Last week, Google's search start page celebrated the anniversary of Saturnino Herran's birth.
Who, you ask, is Saturnino Herrán? ¡Qué lastima que ustedes no conzcan a Saturnino Herrán! How terribly sad that you don't know him! I could simply say he was a Mexican painter, from the State and City of Aguascalientes who was born in 1887 and died in 1918.
In truth, like many of the great, creative artists of his time, Herrán was part of the brilliantly colored, badly stained and tattered tapestry that comprised the first two decades of the twentieth century in Mexico. He was born and grew up into a painter during the Porfiriato, the rule of Porfirio Díaz, which lasted from 1876-1880 and 1884 to 1911, a period which marked the Mexico's changing from a country based on all kinds of traditions and mostly rural to one that was more urban and industrialized and outward-looking. Coming after the chaotic years following Mexico's independence from Spain, the order it represented was probably welcomed by some. In fact, while benefitting the rich and making them richer both inside Mexico and outside of it, Diaz´s rule caused massive suffering among the poor (the 99 %). Americans would benefit from learning about the Porfiriato because not unlike the US today, profits and economic success and technological advancement came at the expense of the many and was justified ideoogically. And led to Revolution.
Mexican artists and writers, much more than American, take part in the turbulence of the political and civic life of their times. This is really important to understand. They were influenced by and influenced (and continue to) the thought and lives of their compatriots and are and were influenced by ideas both within and without Mexico. While the Porfirian ideas of Positivism dominated the government and its policies, many other ideas were swirling.
In Mexico City, the Academy and formalism had dominated art instruction for quite some time, but there were many currents coming together to change that at the turn of the century. In Herrán we can see these currents: Spanish, French, impressionist, Arte Nouveau. More important even, we can see Herran's identification with his country, a mix of indigenous and rural and sophisticated and urban and European. It has been suggested that he is among the new nationalists of the period, showing that the indigenous and Spanish threads had become intertwined in the mix that is Mexico.
Below, some of his work.
First, from the countryside. In earlier times, paintings of campesinos and indigenous people were often called "costumbrista" and the faces looked more indigenous and the paintings more formalized. In Herrán's work, the faces are often more mestizo and more individual.
Young girl with a calabaza.
El Ciego (The Blind Man)
El Bebedor (The Drinkeer)
His wife, Rosario Arrellano, served as a model.
Here she is in a more urban kind of costume, with Spanish influence.
Nudes and almost nudes interested Herrán, and he painted many, both just as paintings and with iindigenous themes.
This is one example. I think it is called The Gods.
And another, called The Archer.
Toward the end of his life, Herrán undertook to paint a religious triptych which showed the mixing of indigenous and Spanish gods in the center panel. Altough he did not live to finish it, the sketches and preliminary paintings that endure are impressive.
In the first pane, there are Indigenas bringing offerings.
This is possible an earlier version of a detail of the Indigenas.
In the third are the Spaniards
I find this an incredible and moving image. Herran merges the indigenous Coatlicue, the mother of the gods, with the crucified Jesus.
You can find a great many of Herran's paintings on line. I would like to find more about what he himself thought and believed. It is easier to do this with a writer! Mexico has a great and growing tradition of art.