Unknown Artist, "Portrait of a Woman Wearing a Shawl," 2nd half of 19th C.
In the past year we've made a decision not to run around too much when traveling -- to do one big thing a day, but not get exhausted trying to do several. Just getting around in such a vast city takes both time and effort (our pedometer shows us that we walked and biked an average of 13-14 daily miles, sometimes as much as 20 in a day; we covered 185 miles in two weeks.) The pattern we developed was to make a substantial breakfast -- yogurt, whole grain cereal, fruit, sometimes eggs and bread -- in our apartment, and spend the first few hours of the day on correspondence, writing, working on pictures we'd taken, drawing, consulting maps and internet and making plans for the day. Then we usually took off by bike or metro or foot in the late morning for whatever destination we'd chosen, either packing a lunch or planning to eat a midday meal out, as many Mexicans do, in mid-afternoon. Depending on that, we'd either come back and cook a late dinner (or a light meal) at the apartment, or eat out, usually in the neighborhood where we were staying, and then have some time to read, shower, and relax. At this time of the year, Mexico City, at 7,000 feet, is still very temperate and pleasant - it never got hotter than the mid 70s (22 degrees C), often rained a little around 4 or 5 pm, and was quite cool at night and in the early morning.
One of the main reasons we go to Mexico City - this was our fifth trip - is to be immersed in a culture that has valued art and design throughout its history, from the pre-Colombian right through the present. On our first full day, we decided to go to the Museo Nacional de Arte. We've been before, but there are always special exhibitions -- and we also wanted to revisit their collection of 19th century landscape paintings by Jose Maria Velasco, who really began the Mexican landscape tradition, and whose work shows what the Valley of Mexico was like before the city filled it and pollution obscured the mountains that ring the valley. (There's a post about this from last year, called "The Air We Breathe.")
This time we saw two small special exhibitions that I thought were excellent. The first was a show of portraits of women by self-taught painters - some folkloric, some highly accomplished - including my favorite, the portrait at the top of this post. Here are some others:
Jose Maria Estrada, "Portrait of the girl Manuela Gutierrez," 1836.
I don't have the name of the artist: this painting shows the death of the matriarch of a family.
The second exhibition showed small sculptures of women, and included a couple of prints about the work of sculpture itself: as a relief-printmaker, I would be pleased and inspired over the next two weeks to see a number of master-works by Mexican linocut and woodcut artists in various exhibitions.
Mardonio Magnaña, "Baptism," 2nd quarter of 20th C., stone
Hollow Female Figure, Seated (Maternity Figure), 6th-10th C., clay
Romulo Rozo, "The Mestiza," 1936, bronze
Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma, "Sculpture and Direct Carving," woodcut, c. 1928.
These strong portraits of women, in paintings and sculpture, stayed with me, especially during "International Women's Day", an observance I find extremely offensive in its encapsulation -- can anyone imagine an "International Men's Day?" However, that day turned out to be very interesting in Mexico City, so stay tuned!