Jean Charlot (1898-1979) was a painter, muralist, archaeologist, and printmaker, and we are excited to add his 1946 lithograph “Mexican Kitchen” to our collection.
Charlot was born in Paris to a Russian-born émigré father and a Mexican mother. He attended the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied Aztec art and Nahuatl. Charlot would walk to school along the Seine, passing the quays with stalls of second-hand books. He earned a few francs coloring old black and white engravings to improve their appeal to buyers, and he began collecting nineteenth century literature. Charlot credits the act of coloring these old editions with developing “his taste in lithography and what could be done.” In 1915, he moved out of Paris to St. Mande, and began frequent travel to Brittany, where he immersed himself in the local folk art of the region. This interest in folk art would stick with him throughout his life. Charlot worked as a muralist for a time, painting scenes for churches, before serving as an artillery officer in WWI.
In 1920, Charlot moved to Mexico. He shared a studio with painter Fernando Leal, befriending influential artists Pablo O’Higgins and Diego Riviera, among others. Although in Paris much of Charlot’s work was landscapes, after bearing witness to the deaths, chaos, and social upheaval of WWI and the Mexican Revolution, he turned to human subjects. “As long as I was a painter, those [experiences] had to embed themselves in every picture”. In 1922, Charlot painted his first mural fresco in the famed National Preparatory School, Mexico City, entitled Massacre in the Main Temple. He completed several frescoes in the Mexico City Ministry of Public Education, in 1923.
From 1926-28, Charlot worked as an archaeological artist for the Carnegie Institution of Washington at Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico. The time spent in Mexico City and then Chichén Itzá was crucial for his development as an artist. His early style had roots in Europe’s analytical cubism, depicting his models with a sculptural and blocky quality. Later, his style would feature less of cubism’s distortion, in order to pay respect to the model as the real subject of the painting, rather than just a part of the composition. He also stopped painting from models and did more work based on sketches from life, walking around the town, eating and spending time in the homes of fellow workers from the site. He wanted to paint women “close to the earth, close to the soil.”
In 1929, Charlot traveled to Washington, D.C., to edit text and supervise preparation of illustrations for The Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, which was published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1931. After his work in DC, he moved to New York where he taught at the Art Students League and lectured at Columbia University. During this period of his life, he wrote and illustrated several books, taught classes, and worked with Lynton Kistler of Los Angeles in the printing of his color lithographs. In the 40s, he was an artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia, in Athens. He painted an oil-on-canvas mural for the post office at McDonough, Georgia, Cotton Gin, and painted frescos on the outside the of Fine Arts Building, entitled Visual Arts, Drama Music, and in the Journalism Building, Time Discloseth All Things: Cortez Lands in Mexico and Paratroopers Land in Sicily.
In 1945, Charlot returned to Mexico on a Guggenheim Fellowship to write The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920-1925, which was published in 1963 by Yale University Press. Mexihkanantli, a portfolio of sixteen color lithographs by Jean Charlot, was printed by Sanchez in Mexico City and published by La Estampa Mexicana, in Mexico City, 1947.
In 1951, He joined the University of Hawaii, as Professor of Painting and Art History. Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Charlot took breaks from teaching to paint murals and frescos in churches and universities all over the world, including Honolulu, Hawaii; Centerville, Ohio; Atchison, Kansas; Naisereiagi, Fiji; and Oahu, Hawaii. In 1968, Jean Charlot, a Retrospective Exhibition was presented at the Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City, as part of the Cultural Program of the Games of the XIX Olympiad. He received an award from the National Council of Arts, in Washington. He also wrote, edited, and published four more books, José Clemente Orozco, Et artists en Nueva York (1971), An Artist on Ark, Collected Essays of Jean Charlot (1972), Picture Book II: 32 Original Lithographs and Captions by Jean Charlot (1973), and Two Hawaiian Plays by Jean Charlot (1976). Jean Charlot passed away in 1979 in Hawaii.