Welcome back to the Artists of Color series. I thought I'd start a sub-series of posts spotlighting artists of color from the past that you may not have heard about, but who deserve to be admired and studied alongside the great masters of the art historical canon. These posts will serve as a small morsel to tide you over between interviews, and as a way to bring even more amazing art to you every week! So let's get started with the first artist, Saturnino Herrán.
Saturnino Herrán (b. 1887) had a tragically short life, but a staggering output all the same. Born of indigenous Mexican and Swiss descent, he grew up in Aguascalientes, Mexico, a city deeply steeped in Spanish culture. He was proficient in drawing and painting by the age of ten, and went on to study at the Aguascalientes Academy of Sciences in his teens. After his father’s death in 1903, Herrán and his mother moved to Mexico City, where he worked at a telegraph office and took classes from Julio Ruelas at the Academy of San Carlos. He studied draughtsmanship from Catalan painter Antonio Fabrés, and color theory under Germán Gedovious. His style became a fusion of his training in academic European technique and his celebration of indigenous Mexican people through his subject matter.
By 1908, Herrán had gained recognition from the artistic community, which showered him with awards and scholarships. He worked as a draughtsman, illustrator, modern art activist, stained glass colorist, and a professor. Among his pupils at the National Institute of Fine Arts were Diego Rivera and Roberto Montenegro. Together with fellow artist José Clemente Orozco, Herrán formed the Society of Mexican Painters and Sculptors in 1910, and they staged a counter-exhibition to the Centennial Anniversary of Mexico’s Independence. Herrán’s work for this exhibition captured the strength, dignity, and beauty of indigenous people, and left an indelible impression on many of Mexico’s future modernist painters. Among the attendees of the exhibition, was Mexico’s future Secretary of Education, José Vasconcelos, who commissioned Herrán for a mural at the School of Arts and Crafts the following year. Herrán's murals would inspire future generations of Mexican muralists of the 1920s and 1930s, and cemented him as one of the greatest painters of his generation.
Herrán died suddenly in Mexico City on October 8, 1918 at the age of 31.