Though the internet has greatly facilitated the exchange of cultural information between nations in recent decades, there are still large gaps in the general awareness of art between some nations.
With the exception of one famous couple, few painters from Mexico are well known here in the U.S. — despite its proximity and rich cultural history.
A reader was kind enough to bring to my attention the terrific 19th century Mexican painter and illustrator, Saturnino Herrán, for whom I had only previously seen one painting.
Saturnino studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos in Mexico City. Diego Revera and Roberto Montenegro also studied there at about the same time, but I don’t know if Herrán was acquainted with them.
Herrán later became a professor at the Academy. He also was a book and natural history illustrator.
His major painting influences seemed to be from Spain and Catalan, as well as a number of European Symbolists, and he brought those sensibilities to the portrayal of Mexican subjects.
Herrán had a particular fascination with the Mexican indigenous cultures, and was working on plans for a large scale mural called “The Gods” (or “Our Gods” — I’m not certain) at the time of his premature death at 31 from an illness.
Unfortunately, I can’t find as many sources for Herrán’s work as I would like, and many of them repeat some of the same images. One of them, however, is a high resolution image of his stunning painting The Offering on the Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons (image above, top, with detail).
Some of Herrán’s contemporaries criticized his style, calling his paintings “painted drawings”, but I think it is his superb draftsmanship of the human figure that provides the strength of his best work. His drawings are notably strong as well. (In some of them, particularly his preparatory mural drawings, he reminds me of the terrific American illustrator Dean Cornwell.)
There are a couple of out of print Spanish language books on Herrán that appear to be rare and expensive, but may be worth keeping an eye out for in used book sources.
[Suggestion courtesy of Lucía Cano]