Orozco, José Clemente (1883–1949)

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Orozco, José Clemente (1883–1949)

José Clemente Orozco (b. 23 November 1883; d. 7 September 1949), Mexican muralist. Orozco grew up in Mexico City, where he attended the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura, the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, and the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (San Carlos). His first exhibit in Mexico City in 1916 showed the influence of the popular engraver and illustrator of Porfirian broadsides, José Guadalupe Posada. Because of its popular inspiration and controversial subject matter (he depicted several prostitutes), it was not well-received by the public.

In 1917, Orozco worked in a doll factory in New York City, where he tried to establish himself as an artist. A declared enemy of the decorative folk nationalism then in vogue among young Mexican artists, Orozco sought an art that would address the emotional intensity of Mexico's cataclysmic revolutionary reality. Called upon in 1922 by Education Minister José Vasconcelos to paint the walls of the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria as part of the artistic Renaissance, Orozco emerged as a major artist of the twentieth century, depicting the agony of war from a peasant perspective and initiating the pictoral history of Mexico as an interracial drama of struggle and sorrow. In 1923, with Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and others, Orozco formed the Syndicate of Revolutionary Painters, which declared war on "bourgeois individualism" and committed itself to the creation of a monumental art for and about the Mexican people to capture "the moment of transition from a decrepit order to a new one."

Painting in the early 1930s at Pomona College in California, the New School for Social Research in New York City, Dartmouth College, and Mexico's Palacio de Bellas Artes, Orozco developed New World historical themes with an outraged sense of tragedy over the destructiveness of the contemporary world, an interpretation at odds with his fellow muralists' Marxist optimism about progress. Between 1936 and 1939, he painted in Guadalajara. His work in the university auditorium displays a stinging critique of political leaders. In the Palacio de Gobierno, he painted his famous image of Miguel Hidalgo. His most outstanding work, and one of the greatest works of twentieth-century art, is in the Hospicio Cabañas in Guadalajara, where he synthesizes his understanding of human history and nature in the Promethean figure of a man consuming himself by fire.

Additional murals by Orozco are in the Palacio de Justicia, the Hospital de Jesús Nazareno, the Jiquilpán revolutionary museum, the Escuela Nacional de Maestros, and the Museo Nacional de Historia in Chapultepec. When he died in Mexico City, he was buried in the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres in the Panteón de Dolores, the first artist to have had this honor.

See alsoArt: The Twentieth Century .


Justino Fernández, Orozco: Forma e idea (1942).

MacKinley Helm, Man of Fire: J. C. Orozco (1953).

Alma Reed, Orozco (1955).

Luis Cardoza y Aragon, Orozco (1959).

José Clemente Orozco, An Autobiography, translated by Robert C. Stephenson (1962).

Dawn Ades, Art in Latin America (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Anaya Wittman, Marcela Sofía. José Clemente Orozco, el Orfeo mexicano. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara, Centro Universitario de Arte Arquitectura y Diseño, División de Artes y Humanidades, Departamento Teorías e Historias, 2004.

Folgarait, Leonard. Mural Painting and Social Revolution in Mexico, 1920–1940: Art of the New Order. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Rochfort, Desmond. Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998.

Tibol, Raquel. José Clemente Orozco: Una vida para el arte: breve historia documental. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996.

                                       Mary Kay Vaughan