May 282015

The great German landscape artist Johann Moritz Rugendas traveled in Mexico from 1831 to 1834, much of the time in the company of Eduard Harkort. In January 1934, they explored the shores of Lake Chapala, and remarked on its “solitary and tranquil beauty”. During the trip Rugendas completed at least two sketches of the lake, having spent some time seeking the best vantage points.

Rugendas: Drawing of Lake Chapala, January 1834

Rugendas: Drawing of Lake Chapala, January 1834

These drawings (now in the collection of the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich, Germany) were the basis for two oil paintings of the lake: “Lake Chapala” and “View of Lake Chapala from San Jacinto hill”. (There may well be earlier paintings of Lake Chapala, but if so, they have yet to come to my attention. Neither Humboldt, who visited the area in 1803, nor Mrs Henry Ward, who accompanied her husband to Lake Chapala in 1827, is known to have drawn or painted the lake).

Rugendas: Lake CHapala

Rugendas: Lake Chapala

From Lake Chapala, the travelers went southwards towards Colima, where, among other accomplishments, they climbed Colima Volcano, and Manzanillo. In March 1834, Rugendas was jailed, and subsequently expelled from Mexico, for his involvement in a failed coup attempt against the then-president, Anastasio Bustamante.

Rugendas was born into a family of well-known painters and engravers and studied first with his father and then with Albrecht Adam before entering the Munich Arts Academy. Inspired by the writing and work of earlier German naturalists such as Johann Baptist von Spix (1781–1826) and Carl von Martius (1794–1868) Rugendas traveled to Brazil in 1821, where he found work as an illustrator for Baron von Langsdorff’s scientific expedition to Minas Gerais and São Paulo. Rugendas remained in Brazil until 1825, when he returned to Europe and published his monumental work Voyage Pittoresque dans le Brésil, which included more than 100 illustrations.

Rugendas had no sooner returned to Europe in 1825 than he met (in Paris) noted explorer and naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), and was inspired to seek funding for an ambitious project to “become the illustrator of life in the New World”. In 1831 he traveled to Haiti, and then Mexico, where he executed numerous oil paintings. Following his expulsion from Mexico in 1834, he traveled  through South America for more than a decade, returning to Europe in 1846, at the age of 44.

Rugendas’ superb drawings and paintings of Mexican landscapes, people and monuments were beautifully executed and helped give European viewers a glimpse into the geographic and cultural riches of the New World. Most of Rugendas’ works were eventually acquired by King Maximilian II of Bavaria in exchange for a life pension.

An exhibition displaying some of Rugendas’ paintings was held in the Instituto Cultural Cabañas in Guadalajara in July 1986.

Eduard Harkort (1797-1836) was a German mining engineer, geologist and cartographer whose journal “In Mexican Prisons: The Journal of Eduard Harkort, 1832-1834” (published by Texas A&M University Press, 1986) recorded his two years of fighting and imprisonment in Mexico.

Main sources:

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May 182015

American artist and author Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) was a frequent traveler to Mexico who developed an obsession with Mexico’s ancient haciendas. Bartlett devoted years of his life to studying and documenting these haciendas (the mainstay of the colonial-era economy), gradually compiling an artistic record covering more than 350 of them throughout the country.

While it is not entirely clear precisely when Bartlett lived in the Chapala region, during his time there he painted and drew exquisite pen and ink drawings, such as this one of the Hacienda de Zapotitán, a short distance north of Jocotepec.


Pen-and-ink drawing by Paul Bartlett of Hacienda de Zapotitán, Jalisco

Bartlett explored Mexico with his wife, poet and writer Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994). The couple first met in Guadalajara in 1941 and married two years later in Sayula. Their son Steven James Bartlett (born in Mexico City and now a widely published author in the fields of psychology and philosophy) subsequently accompanied them as they roamed all over Mexico looking for photogenic and noteworthy haciendas.

Steven Bartlett recalls that the family definitely lived for some months in the Chapala-Ajijic area in the early 1950s. He remembers that his father knew author Peter Lilley (who, with first one writing colleague and then another, used the pen-name of Dane Chandos to craft, among other works, Village in the Sun and House in the Sun, both set at Lake Chapala). The Bartlett family also revisited the Chapala area several times in the 1970s, during the time they were living in Comala, Colima. During these later trips, his father gave lectures about haciendas while his mother gave poetry readings.

Bartlett eventually compiled the beautifully-illustrated book The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, first published in 1990 and readily available now as a free Gutenburg pdf or Epub. The book has more than 100 photographs and illustrations made in the field from 1943 to 1985 and is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the history, economics, art and architecture of Mexico’s colonial haciendas. For a brief review of this book, see The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record on the Geo-Mexico website.

Bartlett’s hacienda art work has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the New York City Public Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City, and at the Bancroft Library, among other places.

An archive of Bartlett’s original pen-and-ink illustrations and several hundred photographs is held in the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas in Austin. A second collection of hacienda photographs and other materials is maintained by the Western History Research Center of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona, before studying art at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and in Guadalajara. He was an instructor in creative writing at Georgia State College and Editor of Publications at the University of California Santa Barbara (1964-70).

Bartlett had dozens of short stories and poems published in magazines such as Southwest Review, Crosscurrents, Antenna, Etc, Greyledge Review, Prospice, and Queen’s Quarterly, and also wrote the short novel Adios, mi México (1983), and the novel When the Owl Cries (1960). Free online editions of several of his books are available via his author page on Project Gutenberg.


Sincere thanks to Steven Bartlett for sharing his memories of the family’s time in Mexico.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

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