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"The 'Iron Hombre' Dodecathlon, Mexico City, 1907"

José Passouta

One artist who brought a decidedly Central American flavor to Depressionism was José Passouta. Financial problems forced him to drop out of art school two weeks into his Human Anatomy 101 class, so he was never able to depict figures beyond the skeletal stage. This limitation made him an utter failure at portraiture but placed him in high demand for Mexico's Day of the Dead celebrations, where he attained great fame and fortune.

The work we see here is part of an outside mural done for the Mexico City Sports Palace in 1907. There are twelve sections, one for each event in in the dodecathlon. The 100-kilometer bicycle race was the final event in the series, and from newspaper accounts we know that Passouta came as close to realism as ever he could with this work, as all the competitors died of sunstroke, exhaustion or exploded hearts during the last leg of the race up the side of the Popocateptl volcano.

There are details in this portion of the work which reflect social customs and everyday life at the time it was painted. The central figure with its beard and wings represents the retired Army general Álvaro Iturbide, the oldest to compete and the first to die in the 1907 competition. The children shown are participating in the custom of riding along with the contestants as far as they could until they were stopped by police or crushed under trucks. The helmeted figure lying in the road is the unfortunate Miguel Cortés, a traffic policeman who had not been warned of the event and attempted to halt the racers on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Passouta's best-known work on canvas is his 1911 masterpiece, "The Debutante's Ball," in which the loveliest skeletons of the social season in all their finery are seen whirling on the dance floor in the arm bones of Mexico's aristocracy.


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