- Juan de Saenz, Mexican
- Active Years: 1768-1818
The portrait painting is signed on the reverse by Juan de Saenz and it is dated circa 1795. A Mexican artist, Saenz studied at the new Royal Academy of San Carlos founded in Mexico City by King Carlos III of Spain. Saenz trained with the first Director of Painting at the Academy, Rafael Jimeno y Planes, who had emigrated from Spain to assume the post. Saenz later collaborated with his professor on several major painting projects. Jimeno y Planes, in turn, had trained at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid under Francisco Bayeu. Francisco Goya had also studied with Bayeu and married Bayeu's daughter.
The indirect connection to Goya makes this a particularly interesting piece and invites comparison to portraits and tapestries by Goya from the same time period. However, portraits by Goya and other contemporary artists in Spain do not evidence such a brilliant color palette in the clothing, a convention retained by Saenz from the Mexican portraiture tradition and fashion. In spite of this, the Saenz painting displays a dramatic break from traditional Mexican portrait conventions in which the sitter usually maintains a stiff and formal pose amidst the furniture and trappings of wealth and status. The casual pose of the subject and lack of elegant surroundings indicates the dramatic artistic and intellectual changes occurring in New Spain in the late 1700s that ultimately lead to the Mexican independence movement.
The young man in the portrait is a member of the Musitu Zalvide family, Basques who came early to New World and had the largest sugar plantation in Mexico, near Cuernavaca. He holds a letter addressed to "Don Fernando Musitu, who lives at the Hacienda de Santa Clara" (the sugar plantation). The Mexican branch of the Musitu family had a tradition of portraiture with at least six known colonial portraits in existence, including a double portrait of a husband and wife in the Bank of Mexico collection and exhibited in the DAM's "Painting a New World" exhibition. This is the latest of those portraits known to exist.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015