María Izquierdo

La raqueta, 1938

Oleo / tela
70 x 50 cm

One of Izquierdo’s masterpieces, La raqueta is a disquieting composition. The dilapidated walls signal neglect and a deep-set window looks onto a dark and stormy scene. The window is centrally framed like a painting on the wall, but more likely we are inside a single-story white house with a single window, seen in later paintings like Desolación (1947; private collection). Dominating the painting are several objects disposed on a table beside an upright piano with empty candle sconce, which evoke a missing figure. They point to modern games and entertainments: tennis racquet and balls, cigarettes, a pair of elegant white gloves, a carnival mask, a trumpet and a clothes brush. These objects prefigure the clothes and ornaments in later paintings like El alhajero (c. 1941, Banco Nacional de Mexico) or El velo de la novia (1943; private collection) where the absent body is that of Izquierdo herself. Like her Spanish contemporary Maruja Mallo, Izquierdo drew from the mysterious atmosphere of de Chirico’s paintings. Some of the objects in La raqueta are uncannily animated: the thumb and forefinger of the foreground glove are bent as if about to grasp the cigarette; the mask is suffused a deep pink as if blushing. Yet Izquierdo’s objects are more like secular attributes, a collection of clues to identity. In 1948, the painting was exhibited with the title Sueño de una doncella though it is unclear if these are the girl’s objects or those of an imagined admirer. Izquierdo may have been familiar with the surrealist object by Valentine Hugo, reproduced in Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution (no. 3, 1931), where the fingers of one gloved hand lightly insert themselves under the open cuff of another. There is an equally strong erotic charge to the objects here. There is a promise of encounters, of percussive tactility (the ball on the strings, the keys of the piano). The brush with its soft hairs provides a contrast to the trumpet, which could be seen as both phallic and female, not unlike certain sculptures by Giacometti. The “dream” of the title helps to justify this reading of the painting, given the pervasive influence at the time of Freud’s account of dream symbols as charged with sexual meaning. Izquierdo’s awareness of and informed responses to the European avant-garde are undoubted, but, as in this painting, are always given a distinctively Mexican character. In La raqueta the ruined building which evokes the Revolution is haunted by the accoutrements of leisure and pleasure, a clash that in all its ambivalence is powerfully imbued with a sense of a history and experience that surpasses the purely stylistic.

Dawn Ades, Arte Moderno de México. Colección Andrés Blaisten, Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005.

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