Mexican painter. He studied at the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City from 1861 to 1874 and completed his training in Europe (Oct 1874–May 1876), where he came into contact with modern French art. However, well before his departure, he had already turned increasingly to costumbrismo for his subject matter, and found ready buyers among the liberal middle class of the restored Republic, who had lost interest in the Nazarene religious paintings circulated in Mexico by Pelegrín Clavé.
In 1869 Ocaranza presented a series of original paintings, and two stand out in particular: El amor del colibrí and La flor marchita (both in Mexico City, Mus. N. A.). Both paintings feature a young, upper-class girl with a lily. In the first, she is watching, fascinated by a bird approaching the calyx of the flower to drink its nectar. In the second painting, the girl, tears in her eyes, contemplates the broken lily, in a clear allusion to lost innocence. His willingness to paint highly sentimental contemporary scenarios garnered both popular and critical favor, which was corroborated by his contributions to his next two exhibitions (1871 and 1873).
In 1873 he exhibited the only large-format painting of a contemporary historical event he ever painted: La denegación del indulto a Maximiliano (lost; reduced version, priv. col.; Gámez de León 2009, CD, cat. 22); it was not well received by either the public or the critics, owing both to its inappropriate political timing (Emperor Maximilian I was executed in 1867 following President Benito Juárez’s refusal to grant a pardon, an event that gave rise to a rupture in diplomatic relations between Austria and France with Mexico) and several technical deficiencies.
After his return to Paris, Ocaranza returned to a perspective that he had employed before (as in Love’s Tricks, where Cupid is shown poisoning a flower destined for an unsuspecting lover, exh. 1871; Mexico City, Mus. N. A.): mixing mythological characters with contemporary person and situations. In Quién soy yo? (exh. 1881; Morelia, Instituyo Michoacano de Cultura), Cupid, standing behind a young girl who is dressed in the latest fashion, sitting in a garden with a book, covers her eyes while he asks her the question in the title.
He also liked to give visual form to a phrase or idea in a literal manner, with an ironic and deflating effect. In Mistake (exh. 1881; Morelia, Instituto Michoacano de Cultura) a hummingbird mistakes the lips of a sleeping girl for a flower. In Still Life (exh. 1881; Mexico City, Mus. N. A.) a man in a top hat is face down on a marble table (whose front edge is inscribed with the title of the painting), completely drunk and unconscious, as inert as the cups and bottles that rest around him. A fly circles the spoils of this physical and moral ruin, in the manner of a vanitas painting. With reason, a critic of the era, the poet and novelist Ignacio M. Altamirano, warned: “His ingenuity was not limited to his wit, but also addressed melancholy and irritating thoughts, the bitter philosophy of human affairs, the dark comedy of life.” Ocaranza’s dark streak, bordering on the grotesque and the gruesome, became evident in some of his small oil sketches, possibly made in Paris, which could perhaps qualify as postmodern for their quasi Baudelairean tone. They were presented in the Ocaranza exhibition of 1995 (Mexico City, Mus. N. A.), which marked the beginning of a re-appreciation of his work.
- Hurtado Mendoza, F. and others. Manuel Ocaranza y sus críticos. Morelia, 1987 [first monograph on Ocaranza, but seriously flawed, confusing him with architect Manuel María Ocaranza (d c. 1865)].
- Ramírez, F, Sámano, R., and Velázquez, A. Entre romanticismo y realismo. Pintura costumbrista sentimental de Manuel Ocaranza, 1841–1882. Mexico City, Mus. N. A., 1995. Exhibition catalog.
- Velázquez Guadarrama, A. “Castas o marchitas. El amor del colibrí y La flor muerta de Manuel Ocaranza.” An. Inst. Invest. Estét. 73 (1998): 125–160.
- Velázquez Guadarrama, A., ed. The Painting Collection of the Banco Nacional de Mexico: 19th century. Catalog. Mexico City, 2004, vol. 2, pp. 432–435.
- Leonardini, N. and Ortiz Arias, L. Manuel Ocaranza. El más original, atrevido y elegante de los pintores mexicanos. Lima, 2006 [incl. important essays and letters by Ocaranza].
- “Manuel Ocaranza.” In Catálogo comentado del acervo del Museo Nacional de Arte. Pintura. Siglo XIX, vol. 2, pp. 92–118. Mexico City, 2009.
- Gámez de León, T. Rostro reflejado ante un espejo. Manuel Ocaranza, pintor, 1841–1882. Mexico City, 2009 [incl. CD-ROM of paintings and drawings].
- Velázquez Guadarrama, A. “Naturaleza muerta: El epitafio de Manuel Ocaranza.” In Cimientos. 65 años del INBA, donaciones y adquisiciones, 79–79. Mexico City, Mus. Pal. B.A., 2011.
- Velázquez Guadarrama, A. “De la caridad religiosa a la beneficencia burguesa: la dádiva social y sus imágenes.” An. Inst. Invest. Estét. 109 (2016): 43–95.