SHORT WRITINGS RELATED TO THE MEXICAN MURAL RENAISSANCE, 1920–1925

 

From the Applications to the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for a Grant to Write The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1942 and 1944[1]

 

 

From the 1942 Application

 

Statement of “advanced work etc.”

 

Having taken part in the movement that I propose to write about, I have a close personal acquaintanceship both with the facts and the individuals concerned.  And I understand the problems of the mural painter by personal experience in executing frescos for the Mexican Government.  Also well acquainted with the literature on the subject, both books and periodicals.  I have written numerous articles concerning various angles of the subject and a book that treats of it in part. 

 

 

Plans For Work

 

An examination of source material relating to the beginnings of the Mexican modern mural movement; collation, translation, and commentaries. 

This work is twofold: 

a. The collation and publication of a “corpus” of original documents now disseminated in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, placards, etc., of the period, and difficult to get at; making them available to a much wider public by translating them from Spanish into English. 

b. The use of those documents as a solid basis of truth on which to establish the history of the events that mark the first three years (1921–1924) of the modern Mexican art movement.  Such a history would  avoid subjective interpretations and unsubstantiated guesswork, emphasize chronological sequence and objective facts. 

It would be of practical use for the increasing number of authors who treat of the Mexican modern movement and especially of its beginnings. 

The Mexican modern movement, whatever the worth of its actual achievements, has formulated a genuinely American point of view as concerns art, distinct from the point of view that coincided with European trends, especially those of the School of Paris.  From a national movement it has become of continental scope; for example, the numerous murals painted in the modern idiom on the walls of publicly owned buildings in the United States would probably never have come to be if the Government had not had the example and success of the Mexican Government in dealing with artists as a concrete and successful precedent.  Thus the knowledge of this movement is of more than academic import. 

My participation in this movement as a mural artist has given me an understanding of it from inside, and my labors in the field of Mexican archaeology have helped me to understand the traditions that lie behind modern Mexican art. 

Started as a book of clippings in 1922, the number of documents already at hand is approximately two hundred; a number of items will have to be looked for either by this writer or by a proxy in Mexico itself.  Much has already been found in the public library in New York and the Congressional Library in Washington, and the translation has been started. 

Sheed and Ward, the publishers of my book “From the Mayans to Disney,” have first option on the resulting book that, given a general interest in its subject matter, will have, I am sure, no difficulty in getting into print. 

As stated before, the work has been already begun, though informally, and would take between one to two years to reach its conclusion. 

 

 

 

From the 1944 Application

 

 

STATEMENT OF ADVANCED WORK

 

The knowledge I have of art and writing does not come from academic study but from actual experience, especially as concerns Mexico.  I took a pioneering part in the movement that I propose to write about and have close personal acquaintance both with the facts and with the individuals concerned. 

My knowledge of the Mexican art tradition, important for the correct evaluation of its contemporary output, comes from actual participation in archeological expeditions.  I know the problems of the mural painter from the inside, having executed frescos for the Mexican Government as well as in the United States. 

I am well acquainted with the literature on the subject, both books and periodicals, in Spanish, French, and English.

I published over a period of twenty years articles dealing with special phases of Mexican art, and a book in English that deals in part with the subject, and feel well prepared to attempt a total survey. 

 

 

ESTIMATED BUDGET FOR PERIOD OF FELLOWSHIP

 

ESTIMATED EXPENDITURES:

Approx. 4 months living expenses in Mexico ..................$800

Traveling expenses for myself and family (4) ...................700

Trips in Mexico:

Mexico City 

Orizaba (Orozco mural) 

Guadalajara (Carlos Orozco, Clemente Orozco, and Amado de la Cueva murals)

Celaya (mural by Tres Guerras)

Tenanzingo, Puebla, etc. (folk murals)

Epasoyuca, Acolman, etc. (colonial murals)...........300 

 

Approx. 8 months of writing either in Mexico or U.S. 

 

Books and other necessary supplies

 

Books covering Mexican art 1920–25, such as Tablada’s “History of Mexican Art” published 1927, Acevedo’s “Disertaciones” published 1920, original edition of “Popular Arts” by Atl published 1921, Cubas’ “Diccionario Geografico Historico…,” etc.

Collection of the art magazine “Azulejos,” of the Syndicate newspaper “El Machete.”  Pertinent numbers of “La Falange,” “El Maestro,” “El Architecto,” and popular magazines “Revista de Revistas” and  “El Universal Ilustrado.”

