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José Clemente Orozco

José Clemente Orozco

Edward Weston. José Clemente Orozco, 1930. The J. Paul Getty Museum. © 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography.

Also known as
José Orozco, Khose Klemente Orosko
Date of birth
Date of death

Part of the “Big Three,” which also included Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco was one of the leading muralists of the second half of the 20th century in Mexico.

First moving to Mexico City in 1890, Orozco encountered the printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, who became a pivotal influence on his work. He studied art at the Academia de San Carlos (1906–10) with the teacher Gerardo Murillo, known as Doctor Alt, who urged Orozco and all his students to reject European cultural domination and cultivate Mexican traits in their work. 

Working in a highly expressionistic form of social realism, Orozco focused his painting on representing post-revolutionary Mexico—peasants and class struggle, the hardships of everyday life, social revolution, wars, and women in those wars. Zapata (1930) in the Art Institute’s collection is a classic example of Orozco’s stylistically powerful work.

In 1917 negative reactions to his art from critics and moralists convinced him to move to the United States. When he returned to Mexico in 1920, he found the muralist movement had officially started and the new government of President Álvaro Obregón eager to sponsor his work. During the next years, his work achieved monumentality unprecedented in Mexican art. 

In 1927, when the Mexican government withdrew patronage and protection from Orozco and his fellow muralists and attacks came from conservatives, the artist moved to New York City, where he met American journalist Alma Reed. She became his agent and helped him exhibit widely and forge an international reputation.

In 1930 for a commission from Pomona College in Claremont, California, Orozco painted Prometheus, the first modern fresco created in the US. He completed Zapata while in San Francisco that same summer. Among subsequent commissions he received was the 1940 request from the Museum of Modern Art to create the centerpiece for their exhibition Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art. The following year, Orozco’s paintings and prints were exhibited in museums throughout the United States, including in Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

In his later years, Orozco was recognized as a Mexican national hero, honored as the leader among those who raised his country’s art to a position of international eminence.

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