Cantú, Mural, 1960, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art, © Estate of Federico Cantú
A Mexican Mural Study by Federico Cantú
Rachel Kaplan, Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow
Latin American art
In 1928, the Mexican artist Federico Cantú (1907–1989) arrived in Los Angeles. Cantú had previously attended the Open Air School of Painting in Coyoacán, Mexico City, directed by Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871–1946) (who also spent time in Los Angeles), assisted Diego Rivera (1886–1957) on his murals at the Ministry of Public Education in Mexico City, and studied sculpture in Paris with the Spanish artist José de Creeft (1884–1982). In February 1930, James Tarbotton Armstrong, curator of the University of Southern California Museum, arranged Cantú’s first exhibition of drawings and paintings at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art in Exposition Park—LACMA’s parent institution. Though Cantú soon left for New York and Paris, and finally a return to Mexico, over the years he continued to visit Los Angeles, exhibiting his work at the Stendahl Galleries (late 1930s and early 1940s) and Lorser Feitelson’s Gallery of Mid-20th-Century Art (1948).
When Cantú returned to Mexico, he primarily devoted himself to painting neoclassical and religious scenes. In the 1950s, he began painting murals in private homes in Mexico City, which soon led to a number of public commissions. In several of these murals, Cantú explored pre-Columbian themes, absent from his earlier work, a good example of which is Enseñanzas de Quetzalcóatl (Quetzalcóatl’s Teachings), painted for the home of Benito Coquet (1913–1993).
Federico Cantú, Enseñanzas de Quetzalcóatl, mural installed in the home of Benito Coquet, photo courtesy of Adolfo Cantú colección CYDT
Bernard Lewin (September 30, 1906 – January 30, 2003) was a German-born American citizen who amassed the largest private collection of modern Mexican art in the world. Prior to his death in 2003, Lewin and his wife Edith donated more than 2,000 works of art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Lewin was a personal friend of Federico Cantu Rufino Tamayo and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Lewin's collection included the only portrait of Frida Kahlo by Diego Rivera that was not part of mural. Other works donated to the Los Angeles County Museum included Carlos Mérida, José Clemente Orozco, Rafael Coronel, and Francisco Zúñiga.