Museo Cabañas, whose main premises are Hospicio Cabañas [Cabañas Orphanage], owes its name to Bishop Juan Cruz Ruiz de Cabañas y Crespo, who arrived to Mexico in 1796 and his purpose was the construction of a shelter for orphan children, elder citizens and forsaken people. Bishop Cabañas requested Valencian architect Manuel Tolsá to design this important project, and Tolsá put his student José Gutiérrez in charge of the execution. Because of its neoclassical architecture style, Hospicio Cabañas is one of the most significant and emblematic buildings in Jalisco and Mexico. In it have been registered the most important political and social events of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Since 1980, Museo Cabañas has been presenting exhibits, both from local, national and foreign artists. In its educational offer it counts with talks, conferences, workshops and round tables conceived for the general public.
In 1810, the building opened its doors as Casa de la Caridad y la Misericordia [House of Charity and Compassion]. It has a symmetrical layout, divided by the major chapel’s cross, and it is considered as one of the most important showcases of neoclassical architecture in the country. Its façade is distinguishable by an even pediment held by six Doric columns. In a secondary plane the major chapel’s dome stands out, upheld by two concentric circles of Doric and Ionic columns. Inside are found 23 courtyards of different sizes, surrounded by long, well-vented hallways, covered and delimited by Tuscan-style arches and columns. At the back of the building can be noted a second chapel, of greater sobriety than the first, that was employed as the orphanage’s refectory —dining room. It was named “Tolsá”, in honor of the Spanish architect.
Throughout the years, its function has varied from an orphanage to headquarters during the Independence War. Its golden years were from 1859 to 1874, the year in which its administration fell onto the Sisters of Charity, since they consolidated the project called “Hospicio” [“Orphanage”], initiated by Bishop Cabañas and they kept on with assistance endeavors.
In 1912, the school for the Orphanage’s children began to be administered by the Education Directorate of the State of Jalisco. In 1937, invited by the Government of Jalisco, the artist José Clemente Orozco started painting the inside of the major chapel.
Humanitarian work is resumed, although not in its entirety, as it was taken in several ocasions, despite political conflicts. There are records from the years 1834, 1846, 1852, and 1858. It is now called Hospicio Cabañas, in honor to its founder.
The 57 vibrant frescos were made by the artist between 1937 and 1939. They have as a central figure, in the vaulted dome, the Hombre de fuego [The Man of Fire]. It is now considered by critics the masterpiece of this muralist originally from Jalisco.
By government decree, in 1980 Hospicio Cabañas changed its calling. It was intervened and transformed into a space dedicated to the diffusion of the arts, and officially opened its doors in 1983.
Due to its architectural beauty and historic and cultural relevance, the building was declared part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.
Currently, Museo Cabañas keeps showcasing Orozco's murals in its Major Chapel, besides scheduling modern and contemporary art exhibits.
José Clemente Orozco
On the walls, vaults and tambour of the major chapel’s dome in Museo Cabañas, Orozco’s most representative muralist work can be found. The artist portrays on 57 frescos the conquest, religion, the industry, good and evil humankind, oppression, mechanics, the creation, indigenous roots, and the history of our country, Mexico.
José Clemente Orozco was born in Ciudad Guzmán, Jalisco, on November 23rd, 1883. In 1890, he arrived in Mexico City with his family. Next door from his home, there was a printing house that worked with José Guadalupe Posada’s engravings. There he had his first contact with art.
During the Revolution, Orozco joined Carranza’s army. This way, during the group’s stay in the city of Orizaba, he was part of the writers of the newspaper La Vanguardia [The Vanguard], in charge of the same army. Orozco was in charge of illustrations and caricatures, under the leadership of Gerardo Murillo, Dr. Atl. During his lifetime, he also participated in the publications of El Imparcial [The Impartial], and El Hijo del Ahuizote.
In 1916, after Venustiano Carranza took the capital, Orozco witnessed the excesses of military conquest, and was then separated from the movement. As part of his protest, he assembled a caricature exhibit against Carranza, which wasn’t well-received. He then exited the country towards California, in the United States, where he worked as an independent artist; painting signs and retouching photographs.
When the muralist movement started in 1922, Orozco came back and joined David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, and other renowned characters to shape Mexican muralism. He also intervened on the project for the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria [National Preparatory School], the stairwell in Casa de los Azulejos [House of Tiles], and a mural at the Escuela Industrial de Orizaba [Industrial School in Orizaba, Veracruz]. Muralism was a movement seeking to get art back to the public sector and serve nationalism and the popular cause.
Orozco traveled once again to the United States, and, in 1930, he received a commission with which he generated his work Prometeo [Prometheus], on the cafeteria at Pomona College, in Claremont, California, becoming the first mural painted by a Mexican artist in the United States. In 1932, he also imparted painting lessons at the same university.
Among the most important works of Orozco, can be found his mural Katharsis on the Palace of Fine Arts; his frescos on the University of Guadalajara’s Amphitheater; the staircase on the palace of government in Guadalajara, and the set of 57 murals, located in Museo Cabañas, a site considered “the Sistine Chapel of the Americas”. Besides, Museo Cabañas has had under its custody —thanks to a commodatum agreement with the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature— 340 artworks of Orozco, since its foundation in 1983. From this set of pieces, 221 are actually sketches for murals.
In 1940, Mexico collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York, for the exhibit Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art, in which José Clemente Orozco was invited for the live creation of a mural artwork. From this presentation came Dive Bomber and Tank, a mural made of six interchangeable panels, where he emphasizes on the war industry during the Second World War.
The last years of his life were devoted to a great amount of easel paintings, many of which may be found in the general collection of the National Museum of Art. Some of the paintings that stand out are Head Pierced with Arrows (1947); Spanish
and Indian Warriors (1947), and The Dismembered Man (1947), all related to the Conquest of Mexico, and from the Los teules series, or Los teules 2, in which Orozco was inspired by Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The True History of The Conquest of New Spain to create scenes of battles, war achievements, and pre-Hispanic rituals. Alongside Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Orozco became a fundamental reference of Mexican muralism and Latin American art.José Clemente Orozco died in Mexico City, on September 7th, 1949, as a consequence of a cardiac arrest.