and was rooted in Mexican traditions.[4] Images of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Mexican country side, and Catholic saints were common in her paintings.[15] She saw art as communication to the soul and her frequent images of the circus traced back to her memories visiting the circus with her aunt and grandmother in San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco.[4] Her self-portraits often depicted her in traditional Mexican garments, for example Autorretrato (Self Portrait) made in 1940.[7] What is less known is that she often "paints a complex picture of social roles of the modern Mexican Women", specifically the role women play in perpetuating Mexican traditions.[16] Rather, Maria identified with the ideals and aesthetics of the Contemporáneos, they were dedicated to an apolitical Mexicanness or A lo Mexicano and were very critical of the Nationalism Muralists.[14] Growing up, Maria lived with her grandmother and an aunt, as was customary at the time, the women raised Maria around the disciplines of the Catholic Church. Maria's up bringing is characterized by strict adherence to catholic traditions and customs. This is highly represented in her tradition focused narratives which demonstrate scenes like votive shrines. [14]

Izquierdo's canvases have a provincial simplicity, inspired by folk devotional art and French painters such as Henri Matisse and Manet. In particular, they exhibit a "masterly use of colour" and frequently include cupboards, altars, fruit, horses, portraits, and the circus.[17]

View on feminism[edit]

Even though she was a female Mexican artist who painted near the same time as feminist Latin American painters, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, Izquierdo did not identify herself as a feminist.[7] A believer that women should have the chance to explore different professional realms, she also held strong to the traditional family roles instilled in her by her aunt and grandmother.[4] Maria criticized feminism and "pseudo-intellectual" women stating that "they think that bragging outloud makes them better [than men]; but deep inside they are still full of old prejudices and are just covering up with theatrical attitudes for their inferiority complex. I think feminists have not conquered anything for humanity, nor for themselves, and instead of helping women grow (who for so many years have been slaves of everything) they get in the way of emancipation." [8] While her painting, The Jewelry Box, sends a satirical message surrounding the roles of woman roles and her work, Alegoría del trabajo (Allegory of Work) does provoke the idea of female oppression. Her 1940 painting, Mis Sobrinas (My Nieces), shows how much she valued family ties and the female obligation to the family.[15] She often depicted females in a variety of social settings and backgrounds, but only painted herself with her family or alone.[4] She was part of the Contemporáneos, they offered alternative depictions of masculinity as well as offered a different representation of women in modern Mexico. A new "chica moderna" or "modern girl" was developing in Mexico. Izquierdo embraced this new image, often seen in the characteristically dressed in modern clothes, lit cigarette in mouth. In association with the Contemporáneos, the group critiqued the specific ideology of masculinity, the warrior hero had been used to define national identity by the Muralists. The Contemporáneos defined alternative concepts of national identity, resisted the notion of the warrior hero and promoted more comprehensive representations of women. [7]

Later works[edit]

One of the last paintings Izquierdo completed was Sueño y premonición (Dream and Premonition) in 1947.[18] Painting herself holding her own severed head by the hair, the tree branches surrounding her also dangle severed heads. Diminishing figures run along the lower half of the painting while tears fall from her severed head. Although the painting can be interpreted as surrealistic, it's often interpreted as evidence to the suffering she endured in her final years of life.[15]


María Izquierdo's career helped opened the door for many female artists. The Mexican artist's prestige is often compared to that of Marie Laurencin from the School of Paris[19] and although she is not as popularly known as Frida Kahlo, she helped establish a foundation for female artists. Maintaining value in art rooted in traditional Mexican values, Izquierdo's art stood out for its ingenious portrayals of Mexico among an area of highly politicized art.[15]

Further reading[edit]

  • Deffebach, Nancy. María Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo: Challenging Visions in Modern Mexican Art. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-292-77242-7.
  • Deffebach, Nancy. "María Izquierdo: arte puro y mexicanidad." Co-herencia (Medellin) 29 (July /December 2018)
  • Ferrer, Elizabeth (1997). The true poetry : the art of María Izquierdo. New York: Americas Society. ISBN 1-879128-15-2.
  • Greeley, Robin Adèle. "Painting Mexican Identities: Nationalism and Gender in the Work of María Izquierdo." Oxford Art Journal 23, no. 1 (2000) 51-72.
  • Lozano, Luis-Martin (1996). María Izquierdo : 1902-1955. Chicago: Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. ISBN 1-889410-00-4.
  • Tarver, Gina. "Issues of Otherness and Identity in the Works of Izquierdo, Kahlo, Artaud, and Breton". The Latin American Institute: University of New Mexico, April 1996, vol. 27.
  • Celeste Donovan. "Icons Behind Altars: María Izquierdo's Devotional Imagery and the Modern Mexican Catholic Woman". The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts Issue 26 . Published by The Wolfsonian-Florida International University . ISBN 978-1-930776-18-0


  1. ^ Dictionary of women artists. Vol. 1, edited by Delia Gaze. Chicago, Ill.: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.
  2. ^ a b c Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark (2002). Artists from Latin American Cultures: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press. pp. 115–117. ISBN 978-0-313-31544-2. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  3. ^ a b c González, María de Jesus (2004). "María Izquierdo: Portrait of an Artist". Latin Americanist. 47 (3–4): 29–45. doi:10.1111/j.1557-203X.2004.tb00013.x.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ferrer, Elizabeth (1997). The true poetry : the art of María Izquierdo. New York: Americas Society. ISBN 1-879128-15-2.
  5. ^ Pomade, Rita. "Maria Izquierdo- Monumento De La Nacion". Mexconnect.
  6. ^ "About Maria Izquierdo". Surrealist Women Artist. GLCA.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Lozano, Luis-Martin (1996). María Izquierdo : 1902-1955. Chicago: Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. ISBN 1-889410-00-4.
  8. ^ a b c Lozano, Luis-Martin (1996). Maria Izquierdo. Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum Chicago.
  9. ^ Castro, Mark (2016). Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950. Philadelphia Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-87633-271-9.
  10. ^ Stewart, Virginia. 45 Contemporary Mexican Artists.
  11. ^ Benson, Elizabeth. 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits. San Antonio Museum of Art.
  12. ^ Craven, David. Art And Revolution in Latin America, 1910-1990.
  13. ^ "Maria Izquierdo". Clara Database of Women Artist. National Museum of Women in the Arts.
  14. ^ a b c craven, david (2006). Mexican Modern : Masters of the 20th Century. Santa Fe : Museum of New Mexico Press.
  15. ^ a b c d Tarver, Gina (April 1996). "Issues of Otherness and Identity in the Works of Izquierdo, Kahlo, Artaud, and Breton". The Latin American Institute: University of New Mexico (27).
  16. ^ Donovan, Celeste. "Icons Behind Altars: María Izquierdo's Devotional Imagery and the Modern Mexican Catholic Woman". The Wolfsonian-Florida International University. ISBN 978-1-930776-18-0.
  17. ^ Leonor Morales (18 January 2006). "María Izquierdo". Grove Art Online (subscription required). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  18. ^ Fort, Ilene Susan (2012). In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. DelMonico Books, Prestel. p. 225.
  19. ^ Stewart, Virginia. 45 Contemporary Artists.
  • Lucie-Smith, Edward (1993). "6". Latin American Art. Thames and Hudson. pp. 106–108.