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 Alfredo Ramos Martinez  (1871 - 1946)

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Lived/Active: California / Mexico      Known for: portrait and pre-Columbian imagery painting, murals, sculptures

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Alfredo Ramos Martinez
from Auction House Records.
Flowers of Mexico
© Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Alfredo Martinez is best known for his modern Mexican paintings and murals. His work did not directly reflect traditional Mexican art nor did it embrace the European modernist movements of the time, but rather his unique style was based on his heritage and his thorough academic background.

Born in Monterey, Mexico in 1871, Martinez remained there for his early education. He then studied at the Academia Nacional de Belles Artes in Mexico City between 1884 and 1892. As a young artist Martinez caught the attention of American, Phoebe Hearst who arranged financial support for him to study abroad. Martinez studied, lived and worked in Paris, France, and was eventually able to support himself after he received an award for one of his paintings at the Salon dAutomme in 1906.

He returned to his homeland in 1907 and three years later had accepted the position of Director of the School of Fine Arts in Mexico City. He also continued to paint portraits and commissioned murals. In 1928, he married, and he and his wife had a daughter. The childs health was fragile, and the Martinez family relocated to Los Angeles, California where they could seek superior medical care for her.

Martinez worked on commissioned murals while living in Los Angeles and was soon accepted as part of the artistic community there. He was recognized for his Mexican genre scenes painted in rich browns and ochres. His work established him as part of the Mexican School but he did not have the political message of his Mexican contemporaries such as Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco.

His artwork was included in solo and group exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Diego Art Gallery and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. While living in Southern California, Martinez painted murals and frescoes in many Los Angeles hotels, private homes and chapels. The last project with which he was involved was a panel mural at the Margaret Fowler Memorial Garden at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Only two of the nine panels were completed before Martinez died in 1946.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Monterrey, Mexico on Nov. 12, 1871. At age nine Martinez did a portrait of the Governor of Monterrey which was sent to an exhibition in San Antonio, Texas and won first prize.  This won him a scholarship to Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and, following 14 years of art study in Paris, he returned to serve as its director in 1912 (one of his pupils was David A. Siqueiros).

In 1929 he moved to Los Angeles where he painted portraits, murals, and Mexican peasant genre. Martinez died in Los Angeles on Nov. 8, 1946.

Exhibitions:
Paris Salon, 1906 (prize); LACMA, 1930, 1936; Artists Fiesta (LA), 1931; San Diego FA Gallery, 1932; Santa Monica Public Library, 1933 (solo); LA County Fair, 1933, 1941; CPLH, 1933 (solo); Faulkner Art Gallery (Santa Barbara), 1934 (solo); Calif.-Pacific Int'l Expo (San Diego), 1935; Calif. Art Club, 1938; UCLA, 1938; SFMA, 1938; GGIE, 1939; Hatfield Gallery (LA), 1941; Scripps College, 1945 (solo); LA City College, 1953 (solo).

In:
CHS; Serra Historical Museum (San Diego); San Diego Museum; CPLH; Chapman Park Hotel (LA); SFMA; Mills College (Oakland); Church of Mary, La Jolla (fresco); Santa Barbara Cemetery Chapel (frescoes); Scripps College (murals); Yale Univ.; Univ. of Texas.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); California Arts and Architecture list, 1932; Los Angeles Times, 11-17-1946 (obituary); Antiques & Fine Art, Nov. 1991.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Louis Stern Fine Arts:
ALFREDO RAMOS MARTINEZ, b. 1871 Monterrey, Mexico, d. 1946 Los Angeles, California

Louis Stern Fine Arts is the exclusive representative of the Estate of Alfredo Ramos Martinez. The catalogue raisonné is a work  in progress in 2007.

Alfredo Ramos Martinez was born on November 12, 1871, in Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo Leon, in Mexico.  His father, Jacobo Ramos, a middle-class storekeeper, and his mother, Luisa Martinez de Ramos were strongly supportive of young Alfredo’s artistic endeavors and at the impressionable age of only nine years old, he sent a portrait he had painted of the governor of Nuevo Leon to a competition in San Antonio, Texas and was awarded first prize. 

Ramos Martinez spent eight years at the prestigious Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, an experience that left him resentful as he believed the system devalued any sense of individuality in an artist.  Fed up with the monotony of drawing from plaster casts, he often wandered away from the academy to paint scenes from ordinary life.  His work caught the attention of American, Phoebe Hearst, who arranged to financially support his studies abroad. 

