Category Archives: XX Century Art

Manuel Who?

Manuel Rodriguez Lozano (1896-1971) is finally getting his 15-minutes of fame!  The MUNAL (Mexico’s National Museum of Art) has put together a 125-piece exhibit entitled “Manuel Rodriguez Lozano: Thought and Painting 1922-1958,” marking the 40th anniversary of the death of this lesser known Mexican painter. 

In my humble opinion, a show dedicated to Rodriguez Lozano is long overdue.  Best known for his eerie, elongated, asexual figures, frequently painted in shades of blue or white (depending on the period), Rodriguez Lozano’s work is somewhat reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s earlier style.  The predominant aura of his paintings is often melancholic and desolate, with scenes of abandoned women and stark, ominous settings, in striking contrast to his earlier works emphasizing intense colors.  Having shunned the muralist movement in Mexico at its height, this artist became an outcast, although he eventually did paint a few long forgotten murals, including “The Holocaust”  in the home of the Count of Miravalle, currently inaccessible.  See my photo below taken before it became off limits due to a major remodeling (rumor has it that this viceregal building is being converted into a small boutique hotel!) .

Rodriguez Lozano had a complicated, sordid life as did many artists of his time.  He was, surprisingly, a military man by early training.  He met Carmen Mondragon, a.k.a. “Nahui Ollin” (as she is better known today) when she was living in Europe with her family.  Carmen Mondragon’s father was a Mexican military officer, active in the Mexican Revolution, who was forced into exile (taking refuge in Belgium) following President Madero’s assassination.  He became famous for inventing and patenting a semi-automatic and automatic rifle which bears his name.  So, it was in Europe that Manuel was introduced to Carmen, as well as  to the avant-garde art movement which was at its pinnacle.  The two self-taught painter eventually returned to Mexico, where they became famous, or better put – infamous, due to their exuberant personalities, lifestyles, and certainly their art work.

Nahui Ollin, a painter, poetess and artist of exceptional beauty, had the misfortune of being too liberal  for her times (more on her in another blog).  That, coupled with Rodriguez Lozano’s bi-sexual preferences leaning more in the direction of homosexuality as time progressed, destined their marriage for failure.  Despite overt preludes from Antonieta Rivas Mercado, a well known contemporary patroness of the arts, he chose a long term relationship with painter-teacher Abraham Angel, which ended with the latter’s tragic death (suicide?) from a drug overdose.

Rodriguez Lozano also held the position as Director of the Art School of the National University, and was eventually imprisoned for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was set up by opponents when several Albert Durer prints were stolen from the college.  Held responsible as Director, he ended up in Lecumberri Penitentiary, nicknamed  “the Black Palace,” where he painted a mural entitled “Piety in the Desert,”  currently on permanent display at the Palace of Fine Arts.   The Durer prints, by the way, eventually surfaced in the mid 1960s.


Rodriguez Lozano’s peculiar, non-academic style, is labeled as as “primitivism”  or “fauvism” in this exhibit.  His favorite themes – his colleagues better known as  “Los Contemporáneos” and Mexican related scenes – are showcased in this collection, many of which are on display to the general public for the first time, on loan from private collections.  That alone makes this exhibit worth a visit, since there probably won’t be another opportunity to see them all together again, or even view them once they go back to their owners.

It is about time that Rodriguez Lozano is the subject of an individual show.  He deserves credit for his works, the majority of which remain fresh and relevant for modern tastes – which ironically, is more than can be said for the works of many of his contemporary muralists!