Daily Art Moment: Leopoldo Méndez

Black-and-white linocut print of three figures standing over a table viewing a picture of Mexican President Benito Juárez that emanates rays of light filling the space around them. The three figures are positioned on the right side taking up roughly half of the print and are facing to the left. Heads bowed, a young boy holds a picture of a flag, a woman holds the picture of the President, and in the foreground, a young girl wears a long pale dress and holds the woman’s hand resting on her shoulder. Light appearing to come from the President’s picture highlights the children’s faces. Rays of light represented by white lines radiate outward and fill the remaining half of the print. Use of thick and thin lines, spaced densely or far apart, creates light and shadow and a sense-heavy texture.

“Today marks the anniversary of the historic Battle of Puebla of 1862, in which underequipped and outnumbered Mexican troops defeated the French army under Napoleon III, who were fighting to place Mexico under the rule of Maximilian of Austria. In Puebla, May 5 is commemorated with a reenactment of the battle and a large civic parade. Mexico’s military victory symbolizes the power of a united front against foreign aggression and the president at the time, Benito Juárez, is hailed for his leadership and defense of independence and democracy.

This dramatic image by Leopoldo Méndez depicts a woman and two children paying homage to President Juárez, who is represented in the print that the woman holds in her right hand. This is one of ten linocuts Méndez created in conjunction with the feature film ‘Río Escondido’ (Hidden River), directed by Emilio Fernández. Mendez’s prints serve as the backgrounds for the title sequence Their bold surfaces and humble subjects introduce the film and foreshadow the eventual triumph of the heroine and her fellow townspeople over the oppressive local boss; the reference to Benito Juárez would have resonated immediately with audiences in 1947.

The Museum has an excellent collection of Mexican graphics. While under quarantine, Cheryl Hartup—Curator of Academic Programs and Latin American and Caribbean Art at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon—and I are working together to prepare an exhibition that will highlight Portland’s important holdings. The exhibition, ‘Nuestra imagen actual | Our Present Image: Mexico and the Graphic Arts 1925–1956’ will be shown at both locations ( Although the dates for the exhibition are uncertain due to the pandemic, the light that emanates from this print inspires me to hope for the future, even when underequipped and outnumbered. Together, we will overcome this obstacle.”

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings

Leopoldo Méndez (Mexican, 1902–1969). Las primeras luces (First Lights), plate 8 from the series “Río Escondido,” 1947. Linocut. Museum Purchase: Marion McGill Lawrence Fund, 92.194.92

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