Behind the Picture: Grandmother with Child by Francisco Zúñiga

April 15, 2015 § Leave a comment


Francisco Zuniga (b. Costa Rica 1912-1988), Grandmother with Child, 1976

This crayon, charcoal and pastel drawing by Francisco Zúñiga was acquired by Josef Glimer Gallery from a private collection several years ago. While Zúñiga may be best known for his more stylized stone sculptures, Grandmother with Child is one of many similarly classical drawings that he produced during his lifetime.

Zúñiga was born in Guadalupe, Barrio de San José, Costa Rica on December 27, 1912. He was interested in Renaissance art and anatomy from an early age, and by fifteen, he was working as an assistant in his father’s studio of religious sculpture. He enrolled briefly in the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Mexico before pursuing art on his own, drawing inspiration from both pre-Hispanic tradition and more modern movements like German Expressionism. His work began gaining recognition by the 1930s, and in 1935, his sculpture La Maternidad won first place in the Latin American sculpture competition the Salón de Escultura en Costa Rica.

The artist traveled to Mexico City where was mentored by painter Manuel Rodriguez Lozano. He went on to become a key faculty member of La Esmeralda, the National School of Painting and Sculpture in Mexico City, where he taught for the next three decades.

Zúñiga’s forms reflect both the iconic reverence of religious sculptures and the monumental style of pre-Hispanic art. He was strongly drawn to the human figure, and many of his sculptures and drawings depict Mexico’s indigenous peoples. He associated indigenous women with the infinite cycle of nature, and held the role of mother as particularly sacred. He explained in a 1987 admittance speech to the Academy of Arts of Mexico,

“Maybe my world is that of the feminine indigenous representation, and of poses which are related to the old cultures of Middle America, that is an emotional and prevailing motive from which I reaffirm precisely a certain irrational aspect, psychological values; the heritage. I relate all that symbolically to the geological, the terrestrial of original, even more, to the erotic. Hence, the exaggeration of breasts, the stomachs, the hips. In that sense, nature is inexhaustible, since life grows and dies.”

Over the course of his career, Zúñiga traveled to San Francisco, New York City, Spain, Austria, and France, and created over thirty-five public sculptures including several hero monuments in Mexico and a group of sculptures called Tres generaciones in Sendai, Japan. His works are found in numerous permanent collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., and the San Antonio Museum of Art.

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