 ……………………….........................................................300

Collation of letters, diaries covering the period, and copies of legal documents, contracts, etc.

.……………………………………………………….……....50 

 

Expenses on text and illustrations: 

 

Stenographic help ..................................................................200 

Illustrations: photographs to be bought from different sources, newspaper morgues, etc., photographs to be duplicated and restored..…………...100 

Photographs to be made from original murals not yet reproduced.  Photographs of details chosen for their technical or historical interest.  Line drawings, diagrams to be made, and photostats from magazines and newspapers, posters, pamphlets, etc. .…………………………………………………………..…250

 

                                                                                                                                                    TOTAL   $2700

 

 

This application covers the expense of the trip to Mexico and living expenses there.  Also other expenses needed towards the completion of the book.  But it does not include living expenses in the United States within the time covered by the grant.  Those would be taken care of by my teaching salary and occasional sale of pictures, if any. 

Fellowship stipend applied for...............$2500 

 

 

Signature: Jean Charlot

 

 

 PLANS FOR WORK[2]

A history of the beginnings of the modern Mexican mural movement including an examination of source material never translated into English before.  Special emphasis on the formative years in the work of Orozco, Siqueiros, and Rivera, and on the relationship between government and artists, and a description of the milieu in which they worked. 

This work is twofold: 

1.  The collation and publication of a “corpus” of original documents now disseminated in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, placards, etc., of the period; making them available to a much wider public for the first time by translating them from Spanish into English.

 2.  The use of these documents as an objective basis of truth to establish the history of the events that mark the first three years (1921–1924) of the modern Mexican art movement.  Such a history would emphasize chronology and factual sequence. 

The Mexican modern art movement has formulated a genuinely American point of view as concerns art, distinct from the point of view that reflected European trends, especially those of the School of Paris.  From a national movement it has become continental in scope.  For example, the numerous murals painted in the modern idiom on the walls of publicly-owned buildings in the United States would probably never have come to be if our government had not had the example and success of the Mexican Government in dealing with artists as a concrete and successful precedent.  Thus the knowledge of this movement is of more than academic import. 

This research started as a book of clippings in 1922.  Additional material came from the New York Public Library, the Congressional Library,[3] and the excellent Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California.  It now appears that further items can be found only in Mexico.

If awarded a fellowship I would be able to continue this research in Mexico and take the necessary time for writing, a work carried on up to now under conflicting conditions. 

The subject matter of the book is of sufficient public interest to warrant publication by a commercial firm.  Sheed and Ward, the publishers of my book Art from the Mayans to Disney, would have first option. 

 

“MEXICAN MURALS”

Introduction

To write about a movement in which the author has taken [an] active part gives a certain vividness to the style, but one must avoid too subjective an approach and personalized estimates of people.  In this book all facts are based on source material, contemporary clippings, handbills, and much unpublished material.  Chronological sequence is stressed to attain a correct estimate of stylistic evolution.  The aim is to reconstruct the milieu that bred the movement, the exciting era attendant to the making of the murals, rather than to procure a final critical estimate of the work as it stands today.  Special attention is paid to murals now destroyed and to documents that touch on the “life and times” of the painters. 

 

Chap. I

Mexican Indian Mural Tradition

The great murals painted from the IIIrd to the IXth Century by the Mayans of the southern empire, reflected in the painting of figured vases.  Frescoes on the walls of temples in North Yucatan, with special reference to the Temple of the Tigers and that of the Warriors, Chichen Itza.  Unpublished tracings by the author.  Toltec and Aztec remains.  

 

Chap. II

Hispanic Mexican Mural Tradition

Church murals, with special reference to the last of the great religious fresco decorations, that of Tresguerras in Celaya, 1810.  Quotes from his unpublished papers kept at San Carlos Academy.

 

Chap. III

Folk Tradition

Analysis of its influence on the Nationalist movement and on the muralists. 

Retablos.  Ex-voto painting first despised and then lauded.  Quotes from a 1922 appreciation by Diego Rivera. 

Graphic Arts.  Mainly Posada’s work.  Source material gathered in 1924 while I was working on a catalogue raisonné of his prints, not yet concluded. 

Folk murals.  Mainly pulqueria painting as understood and appreciated by pioneer muralists. 

 

Chap. IV

“Deus ex Machina”

A short biography of Vasconcelos, the man responsible for the commissioning of the murals, episodes of his life as revolutionary and political exile.  An appraisal of the reasons that led him to sponsor artists on such a scale.  His esthetic philosophy expounded in his 1916 Pythagoras. 

