Happy Birthday Cordelia Utueta (1908-1995)

Portrait of Cordelia Urueta, by Katy Horna (undated).
Silver on gelatin. (I believe) private collection. (Image from Diego Rivera Mural Museum)

Considered a pioneer in abstract art, Urueta was born on September 16, 1908 in Coyoacán (which now is part of CDMX and one of the oldest neighborhoods in Mexico City).

She grew up in an intellectual, political and artistic family. Her father was a diplomat serving a number of international posts, as well as an art critic for Revisit Moderna. Her mother was the daughter of Santiago Sierra, niece of educator Justo Sierra and cousin of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Her brother, known as Chano, became a filmmaker and her sister Margarita, would later become a noted playwright.

Initially Urueta did not have much formal training aside from private lessons. In 1920, her father died when Cordelia was eleven years old. She enrolled in classes at the Escuela de Pintura de Aire Libre in Churubusco which was established by the Mexican Muralist Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

In 1929, due to poor health, her mother took her to NYC and through a family friend she met Alma Reed, writer and owner of Delfic Studios, an art gallery. Reed invited Urueta to participate in a collective exhibition along with José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo. Her heath, however caused her to take a break from painting for a few years. In 1932, she began teaching art for the Secretaría de Educación Public where she met a number of prominent artists including her future husband Gustavo Montoya (1905-2003).

Urueta received a chancellor post at the Mexican embassy in Paris in 1938, and married Montoya. After the war broke out they transferred to the New York consulate. In 1950, they returned to Mexico permanently and Urueta dedicated herself to painting. Long-time family friend and fellow artist Dr Alt (Gerardo Murillo Cornado, 1875-1964) noticed her talent and encouraged her work.

Autoretrato, 1950

Urueta exhibited extensively in Mexico and abroad during the 1950s and 1960s, including, France, Jerusalem, Scandinavia, Peru, Honduras, Japan and New York. In 1967 she had a major solo exhibition at the Galería de Arte Mexicano, followed by an exhibition at the Museo de Arte Moderno three years later, which also did a retrospective of her work in 1985. More recently the Diego Rivera Museum held the retrospective: Cordelia Urueta: Character and Color, from November 29, 2013 to March 2, 2014 and subsequently held at the Grand Museum of the Mayan World of Mérida from October 20 2017 to January 21 2018

In 1965, Urueta and Montoya divorced after twenty-six years of marriage.

Although she is recognized as “La Gran Dama del Arte Abstracto en México,” Urueta never lost interest in the human figure. She left behind a rich and prolific pictorial legacy that is a reflective search on her own identity and the human condition.

La voz, 1958.
Oil on canvas, 150 x 111 cm. Museo de Arte Moderno.


La abrasada, 1959 ​(The Scorched One)
Oil on canvas 33.46 x 27.64 inches
Morton Casa de Subastas
Auction Date: May 17, 2018, lot 200

The beasts, 1981​
oil on canvas 55.12 x 64.76 inches
Morton Casa de Subastas
Auction Date: May 21, 2015, ​lot 121​