Biography of Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858)

Artist German, descendant of an illustrious family of engravers of Augsburg, born in 1802 and died in 1858. His work has primarily a rich set of illustrations of the types, customs and landscapes of Mexico and other Latin American countries.

His first visit to America was accompanying, as draftsman, the issue of the baron de Langsdorff to Brazil, which left the picturesque journey to the Brazil of Huber (1827-1835), illustrated with 100 lithographs of Rugendas. After this first contact, the artist returned to Europe, where he/she stayed between 1825 and 1830 and where he/she visited Italy, France and England. His intention was to get funding to carry out a vast plan to edit a monumental work that to learn America in all its aspects.

With a little financial support, spent, first to Haiti, in 1831, and then to Mexico, where he/she remained three years, from 1831 to 1834. He/She settled in Veracruz, but at the time traveled by different regions and, finally, participated in a conspiracy against the President, don Anastasio Bustamante, which cost him prison and expulsion from the country. In Veracruz, he/she got in touch with a large number of compatriots in the same city to find therein the Rhenish company of the West Indies.

From Mexico he/she went to Chile where, between 1834 and 1840, he/she produced part of the best of his work; then he/she visited Peru, country in which remained between 1841 and 1844. He/She returned to Europe in 1846. On the return journey he/she stopped in Brazil, where he/she was commissioned to make the portrait of Pedro II.Fruit of their stay in Mexico and his journey through its different regions, was an interesting collection of more than 1,600 notes, which classified according to geographical criteria, although it granted suggestive names: physiognomy of coastal regions, the Region of savannas, the Region of forests, high mountains, the plateau. He/She painted many portraits and took great Aboriginal rate notes, as well as scenes depicting local customs, bequeathing to the americanists and ethnologists a valuable collection of small paintings on Aboriginal types of Veracruz and Puebla, Mexico. This last part of his work in Mexico is divided into inhabitants of the country, the Creoles, Los Campesinos, Los Mestizos and the life of the cities. Interested strongly in the uses and customs of the country, found subjects exciting to cover the following chapters: offices in small towns and Villas, the militia and the military State, the proletarian in Mexico, agriculture and farmers, the agriculture in the Highlands and in hot climates, and the breeding of cattle.

Along with this plastic work was developing an interesting collection of notes on the State of conservation of the most notable archeological, colonial and artistic monuments in the first half of the 19th century.

A fraction of this work was later published in the book Mexico: Landschaftsbilder und Skizzen aus dem Volksleben (landscapes and types of Mexico), edited in Germany in 1855, which became a second edition in London in 1858. This work, divided into 24 chapters, consists of 18 lithographs depicting landscapes, customs and types of the country; Excel blades for his extraordinary artistic and documentary interest: port of Veracruz with the Castillo of San Juan de Ulúa, natives of Tierra Caliente Region of Papantla, La Barranca de Santa María with the high of el Mirador and the Orizaba volcano, Los Mestizos, walk the beams, La Alameda (Mexico), ride public, civic soldiers of Tierra Caliente and fruit bowls, and the volcano of Colima.

Thirty-seven small oil paintings of Rugendas retains the National Museum of history, thirty of them are scenes from Veracruz. The variety, the diverse interests of the subjects, because of his investigative sense, to Rugendas has been called the Humboldt of painting in America.

Rugendas style is characterized by the richness of color and sense of dramatic contrasts, the loose brushwork in the Impressionist manner, expressionism which warns in the so called "notes", by the play of light, movement and life having his scenes depicting local customs and even landscapes, and the sensationalism and the monumentality of his compositions. All these factors have determined the American critic Walter Pach to compare his work with the of Delacroix, characterized by great theatrical effects and passion.

Also within the production of Rugendas emphasizes the cultivation of the portrait. None more interesting than that of Luisa C. de Jiménez (1833), which has a classical composition of diagonals that structure the various elements. Lady lying in the hammock surrounded by vegetation, in a shaded from a tropical country corner, whose forms will reveal under the white suit, the freedom with which the painter is expressed, the ideal classical lines that hint at a certain matronal character that contrasts with the refinement of the profile of the face, everything is calm and rest, but precisely the strokes of Rugendas vivas and lighting effectsthey give a sensual and charming to the whole, which makes think of odalisques of Delacroix.

Different is the portrait of the Marquise de Vivanco (1833); calm and rest are also commonplace. matronal and classical beauty has the figure, sitting comfortably on a terrace or balcony where he/she burst into the garden plants; perched on the parapet, a parrot; on the wall that makes Fund referred to a religious painting and a crucifix bathed in light, so that forms a contrast and effect with the Dark Lady hair; the Mexican atmosphere of a country house is perfectly accomplished; freedom of the brushstrokes and the timely touches, all, gives the idea of the great artist who was Rugendas.

Excellent paint quality has likewise (1833) portrait of the nun María Concepción of los Angeles (Rosa Ochoa) that not only reminds Delacroix, but his successor, to Manet. Grace and freshness have the Chinas poblanas of Santa Fe, Veracruz; movement, contrast and life, the robber of proceedings; light and shadow make up the mill of Tuzamapa, as in an Impressionist painting; the grace of Goya expression appears in the Corrida in the plaza de San Pablo, México; and at the scene of the Mall of Mexico in a day of sightseeing in the morning. All these paintings were executed in 1833.En landscapes, the monumental character corresponds to the grandeur of nature. Rugendas was an artist with a sense of great thing.

Customs, types, landscape, archaeology and portraits are topics covering Rugendas, i.e., everything that was most vividly interested at the time, which could stimulate the imagination of Europeans who did not know America and that the artist, with real poetic sense, revealed to them.

In addition to those already mentioned, his works include: life in the courtyard of an Inn at Veracruz in 1831; Arriving at the Jalapa with the Cofre de Perote in the background; Rest the courtyard of a French fonda in Jalapa; Sta.maria ravine in the outskirts of Jalapa; Panorama of the Valley of Mexico from San Bartolo Naucalpan; The Mall in the city of Mexico; Night apprehension of a murderer in the city of Mexico; Friday in La Viga canal; Way to Guadalajara between Atotonilco and Zapotlanejo; View of the Nevado de Colima from the sea; Vicenta Jiménez; Indian of Zempoala; Doña Ana O´Gorman Noriega; and the robber of proceedings.


BAYÓN, Damián: The art of Mexico of the colony to the present day. Akal, 1991.

Ramirez ROJAS, Fausto: Art of the 19th century in the city of Mexico. Madrid, 1984.