Times & Places

Mexico: Art Before the Mexican Revolution (1865-1910)

Background

In the second half of the 19th century, Mexican Academic painting adopted the modern styles of romanticism and realism. Painters Tiburcio Sánchez and José M. Jara are representative of this period with the rise of the costumbrismo movement, which presented scenes of local daily life and group portraits of powerful families. Their work contains the figurative canons of the time: elegant children in bucolic garden settings and the baroque chapel as a secluded retreat. The treatment of facial features, clothing, and accessories makes these works the very expression of naturalism: personification, colors, and atmospheric lighting. The portrayal of contrasting realities lays bare a racially, economically, and culturally diverse Mexico. Jara’s El Velorio was associated with the principles of French realism and won a bronze medal at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889 as one of the paintings presented in the Mexican Pavilion.

Shades of Symbolism

The National School of Fine Arts, previously known as the Academy of San Carlos, underwent reform in 1897 and 1903, along with other educational institutions. Events such as the arrival of Antonio Rivas Mercado as its director and the creation of the Secretariat of Public Instruction and Fine Arts in 1905 fostered the Academy’s modernization and improved the education of promising young Mexican artists, such as Diego Rivera, Saturnino Herrán, Roberto Montenegro, Ángel Zárraga, and Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo). These artists renewed the iconographic and landscape motifs of the 19th century through vanguard movements such as realism, decadentism, symbolism, neo-impressionism, and art nouveau. The lessons of young teachers such as Julio Ruelas and Germán Gedovius were significant, bringing to the Academy their experiences at the heart of German symbolism. In step with the rhythm of international modernism, these Mexican artists sought to develop subjects that revolved around national archetypes.

Art Before the Mexican Revolution

The roots of modern aesthetic language in Mexico lie in the previous century. In 1867, the government of the Restored Republic saw the need to unify and justify a relatively new state by promoting a shared history and sanctioning specific artistic genres, including historical subject matter, portraiture, and costumbrismo. This aimed to provide legitimacy to all populations. At the same time, efforts were made to gain recognition for Mexico within the international art nouveau and symbolist movements popular in Europe. Julio Ruelas was one of the great representatives of these modernist trends. The Academy provided its most promising artists with a wide range of artistic education and training and sponsored grand tours through Europe. During these journeys, artists contributed to and reinterpreted European avant-garde movements. This is especially evident in Diego Rivera’s and Angel Zárraga’s interest in cubism—to which they added their own touches—and their subsequent return to pictorial order, which reflected international trends.

Adapted from

  • México 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant Garde, Gallery text [Art Before the Mexican Revolution; Background; Shades of Symbolism], 2017.

Related Multimedia

Audio files
Audio Files
Audio files
Audio Files
more tags

Web Resources

  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about Latin American art.
  • Khan Academy
    Read more about early scientific exploration in Latin America in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about costumbrismo.
  • Khan Academy
    Read more about the Academy of San Carlos.
  • Khan Academy
    Read about modernism from 1850 to 1960.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about romanticism, neoclassicism and monumentality in 18th and 19th century Mexican art.
  • Khan Academy
    Read about romanticism and 19th century stylistic developments.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about romanticism in France.
  • Khan Academy
    Read about realism and the painting of modern life.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more impressionism.
  • Khan Academy
    Read more about fauvism.
  • Khan Academy
    Watch a video with Curator Alison Smith as she explores art from 1840-1890 at the Tate.
  • Khan Academy
    Watch a video with Curator Carol Jacobi as she explores art from 1890-1910 at the Tate.