Introduction to Carlos Mérida’s “The True Meaning of the Work of Saturnino Herrán”
The introductory essay places “The True Meaning of the Work of Saturnino Herrán: The False Critics” (1920), a piece of early criticism written by the Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida during the first year he lived in Mexico City, within the contexts of the cosmopolitan milieu of post-Revolutionary Mexico and the artist’s own trajectory. It suggests that the text both demonstrates intellectuals’ interest in questions of form and national art and Mérida’s desire to provide a critical framework for his own paintings of indigenous Guatemalan and Mexican women. In “The True Meaning of the Work of Saturnino Herrán: The False Critics,” Mérida lashed out at Mexican critics for praising Herrán as the best and most Mexican painter of the time, arguing, instead that the realism and sentimentalism of Herrán’s paintings dishonored national themes by presenting them as picturesque stereotypes. Published in the widely-read magazine El Universal Ilustrado, the text attacks Herrán’s paintings and the critics who praise them while also arguing that the predominance of the artist is symptomatic of the predominant problem of the literary nature of Mexican artists’ engagement with autochthonous art and culture.
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