José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949) was a member, along with Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros, of the triumvirate of brilliant artists who emerged from the Revolution and transformed Mexican painting into an enormously powerful and populist political statement, especially through the medium of the giant mural. Their chief patron was the state – hence the predominance of their work in official buildings and educational establishments – and their aim was to create a national art that drew on native traditions. Almost all their work is consciously educational, rewriting – or, perhaps better, rediscovering – Mexican history in the light of the Revolution, casting the imperialists as villains and drawing heavily on pre-Hispanic themes. Orozco, a native of Jalisco (he was born in Zapotlan, now Ciudad Guzmán), was perhaps the least overtly political of the three; certainly, his later work, the greatest of which is here in Guadalajara, concentrates on his nuanced style.

As a child he moved to Guadalajara and then to Mexico City, where he was influenced by renowned engraver José Guadalupe Posada and where he painted murals from 1922 to 1927. His best works from this period are the series including The Destruction of the Old Order which he painted at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. Then followed seven years in the US, where works included his mammoth The Epic of American Civilization at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where it’s now displayed. It was in the years following his return, however, in the late 1930s and 1940s, that his powers as an artist reached their peak, above all in his works at Guadalajara’s Hospicio Cabañas and the University of Guadalajara.

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