Despite being overshadowed by Frida Kahlo, María Izquierdo is one of the most important modern Mexican artists.
María Cenobia Izquierdo Gutiérrez was born in 1902 in Jalisco. Her father died when she was a child, and she moved to Torreón with her mother. When her mom remarried, María was raised by her grandparents and other family members in small towns throughout Northern Mexico. She grew up in devout Catholicism and much of her life revolved around Catholic traditions.
At age 14, she wed army officer Colonel Cándido Posadas in an arranged marriage. By age 17, she had given birth to three children. In 1923, the family moved to Mexico City. She spent much of her time alone teaching herself art techniques, and decided to fully pursue her passion once in Mexico City. She arrived in the city just as the Mexican Revolution was ending which brought sweeping changes to the values and culture of Mexico. She started a magazine called Contemporáneos with a group of friends who shared her beliefs in intellectualism and keeping Mexico open to international influence. María was inspired by the emphasis on upholding and renewing the traditional Mexican culture and beliefs.
By 1928, her marriage was over and María divorced her husband. She studied art at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes under Diego Rivera and Ruffino Tamayo. It is rumored that she and Tamayo were lovahs.
María was one of Rivera’s favorite students, and she received scorn and hostility from her peers because of his adoration. In a solo exhibition in 1929, she was declared the only “real artist with merit” at the academy. She left the school in 1931 after being frustrated with her peers and the increasing focus on the schools’ belief that art’s primary value was for political change.
In 1930, she was invited by Franes Flynn Paine to have her works displayed in New York. María became the first Mexican woman to have a solo exhibition in the United States. Her art was also displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and in Paris in 1940.
María and Tamayo shared a studio for four years, and during their time together he exposed her to painting with watercolors. They shared a similar color palette preference, and both believed that art should be a poetic outlet as opposed a political one. In 1934, María used the techniques she learned from Tamayo to establish her own artistic style.
María’s career peaked in the early 1940s, and by 1944 she was serving as a cultural ambassador in South America. Sadly, around the same time, she suffered her first stroke. She experienced further difficulty when she lost the opportunity to paint a cycle of murals in Mexico City to Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and David Siquerios. Despite Rivera being her greatest champion at one point, he joined the other men in proclaiming that she lacked the experience and talent for the project.
María was PISSED and said of the men, “it is a crime to be born a woman and have talent.”
Tragically, María suffered another stroke in 1955 and died. She did not stop painting until she was physically unable to continue. Her works are remembered for their bold and rich colors and for being unmistakably Mexican. She opened doors for many female artists and established a foundation to support women in the arts.