A watercolor in earth tones of two women in a jail cell

Mujeres en la cárcel (Women in Prison)

In the 1930s, María Izquierdo came into her own as an artist. This period in her life was filled with professional success but also personal troubles. Soon after she became the first Mexican woman artist to have a solo exhibition in the United States (1930), her lover and artistic partner of four years, Rufino Tamayo, left her for the woman who would become his future wife. Izquierdo coped with this by immersing herself in the vibrant Mexican cultural community and focusing on her artistic career. She began to master the technique of watercolor and shift from conventional still life subjects to circus and allegorical scenes, often featuring anguished women. This particular scene of two women locked in a prison cell, clothed in what appear to be performers’ costumes, relates to both circus scenes and the otherworldly allegorical scenes. The setting is somewhat ambiguous and the viewer is forced to consider the circumstances under which these women have been imprisoned. Art historian Raquel Tibol has described these works as testimonies of a “profound wound of love” expressing the difficulties Izquierdo faced as an abandoned lover, a single mother of three children and a female artist trying to promote herself in a male dominated world.

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