If You Like Frida Kahlo, You'll Love María Izquierdo

These two mid-century Mexican painters combined modernism with folk art

By Google Arts & Culture

Weeping Coconuts (Cocos gimientes) (1951) by Frida KahloLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is, without a doubt, Mexico's most famous artist. Living between 1907 and 1954, she produced many portraits, self portraits, and still lifes inspired by the history and sights of Mexico.

She adopted a visual style that mixed Surrealism with folk art. Nature combined with fantasy to produce images that made statements on identity, gender, class, and race in post-revolutionary Mexican society.

This 1951 painting Weeping Coconuts is typical of Kahlo's still lifes. At first glance, it appears to be simply a pile of native fruits. But the title, the small flag, and the eerily skull-like coconuts suggest all is not as it seems.

A single tear falls from each 'eye' of a coconut. But why it weeps is debated. Some have suggested that they express Kahlo's frustration with her chronic pain and ailing body - the result of a catastrophic traffic accident in her youth.

Others have noted the inclusion of the miniature national flag, and suggest a political reading. Kahlo was a committed communist and campaigned for many national and international causes. In this view, the coconuts weep for the people and nation of Mexico.

Sorrowful Friday (1944-1945) by María IzquierdoColección Blaisten

María Izquierdo

María Izquierdo was a compatriot of Frida Kahlo, and a direct contemporary - she was born in 1902 and died in 1955 - and like Kahlo, merged traditional Mexican art with European-style modernism.

Despite their numerous similarities, and the fact that Izquierdo was taught by Diego Rivera, the two artists worked in separate circles, and are not known to have met.

Sorrowful Friday, 1945

This painting, Sorrowful Friday, depicts an altar dedicated to the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an important event in the Catholic calendar. Over two days, the spiritual martyrdom of the mother of God is commemorated.

Izquierdo painted numerous altars, but by the 1940s the practice was dying out and, in any case, she never made altars in her own home. She seems to have based her these anachronistic images on altars she remembered from childhood and ones she drew from her imagination.

That said, this painting details the customary offerings, including wheat sprouts in painted ceramic pots, flowers, candles, and oranges pierced with confetti flags.

It's easy to draw comparisons between the style of this work and of Kahlo's. Izquierdo uses loose brush strokes to make simple shapes - perfectly spherical fruits, stiff flags, and the plain face of the Virgin - all in rich, contrasting colors.

The image has almost no depth to it. The offerings appear to be stacked on the table, rather than laid on it. The only hint of space is made by the trompe l'oeil curtains that enclose the picture space. The same pictorial device used in many renaissance-era paintings.

This painting is an image that recalls Izquierdo's childhood memories, but it's also an image that reflects on the roles that women play in Mexican society.

The subject of the painting, the Virgin, representing the role of women in the traditional religious upbringing. The style of painting, modern and ironically naive, representing modern, educated, artistic women - such as María Izquierdo herself.

The Idyll (1946) by María IzquierdoColección Blaisten

If you enjoyed María Izquierdo's Sorrowful Friday then why not take a look at more of her works, such as her 1946 painting The Idyll. This strange composition places two lovers and a statue of Venus in the middle of a bizarre, leafless wood - hardly an idyll.

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