Artwork of the Week: May 3, 2021
Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), Peon Guadalajara Mexico, 1905, oil on canvas board, 8 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1937.
In the early spring of 1905, Maynard Dixon traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico where he spent two months painting old Mexico and its inhabitants. Excited by the colors, history, and the current passion of the young Mexican revolutionaries, Maynard’s works became less inhibited and his compositions more simplified.
Peon – Guadalajara Mexico is a small oil study of a solitary man, dressed in white and a Mexican charro-style straw sombrero, against a solid blue background. It is a descriptive portrayal that captures the modest daily activity of an anonymous man. The long sleeves and pants of his monochromatic outfit is an attempt to reflect the heat of a scorching sun while his wide brimmed sombrero creates a modicum of shade for his face and neck. Though just a quickly rendered sketch, Dixon’s characteristic use of light lends a corporeal reality to the man’s form.
As the title suggests, this man in the historical and legal sense of the word was considered a “peon”, or an indentured day laborer working to pay off debts he or his family incurred. Peonage, slavery by another name, can be traced back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico, when the conquerors were able to force the poor and the native people, to work for Spanish planters and mine operators. “Debt peonage is frequently associated with Mexico’s export-led economy during the [autocratic rule of the Mexican president Porfirio Diaz] (1876-1910) …” and was firmly rooted in the culture Dixon witnessed first-hand.