In 1897, he arrived in Paris and continued his studies in the streets of the city embracing the style of the Post-Impressionists.  It was here in Europe that Ramos Martinez began to paint on newsprint.  As he explained later in an interview, while visiting Brittany in preparation for his Salon exhibition, he ran out of sketch paper.  He asked his landlord if he had access to any good paper.  When the landlord returned, he offered Ramos Martinez a stack of newspapers, which the artist reluctantly accepted.

Ramos Martinez returned to Mexico in 1910 and three years later he was appointed the Director of the National Academy.  Although he protested at first, “no, not I –I am the enemy of all academies,” he later accepted the offer when he realized he had strong support from the students.  He opened the first of his Escuelas de Pintura al Aire Libre (Open Air Schools of Painting) with an enrollment of ten boys, including a rebellious youth named David Alfaro Siqueiros, soon to become one of the most important Mexican muralists.  Taking its cue from the Impressionist concept of painting in the outdoors, this revolutionary program initiated changes in both the theoretical and practical approaches to painting in Mexico bringing arts education within the reach of people of all walks of life.  Modernist painter, Rufino Tamayo, who studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes from 1917 through 1921 credited Ramos Martinez for directing him “toward Impressionism.” 

Ramos Martinez married Maria de Sodi Romero in 1928 and a year later their daughter, Maria, was born with a crippling bone disease.  Greatly grieved by her suffering, Ramos Martinez and his family left Mexico in 1930 seeking medical attention for her in the United States.  They settled in Los Angeles where her condition was successfully treated. These circumstances would catapult Ramos Martinez’s art in a new direction.  The works produced in California at this time are abruptly modern, yet they focus on prevailing themes of the Mexican renaissance.  He turns to the subjects he adored: the humble yet monumental Indian, the dramatic landscapes of Mexico and religious themes that reveal the fervent spirituality shared by his people.  He explores the parameters of volume and space in his enormous oil on canvas portraits and his lyrical language of line and color are revealed in his elegant gouaches.  The tender embrace of a mother and child, a grouping of vendedoras masterfully balancing baskets of abundant, colorful fruit on their heads, or a depiction of a processional of indigenous women dressed in warm tones of yellows and golds paying homage to the pre-Colombian deity, Quetzalcoatl, are beautifully rendered and even further dramatized by the texture of his chosen medium of newsprint.

Ramos Martinez was commissioned to paint numerous murals throughout the United States and Mexico including, the celebrity homes of Jo Swerling, Edith Head and Beulah Bondi, the Chapman Park Hotel, Scripps College in Claremont California and the Normal School for Teachers in Mexico City.  His work was exhibited throughout California including the Los Angeles County Museum, the Assistance League Gallery in Hollywood, the Faulkner Gallery in Santa Barbara, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.  In 1945, he had a one man show at the Dalzell Hatfield Galleries and the following year at Lillenfeld Gallery in New York City.

After his death in 1946, his works were highlighted in several memorial retrospectives including Dalzell-Hatfield Galleries in 1951-1952, Los Angeles City College in 1953, at Scripps College in 1956 and in 1975 the Dalzell-Hatfield Galleries featured “Alfredo Ramos Martinez: A Treasure Trove Exhibition.”  In 1992, Louis Stern Galleries presented a prominent retrospective exhibition of his work and continues to represent the estate. 

Although considered by many to be the founding father of Modern Mexican Art, Ramos Martinez’s astounding contributions to the development of Mexican and Southern Californian art has been dramatically overlooked.  A prolific painter and an innovative teacher, Ramos Martinez has been a victim of circumstance; an inexplicable lapse in memory.  At a time when Mexican art gained great momentum with the Mexican Muralist movement with such recognizable names as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, Ramos Martinez’s substantial artistic vision had all been but erased.  However, a truly great artist remains just that.  “If Mexican modernism…is the product of the 1910 Revolution, which projected not only a utopian vision of the future, but also a return to Mexico’s roots,” as Hans Haufe states, “Ramos Martinez stands among the painters that initiated that movement.” His legacy lives on and his work is now gaining the recognition it deservedly needs.

Ramos Martinez's work can be found in numerous museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Phoenix Art Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, Minneapolis Art Institute, the Pasadena Museum of California Art, Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, among others.