 

Chap. V

Nationalism

European imported art only one seriously considered under Diaz. 

The San Carlos Academy teachings under Fabres, when Orozco and Rivera were art students.

Changes brought by the revolution.

Ramos Martinez.  His 1920 reforms in art teaching.  The open air school of Coyoacan.

Adolpho Best Maugard.  His drawing system of seven elements related to Indian and Folk arts.  First show of folk arts held in 1922. 

Montenegro.  Receives the first mural commission in June 1921.  His Dance of the Hours and contemporary criticisms. 

 

Chap. VI

Prophets of the Mural Movement

Independent artists.  Clausel, Goitia.

Manifestoes forecasting the movement.  That of Atl as Director of San Carlos in 1914.  Catalogue and one man show of Carlos Merida in 1920.

Manifesto published in Spain in 1921 in Vida Americana by Siqueiros.

The San Carlos show of 1921 and artistic trends at the time. 

Lozano, an artist dissenting from the muralists. 

 

Chap. VII

The Preparatoria School

History of the first building to be decorated by the group.

The mural of Juan Cordero, 1874.

The revolutionary period.

Vasconcelos as director of the school and his attempted lynching.

Against this background, erection of the first scaffolds, painting of the first murals, public reaction pro and con.

 

Chap. VIII

Rivera Returns

Flashback to his show of 1911. 

His landing in 1921, returning from Europe.  His self-appointed task as critic.  His trip to Yucatan, an important experience. 

His first mural Creation, 1922–23.  Contemporary description of the work in course. 

His workshop with Guerrero, Merida, Charlot, de la Cueva.

 

Chap. IX

The First Fresco

Charlot and Mexico.  Diary entries concerning the fresco, Massacre of the Templo Mayor.  Its date.  Contemporary criticisms.  Later history. 

 

Chap. X

Rivera’s Creation

Rivera’s own description of the work written [in] 1922.

His trip to Tehuantepec. 

Unveiling of Creation in 1923 with a flashback to the opening of the National University in 1910.  Banquet given by the Syndicate to Rivera.  Place of the work in modern art.  Contemporary opinions pro and con.

 

Chap. XI

Preparatoria Murals, 1923

Alva’s Planting of the Cross.

Revueltas’ Virgin of Guadalupe. 

Leal’s Dance at Chalma.

 

Chap. XII

Orozco’s Pre-Mural Period

Artistic beginnings.  Posada and the Academy of Fine Arts.

Orozco and the Mexican Revolution.  Dating anew the Mexico in Revolution series.

His 1916 show.  Contemporary criticisms.  Tablada’s “Orozco the Mexican Goya.”  Role of Walter Pach and Tablada in helping Orozco to get his first mural commission.

 

Chap. XIII

Ministry of Education. First Patio

Vasconcelos builds his Ministry.  Inauguration speech describing future murals. 

First Rivera murals in the first patio are also his first frescoes. 

“The secret of the Mexica.”  Contemporary descriptions and reactions.

 

Chap. XIV

Ministry of Education. Second Patio

Murals begun by de la Cueva, Guerrero, and Charlot.  How the work in course was stopped and the murals partially destroyed.  Importance of this work for the formation of the Mexican style. 

 

Chap. XV

Group Shows and Press Campaign, 1923

The 1922 Art in Action group show organized by Dr. Atl in Mexico City.

The 1923 group show at the New York Independents, invited by Walter Pach. 

First United States’ estimates of the movement by Thomas Craven and others.  Mexico’s dismay at New York’s indifference results in adverse press campaign.  Tablada defends the painters. 

 

Chap. XVI

Other Murals in San Pedro y Pablo

Vicissitudes of the building through history.  Its reconstruction by Vasconcelos. 

Murals by Dr. Atl.  Contemporary description. 

Fresco by Montenegro, The Feast of the Cross.  Documents that permit exact dating. 

 

Chap. XVII

Arrival of Siqueiros

His artistic beginnings.  The students strike at San Carlos Academy in 1913.  The open-air group of Santa Anita.

Soldiering in Orizaba, staff attaché to General Dieguez, foe of Villa.

Military attaché at the Paris embassy.  Trip to Italy with de la Cueva. 

Last Parisian works and first Mexican works.  Interest in pulqueria painting.

