Louvre hails Mexican school
Paris museum is on a mission to collect Latin American art—and a show of colonial-era paintings is the overture
By Gareth Harris. Museums, Issue 244, March 2013
Published online: 06 March 2013
The Louvre plans to widen its geographical remit and acquire more paintings by Latin American artists, starting with the Mexican school. The Paris museum has just one work by a 17th-century Mexican artist in its collection: José Sanchez’s The Visitation, around 1680, which was donated to the museum by a French collector in 2004.
“Mexican paintings are not that rare on the market, but their quality is often poor. As we won’t purchase more than three or four paintings to represent the whole school, we must be very selective,” says Guillaume Kientz, a curator in the Louvre’s paintings department. Along with Jonathan Brown, a professor at New York’s Institute of Fine Arts, he is organising the exhibition “Mexican Art at the Louvre: Masterpieces from the 17th and 18th Centuries” (7 March-7 June), which features 11 works.
Ten of the works due to go on show are drawn from Mexican museums and public collections, including the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City. Sanchez’s work is also included in the exhibition, which is backed by the non-profit Fomento Cultural Banamex.
“I think the public will be impressed by the large size of some of the works, such as paintings by Cristóbal de Villalpando [The Flood, 1689, and The Lactation of Saint Dominic, 1684-95] and Juan Rodriguez Juárez [Flight from Egypt, around 1720], and by their pictorial boldness,” Kientz says. He adds that the museum hopes to acquire works by almost all of the featured artists. “I am especially interested in the works of Cristóbal de Villalpando and Miguel Cabrera,” he says.
The works will be displayed among Spanish paintings of the same period that are shown as part of the permanent collection. “The comparison between Juárez and Francisco de Zurbarán or Bartolomé Esteban Murillo is very appealing, but at the same time, there are differences that demonstrate the [individual] artistic identity of the Mexican school,” Kientz says.
Sarah Schroth, the interim director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in North Carolina, welcomes the Louvre’s interest in Latin American art of the colonial era. She says: “The juxtaposition of the Mexican paintings with Spanish works in the Louvre exhibition reflects Jonathan Brown’s belief that the path towards understanding art from the New World is knowledge of the original sources used by the Mexican painters, mainly Flemish prints and Spanish paintings exported to the colonies.”
The book accompanying the exhibition provides an overview of the major Latin American works in French museums. It is based on research by the Louvre and the Paris-based Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art.
The show signals a rapprochement between the French and Mexican governments after the debacle of 2011, when 360 events forming “The Year of Mexico in France” were cancelled. The then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, took umbrage when an appeals court in Mexico upheld the conviction of Florence Cassez, a French woman who was sentenced in 2007 to 60 years in prison for kidnapping, carried out while she was a member of the Los Zodiaco gang—something she denies. Cassez was freed at the end of January after the Supreme Court ruled that her rights had been violated.
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