Biography from Art Cellar Exchange:
Before there were Diego, Kahlo, Orozco, and Siqueiros, there was Alfred Ramos Martinez - whose art remained focused on the daily lives of his people and the traditions from their rich heritage.  Martinez would be among the few academic artists to defy the trends against the native traditions of Mexican art, and consequently move away from the European modernist movements.  His motives were not as blatantly political as Rivera or Orozco, but he did share a similar desire with them to institute his ethnic and cultural heritage within modern Mexican artistic production.

Alfred Ramos Martinez was born in Monterey, Mexico in 1871. He began his artistic studies from 1884 -1892 at the Academia Nacional de Belles Artes, Mexico City. He attracted the attention of Phoebe Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst, who provided financial support and arranged for him to leave his native country and study in Paris. Hearst supported him for almost four years, until 1906 when his painting "Les Printemps" was prize winner at the famous Salon d'Automne. From then on Martinez was able to support himself. He returned to Mexico in 1907 and within three years was appointed Director of Mexico City's School of Fine Arts.

Over the next twenty years he would continue to accept commissions for murals and other paintings. He was married in 1928, and only a year later, following the birth of his daughter, left Mexico behind to settle in Los Angeles where his daughter could receive the best medical care for a life-threatening congenital disease. He left Mexico an educated artist of great repute, only to be received in California with the fleeting enthusiasm of Hollywood socialites that perceived him as no more than the artistic version of Carmen Miranda.

However, Martinez's "fame" was enough to gain him entry into the Los Angeles art community where he painted frescoes in the patios of famous Hollywood celebrities and other important socialites, in hotels, chapels, and more.  Although the commissions he received in the U.S were not as esteemed as his last (the Mexican Government had commissioned him to paint Las Flores Mexicanas as a wedding present for Charles and Ann Morrow Lindbergh, he was able to maintain an active artistic life to support his family.

Martinez had one-man shows at the Los Angeles County museum, the San Diego Art Gallery, the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, as well as various private and public galleries throughout California.

When Alfred Ramos Martinez died in 1946, he had completed only two panels out of a nine panel mural entitled, The Flower of Vendors at the Margaret Fowler Memorial Garden at Scripps College in Claremont, California.  In 1994, the J. Paul Getty Museum and a private conservator, Aneta Zeballa, worked together to conserve this 100 foot masterpiece.  They restored the nine-foot mural in the quaint gardens as well as implemented a plan to prevent its further deterioration.  These murals reaffirm the integrity of Martinez's work, alluding to his dedication to his family, his culture, and his country.

Biography from William R Talbot Fine Art:
Initially schooled at the National Academy in Mexico City, Ramos Martinez sought an escape from its rigid nineteenth-century European academia. Freedom came in the form of patronage from Phoebe Hearst, who financed twelve years of study for the young artist in Paris. He achieved financial independence when one of his paintings won an award at the Salon d’Automne. With this rise to prominence, he became highly sought after for portrait commissions, which he accomplished fluently in oils and pastels.

When Ramos Martinez returned to Mexico in 1910, he came armed with the tools for an artistic revolution just as his country headed into political revolution. By 1913 Ramos Martinez had established Mexico’s first Open-Air School of Painting and began to teach the next generation of artists a new way of seeing, thus freeing them from the restraints of the past. In the first group were David Alfaro Siquieros, Francisco Diaz de Leon, and Mateo Bolanos, all future initiators of the modernist movement whose subsequent innovations earned Ramos Martinez the sobriquet of “father of Mexican modernism.”

He amplified modern French techniques to include an aesthetic commitment specific to the Mexican situation: “In order to create true art we must inevitably look to our own native values [and] . . . the artistic talent of the Mexican race.” He painted, he said, “out of profound love of our ancestors, Mayas and Aztecs.” Like the muralists Orozco and Rivera, his vision included references to recently discovered pre-Columbian artifacts and the mysterious power of indigenous Mexicans whom the Revolution had sought to free.

In 1929, the artist and his wife were forced to move to California to seek medical help for their daughter who suffered from a crippling bone disease. Under intensely traumatic circumstances, he reexamined the character of his work and began to slice away earlier influences— both academic and impressionist. He became especially sensitive to the indigenous culture and vowed to enlist a more direct and primitive approach to Mexican Indian themes, thus developing a new style.

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