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Fortunato Arriola

Paintings in Inventory

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Storm at Sea

Artist's Biography

The son of a once-wealthy Mexican landowner who had fallen on hard times, Fortunato Arriola taught himself to paint portraits in his native country, then moved to California in the early 1860s. He continued to accept portrait commissions as a resident artist in San Francisco, while starting to paint landscapes much in demand in California in the late sixties. His studio became the center for colorful Mexican politicos in exile and thoughts of Mexico were often in his mind, as evidenced by the many Mexican subjects that he chose to paint. In 1871, Arriola moved to New York, hoping to make enough money to travel to Europe, but prosperity evaded him, and he boarded the steamship Bienville to return to San Francisco. Its cargo of gunpowder exploded, the ship sank and the artist was drowned.

Arriola preferred to paint romantic subjects that had an immediate appeal to the emotions. Titles of his paintings indicate his interest in painting storms. In 1868, the year after the date on our painting, he sold a work entitled “Hurricane off Tehuantepec” for $105.00 in a San Francisco auction, which may have been our painting. (Tehuantepec is a town on the Pacific Ocean in southern Mexico.) In this work, Arriola has captured the dramatic moment during a storm at night when sailors, illuminated by a flash of lightning, are desperately climbing the rigging to furl the topsails. The struggle of man for survival against the forces of nature is the theme of this work. Arriola has counterbalanced a possible dire outcome by forming a cross of hope in the clouds at the top of the lightning flash. Arriola was the best Mexican-American painter of the nineteenth century, and his surviving works are rare.

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