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Framed artwork is by ‘father of Mexican modern art’

The small dots on this image suggest this is a commercial print that was probably produced in large quantities.
The small dots on this image suggest this is a commercial print that was probably produced in large quantities. TNS

Q: I paid $35 for this framed artwork. It is signed by Ramos Martinez. I notice in the picture there are some small dots in the image. How much is this piece worth? Any information would be helpful.

P. G., Surprise, Ariz.

A: It might be said placemats jump-started the artistic career of Alfredo Ramos Martinez, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1871 and died in Los Angeles in 1946.

Ramos’ father, Jacobo Ramos, was a successful businessman with a retail business in Monterrey selling jewelry, fabrics, silver and clothing. His son Alfredo was one of nine children, and the family expected all the children to participate in the business. But young Ramos had another calling.

When he was 14, he won a San Antonio art contest. Among the prizes was a scholarship to the most prestigious art school in Mexico, the Academy of Fine Arts located in Mexico City. The entire family moved to a small town just outside Mexico City so Ramos could attend.

Ramos did not particularly like the teaching methods of the school, but he began creating a body of work that won prizes and garnered him a reputation as a prodigious talent. Ramos wanted to continue his studies in Europe, but his family could not afford the expense.

Enter Phoebe Hearst, who was in Mexico City attending a dinner given by the Mexican president. Hearst admired the placemats used at the dinner, and after she met the young artist she bought all his watercolors and agreed to subsidize his studies in Paris, where Martinez was greatly influenced by artists such as Gauguin, Matisse and Monet.

Martinez started exhibiting at the prestigious Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1905 and won a gold medal in 1906. One result was Phoebe Hearst stopped sending Martinez his monthly stipend and in 1910, he returned to Mexico, where he became the director of the Academy of Fine Art in 1913. He is considered by some to be the “father of Mexican modern art.”

Now known for his murals, drawings, prints, watercolors and easel paintings, his original works have sold at auction from $200,000 to $4 million. Unfortunately, the “small dots” mentioned in the letter suggest this is a commercial print that was probably produced in rather large quantities.

The dots are either “Ben-Day” or “halftone” dots. Ben-Day dots are named after printer and illustrator Benjamin Henry Day, Jr., who originated their use in 1879. Halftone dots originated in the 1830s, and the difference between the two is halftone dots vary in size and spacing while Ben-Day dots are equal in size and distribution.

The insurance replacement value of this piece is probably in the range of $100 to $125.

Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email treasures@knology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.

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