The auditorium of the prestigious Revista de Occidente had never opened its doors to host an art exhibition. Never until May 28, 1928. That day, Ortega y Gasset, the new director of the publication, enthusiastically received the intelligentsia of the city of Madrid who flocked to contemplate the work of a young 26-year-old painter who presented a whole set of paintings whose themes flew over — when it did not penetrate until the barricades — the village festivals and the traditional and futuristic entertainments of Spanish men and women. The young woman behind those ten oil paintings and many more prints was very well defined by the writer and journalist Ramon Gómez de la Serna. “There was the little author,” he said, “with lynx eyes, her head like a fast-turning weather vane, her nose pressed to her chin like a bird proud of its colorful nest.” It was Maruja Mallo (Viveiro, Lugo, 1902 – Madrid, 1995) and “if posterity were fair,” says the doctor in Art History Manuel Antón in conversation with this medium, “today she would be one of the most remembered and recognized artists of the world. country”.
Maruja Mallo’s name often slips through the fine cracks in the anecdotes of the Student Residence left by its three most famous students: Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel and, above all, Federico García Lorca. The latter defined the exhibition that took Mallo to Madrid’s Gran Vía, where the headquarters of the Revista de Occidente was located, as “the paintings that I have seen painted with more imagination, with more grace, with more tenderness and with more sensuality” . The four, along with other students such as Pepín Bello, Margarita Manso and some others, were part of the cultural and intellectual heart of Madrid whose poets and writers, over time, would become known as the Generation of 27. In addition, Maruja Mallo was – is and it will be – a sin hat. And not just anyone, but one of the two women who, together with Lorca and Dalí, starred in the gesture that would give its name to a whole generation of Spanish women artists, writers and intellectuals.
“It seems that Mallo, Dalí, Lorca and Margarita Manso were walking around Puerta del Sol one day when they decided to remove their respective hats”, explains Manuel Antón, and continues: “The important thing is the gesture, the symbol of uncovering the head.” Maruja Mallo herself explained In a television program, many years later, that the four members of the Residence who took off the garment received, ipso facto, insults, humiliations and even stones. The truth is that the young Maruja Mallo and her usual accomplices did not usually leave anyone indifferent. Gómez de la Serna said of her that “she shook her hand as if pulling the bell of friendship with a special shake”. That first exhibition at the Revista de Occidente headquarters put Mallo on the map of Spanish art, but it was only the beginning. Over time, he would meet the sculptor Alberto and Benjamín Palencia and participate in what was later called the Vallecas School. “His art was solid from the beginning, but, as if it were a paradox, he was in constant training”, explains the doctor.
In that Madrid of social gatherings an artist was growing up who was “the only young witch I have ever known”, as Gómez de la Serna also described her. There was in her the ability to transmit both on and off the canvas and to befriend the greatest personalities of that time. Neruda, Alberti -with whom he had a sentimental relationship-, the aforementioned Lorca and Dalí, Miguel Hernández -with whom he also had a relationship- and so many others argued, laughed, debated and, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, cried and they went into exile at the side of Maruja Mallo.
When Breton bought him a painting
Mallo’s pictorial quality is indisputable, as is his contribution to surrealism. And it is not that the connoisseurs say it, that also, but that the maximum exponent of surrealism, André Breton, could not avoid buying a Galician painting. Maruja Mallo traveled to Paris in 1932 and immediately fit into the French avant-garde atmosphere. It dazzled the poet Paul Elouard and aroused great interest in the father of surrealism. How magnificent it has to be The Scarecrow so that Breton will not hesitate for a second to get hold of it. “The good harmony she had with the French surrealists”, comments Antón, “led her to consider not returning to Madrid and developing her career in Paris, but she decided to return to Spain”. Before, yes, he exhibited in the Parisian and prestigious Pierre Gallery. Upon his return, events rushed to Spain. She herself recounted, in a television interview, how it was the last time she saw her friend Federico García Lorca.
And now, the third time we heard a bell, Neruda said to Amparo Montt […] that she and I were to open the door and it was Federico. And to the amazement of seeing Amparo Montt, who was dressed in the Argentine flag among all the jungle, he ushered us in and said: “Maruja, take Amparo’s hand,” at the same time that he took the other. And addressing everyone present, he said: “This flag will guard us one day.” Federico was leaving for Granada eight days later to collect his luggage and meet Margarita Xirgu in Buenos Aires and we never saw him again. And we have all already each gone to spend the summer in a place and that was when the Civil War broke out.
Margarita Mallo, the only young ‘witch’ that Gómez de la Serna met, was, from very early on, an observer, sometimes; participant, others and often protagonist of the most relevant events in the history of Spain. Maruja Mallo was a figure of surrealism and an emancipator of women. It was modern, cool, rebellious and exiled.