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Charlot, Jean (1898–1979)

Charlot, Jean (1898–1979)

A French-Mexican illustrator, muralist, writer, and archaeologist, Jean Charlot was born in France on February 8, 1898, and attended the École des Beaux-Arts National School of Fine Arts in Paris. In 1921 Charlot and his widowed mother immigrated to Mexico. Charlot played a major role in the postre-volutionary florescence of Mexican art, becoming friends with many leading muralists. Charlot's mural The Massacre in the [Aztec] Main Temple is usually considered the Mexican mural movement's first true fresco.

Charlot expended a good deal of artistic energy producing prints, and early on he recognized the importance of the satirical prerevolutionary print-maker José Guadalupe Posada. Throughout Charlot's career he stressed his commitment to creating popular, reproducible, and even useful art for the people. While in Mexico he also wrote many articles, collaborated closely with the writer Anita Brenner, and became a lifelong friend of the photographer Edward Weston. Despite his circle of radical friends, he remained a devout Catholic and incorporated religious themes and images in his art.

His art style strongly reflects the pre-Columbian sculptural traditions of Mexico, with their ties to the earth and stress on geometric forms and volume. From 1926 through 1928 Charlot was the expedition artist for the Carnegie Institution of Washington's excavations at Chichén Itzá. As a coauthor of the Temple of the Warriors report, he gained fame as "the painter turned archaeologist."

In fall 1928 Charlot moved to New York City to seek new opportunities; however, Mexico remained the prime inspiration for the subject and style of his art. In 1945 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to return to Mexico to write his masterwork, The Mexican Mural Renaissance: 1920–1925. In 1949 he was invited to join the faculty of the University of Hawaii, where his Mexican experience, now transformed into Polynesian settings, reverberated in his murals, paintings, and prints. He remained at the university until his death on March 20, 1979.

See alsoArchaeology; Art: The Twentieth Century; Chichén Itzá.


Primary Works

The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963.

An Artist on Art: Collected Essays of Jean Charlot. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1972.

Secondary Works

Klobe, Thomas, ed. Jean Charlot: A Retrospective. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Art Gallery, 1990.

Koprivitza, Milena, and Blanca Garduño Pulido, eds. México in la obra de Jean Charlot. México: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994.

Morse, Peter. Jean Charlot's Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii and Jean Charlot Foundation, 1976.

                                    Donald McVicker

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