The publication of this volume marks the appearance of the most complete account yet to appear of the formative period in the history of Mexican mural painting. With a standard introduction of his subject Chariot discusses the preRevolutionary artistic influences which contributed to the successful development of a public art movement in the 1920’s. In the subsequent narrative Chariot’s scholarly dispassion is complemented by his experience as a participant in the stormy first years of mural painting. In a field where participation has usually been a liability to scholarship, Chariot’s is an asset.
The body of the work is concerned with the course of mural production from its conception with José Vasconcelos through the first experiments at the former church and convent of San Pedro y San Pablo to the enlarged programs in the National Preparatory School and the Ministry of Education. The author’s thorough knowledge of the events which paralleled and influenced mural production is reflected in his account of the outbreak of both public and official hostility to the paintings, student riots in the Preparatoria, Vasconcelos’ resignation, and the initiation of a more selective patronage policy under Vasconcelos’ successor.
Only one of the areas which benefits from the author’s careful attention to details is the accurate dating of those murals painted between 1920 and 1925, several of which were later destroyed. In his incisive rendering of the complex personality and artistic philosophy of José Vasconcelos, Chariot gives Obregén’s Minister of Education the credit that he has long deserved as the father of the mural movement. Also of great value is the author’s dissection of the factors which ultimately led to the suspension of painting in August, 1924. An important by-product of his narrative is the excellent documentation using sources until now untapped. Chariot relies largely on materials from government archives and unpublished memoirs of participants, including fragments of Siqueiros’ autobiography.
Chariot’s personal account of the social and political environment of the Obregón era deserves the attention of political historians. The national political struggles into which mural painting was quickly drawn need more definitive work, but until this work is done, Chariot’s book is a useful guide to the temper of the Reconstruction period. An important source of information for historians of Mexican art, The Mexican Mural Renaissance has long been needed in the field, and its high standards of scholarship assure it an unqualified welcome.