Frescoes in the Preparatoria.  Presidential order suspending the work and its partial destruction. 

His esthetic tenets as expressed in the writings of “Engineer Juan Hernandez Arraujo.” [sic]

 

Chap. XVIII

Activities of the Syndicate

Foundation of the Syndicate by Siqueiros and others. 

Posters, handbills, manifestoes.  Publication of The Machete.

List of collaborators and digest of contents.  A catalogue of its illustrations, woodcuts, etc.

 

Chap. XIX

Orozco’s First Mural

Belated start in a milieu different from that of the earlier muralists.

Unpublished writings in which Orozco expounds his 1923 theories on art and describes in detail future murals.

Contemporary reaction to the murals.  Discarded versions; destroyed and modified murals.  Attempt at a graphic reconstruction.

Orozco and religious art.

 

Chap. XX

Direct Action

Political roots of direct action.  First incident, the destruction of the dental palace of Dr. Islas.  Second incident, the mutilation of the frescoes of Orozco and Siqueiros.  The work is stopped as Vasconcelos resigns.

 

Chap. XXI

Press Campaign 1924

Controversy started by the direct action incident.

Rivera turns against the painters and resigns from the Syndicate.

 

Chap. XXII

Exit Vasconcelos Enter Puig Casauranc

Dinner given to Vasconcelos before his departure.  Chavez incident.

Vasconcelos runs for Governor of his native State, Oaxaca.  Press excerpts. 

Rivera fresco in the staircase of the Ministry; its mutilation.  The new Secretary of Education, Puig Casauranc, endorses Rivera’s work.

 

Chap. XXIII

Characteristics of the Mexican Style

Regardless of differing moods and personalities, the artists of the movement had much in common.  An attempt at defining this common denominator, known today as the Mexican style.  

 

Chap. XXIV

Mexican Apport to Modern Art

The painters acknowledged their debt to Europe, to the School of Paris in particular.  They in turn proposed new values that transcended the national frontiers.  Technical and esthetic forms in the art of today that can be traced to them. 

 

Chap. XXV

Mexican Art Today, Its Future

Epilogue: The same artists in their present evolution.

Stylistic and iconographic prolongations and departures. 

 

 

 

Author’s Information Sheet for Purposes of Publicity and Copyright[4]

 

In Mexico, the revolution started in 1910 stabilized itself into a new order ca. 1920.  One of its aftermaths was a rebirth of mural painting, specifically embodied in the craft of true fresco.

While attempting to speak to the people at large with visual displays on public walls, the Mexican muralist found himself in a different situation from that of the easel painter.  He felt close to the mural masters of the past, Giotto and Francesca, Raphael and Lebrun [sic].  In contrast, he felt apart from his contemporaries of the School of Paris, whose work was cut to fit very different psychological and esthetic specifications. 

The Mexican Renaissance is accepted as an historical event.  It created a national and racial expression endowed with a style specifically Mexican, regardless of subject-matter.  One of the handful of men who evolved the new idiom in the nineteen twenties was Jean Charlot.  This book is different from others that treat of the same subject because its point of view is that of an insider.  An art book thus written is bound to include details usually bypassed or relegated to a discreet background.  Charlot fortified his memory of the events by patient delvings into private papers and government archives, a research made possible by a Guggenheim fellowship that lasted two years. 

The opening chapters of the book display, as an indispensable curtain raiser, the story of the centuries-old mural tradition in its pre-Hispanic and colonial phases.

It is in the five years 1920-24 that most of the lineaments of the new mural art were decided upon, and the pioneer mural work of these five years is reviewed extensively.  The order in which the artists appear in the text is the same one in which they emerged in their new role as muralists.  A few names are already well known to English speaking readers.  Others will be new to most, even for men well informed in matters of art.

Perhaps what gives organic cohesion to this book, that weaves factual research with living memories, is the fact that in his excursion into the near past Charlot was recapturing for himself the flavor of his own youth.  Even though he uses strict objective methods, he tells of his researches with the warmth that one reserves for personal memoirs. 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Previously unpublished.  From the archives of the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, copies in the JCC.  In these and the following writings, I have edited minimally for punctuation and spelling, leaving irregular capitals and not supplying accents.

[2] An unpublished six-page typescript in the Jean Charlot Collection, Hamilton Library, University of Hawai`i. 

[3] The Library of Congress [ed.]. 

[4] N.d., ca. April 1961.  Written for the Yale University Press, previously unpublished.