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About This Artwork
Juan Soriano De Lacandón, 1964
Graphite and casein on panel
15 13/16 x 31 9/16 in. (40.3 x 80.3 cm)
Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection, 2018.285
In 1964 the artist Leonora Carrington painted this imaginative portrait of her friend, the self-taught artist Juan Soriano. A member of Surrealist circles in Paris and New York City during the 1930s and 1940s, Carrington settled in Mexico in 1942 after the trauma of fleeing war-torn Europe. Mexico occupied an important place in the imagination of many European artists—André Breton’s called it the “Surrealist place par excellence”—and for Carrington the country came to be a source of inspiration and wonder. Juan Soriano De Lacandón was one of the first paintings in which Carrington combined her Surrealist-inspired dreamscapes with Mexico’s history, culture, and ancient practices. Inspired by her study of the indigenous Lacandón people for a 1963 mural commission, The Magical World of the Maya (Museo de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City), the artist portrayed Soriano surrounded by the flora and fauna of ancient Mayan mythology. Bearing the scarification marks of a shaman, he holds in his hand a small jaguar, admired by the Maya as a spiritually powerful creature and a conduit to the underworld. According to native belief, the shaman alone was privileged to assume the form of the jaguar. This notion of animal incarnation may have resonated with Carrington, who adopted the horse as a type of alter ego in her earlier work. In presenting Soriano as a revered holy man, the artist demonstrated her deep admiration for her subject. Her use of precolonial symbolism also suggests her assimilation into the world of her adopted homeland, where she remained until her death.