Painter of the Patria
by Sean Mattson
What wou1d bring aman to leave his homeland and dedicate
his life to glorifying the history, people and customs of another? Certainly the hundreds of thousands of foreigners who have chosen Mexico as their home can offer a myriad of reasons exp1aining what makes them stay, but how many have been able to express their passion for Mexico like French-bom painter Mauricio Devaux?
Devaux's vibrant watercolors, oil paintings and pastels depict a Mexico of fantastic proportions. He has been called un pintor de la Patria impecable y diamantina Can impeccable painter of the country) and his work has been compared to one of the most patriotic poems ever penned in the Republic, La Suave Patria by Lopez Ve1arde. Mexico was his love; his painting his love incarnate.
Devaux carne to this nation in 1933 and was instantly taken with the beauty and warrnth of the country. During 41 years on Mexican soil he traveled to all comers of his adoptive land, 1earning the ways of the peop1e, seeking the radiance in al1 aspects of life, even mundane acts of daily labor. Without fail, Devaux
always painted the history, people and customs of La Patria in a positive light, despite the criticisms such fanciful interpretations often render.
Bom Apri18, 1910 in Paris, France, Devaux' s frrst foray abroad was to Morroco where he performed his military service and elaborated commissioned works for the Muslim nobility. He later retumed to his homeland to eam a degree in design at the Escuela Boulle in Paris, and worked as a cornmercial artist for various companies induding Goodyear.
At the age of 23, he trave1ed to Mexico to do design work for a hydroelectric project. He later left what could have been a successful career as an industrial draftsperson and moved to Mexico City to dedicate his life to painting, sculpting and manufacturing wooden fumiture. He established the Estudio La Mancha where artists, joumalists and intellectuals like Guillermo and Jorge Carnarena, Agustin Casasola and Alfonso Reyes wou1d congregate. Devaux was not a socialite and preferred to meet with friends in his Valle de Bravo house, his studio or in cafes. He avoided parties and rarely exhibited his art in galleries, though it appeared in public across the nation.
Devaux's work was mostIy cornmissioned, and he boasted of a varied and faithful clientele. He painted portraits of Mexican presidents such as Aldolfo Lopez Mateos, Diaz Ordaz and Benito Juarez, of rurallife, nudes, historic events like the Revolution, portraits of legendary figures such as Pedro de Alvarado, and collage-style scenes of various cities throughout the country. Bis most notable work of public art was an 87-meter long mural in the city of Chetumal, capital of Quintana Roo, that recounts the city's history.
Devaux's work is a glorification ofMexico. Be painted its people and places with more patriotic fervor than just about any one ofhis Mexican contemporaries. Likely he would have painted Mexico with the same passion even ifhe had not been commissioned; even his personal work is as zealous as Las Fiestas Patrias which commemorate Mexico's independence day.
Devaux was said to be a buff for the history of Mexico. Bowever, as is the case with much of his art, Devaux's historical pieces are more romantic depictions than actual reality. Bis portrayals of the conquest essentially paint the conquistadors as heroes, and the indigenous Mexican as inviting pushovers. The buxom princesses are too beautiful, the princes are too strong and tall, and their costumes are overly elaborate. From duels between titans to various scenes depicting lovers, Devaux's indigenous Mexicans border on implausible, and in the case of a few mustachioed indians, are simply inaccurate.
There is no arguing that the picturesque history of Mexico according to Devaux is reality seen through a fantasy filter, but the genre much of his work pertains to, calendar art, has never pretended to depict reality. One of the primary purposes of this medium is to bring art into people's homes and make them proud of their nation. Devaux's paintings were his way of expressing pride for Mexico and of sharing that pass ion with others.
Although Devaux's work is thematically exaggerated,
it is impeccable from an artistic point of view. Few
calendar artists can boast of such afine and
aesthetically appealing repository of work.
Beyond the glorious paintings he left behind when
he died in 1974, Devaux's legacy is an excellent
example of positive foreign
contribution to a nation.
Bis life and attitude
are a model for
everywhere, not just in
Devaux never obtained
during the four
decades he li ved in
the nation. None
the les s, his
unfaltering love for La Patria
has earned him a position among this country's illustrative artists.