Raul Anguiano

Painter and muralist

Raúl Anguiano Valadez, painter, sculptor and muralist: born Guadalajara, Mexico 26 February 1915; married (one son, one daughter); died Mexico City 13 January 2006.

Raúl Anguiano was the last of Mexico's great 20th-century muralists - the last of those who had worked with Diego Rivera but one who took the influence of Mexico's 1910-17 revolution to a new, sometimes surrealistic level.

Internationally, he was perhaps better known for his oil paintings, notably those portraying indigenous Mexican culture, and particularly images of Mayan women from the Lacandon jungle near the Guatemalan border. His work, in which he said he "sought to glimpse the soul of the Mexican people", has featured in more than 100 exhibitions worldwide and examples hang permanently in locations from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Vatican, which houses his mural La Crucifixión.

Born during the revolution of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, Anguiano, as a child and young man, was taken not only by the Mexican revolutionary images of artists such as Rivera but by painters from the faraway colonial power, Spain, notably Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Anguiano's earliest works could only be described as Cubist and Picasso's influence was clear, including that of Guernica on his later murals.

By the time of his death, Anguiano's paintings were selling for six figures in US dollars. He bequeathed most of his movable works to Mexico City and to a museum named after him in Guadalajara.

Raúl Anguiano Valadez, eldest of 10 children of a cobbler, was born in Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, in 1915, at the height of the revolution. Gifted at drawing as a child, he opted against normal school and attended the city's Open Air Art School from the age of 12. By the age of 19, he had moved to Mexico City, meeting Rivera and José Clemente Orozco and studying their work, and he painted his first mural that same year, in a school in the capital.

In 1935, still only 20, he became the youngest painter ever to be featured in an exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, before teaching art at the capital's National Autonomous University (Unam) and founding the Popular Graphics Workshop to help young artists branch out into new fields of the visual arts.

From 1936, he moved into a surrealistic period, which was to last a decade, when he produced some of his greatest works portraying freaks, prostitutes, circus clowns and acrobats, including La Mujer Rosa y el Cirquero Gris ("The Pink Woman and the Grey Circus Performer", 1941).

Anguiano later moved back closer to realism. After visiting the Lacandon jungle in the state of Chiapas, he concentrated on portraying native Mayan women, notably in his Nativity-like Nacimiento en la Selva ("Birth in the Jungle", 1953), depicting the divine birth of a Mayan child king, and El Rebozo ("The Shawl", 1983), showing an indigenous woman draped in a white shawl. His best-known painting, however, is La Espina ("The Thorn", 1952), in which a saint-like Mayan woman sits gouging a splinter out of her foot with a knife. The work sold for $156,000 at Christie's Latin American auction in New York on 25 May 2004.

Raúl Anguiano worked almost until the end. He was 88, and teaching art students at the East Los Angeles College in California, when he completed his last and largest mural for the foyer of the college's Performing Arts Auditorium. Measuring 68 feet by 13, it depicts the history of 20th-century Mexican art and depicts his fellow muralists Rivera, Orozco and David Siqueiros.

Phil Davison