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date: 22 November 2019

De Zayas, Mariusfree

(b Veracruz, Mar 13, 1880; d Stamford, CT, Jan 10, 1961).
  • Henry Adams

Mexican illustrator, writer, gallery owner, and publisher, active in the USA. He was the son of a wealthy Mexican lawyer and publisher. De Zayas started his career as an artist by providing drawings for his father’s newspaper in Veracruz. In 1906 he moved on to Mexico City’s leading newspaper, El Diario, but a year later, after the ascension of the dictator Porfirio Diaz, whom the newspaper had opposed, he fled to the USA. There he landed a position making caricatures for the New York Evening World. Shortly after his arrival in the USA, he came into contact with Alfred Stieglitz, who staged solo shows of De Zayas’s caricatures at his gallery Gallery 291 in 1909 and 1910, both of which proved to be huge popular successes.

Marius De Zayas: The Accidental Cubists, photomechanical print, 1914 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

In 1910 De Zayas traveled to Paris, where he stayed almost a year, scouting out adventurous forms of modern art for Stieglitz, notably the cubist work of Picasso and African sculpture. On his return, equipped with knowledge of European modern art and inspired by the work of the French modernist Francis Picabia (who had come to New York to attend the Armory Show), De Zayas began to produce a far more abstract and symbolic form of caricature than his earlier drawings (see fig.). This new work resulted in De Zayas’s last and most important exhibit at 291 in April and May of 1913. This directly followed a show of somewhat similar work by his friend Picabia. Like those of Picabia, De Zayas’s drawings employed forms so simplified that they often verged on pure abstraction and contained witty visual puns that played on references to machines and other aspects of modern life. De Zayas’s drawings in turn probably inspired subsequent near-abstract “symbolic portraits” by members of the Stieglitz group, including Charles Demuth and Arthur Dove.

Marius De Zayas: Edward Steichen and Auguste Rodin, photogravure on paper, 219×163 mm, from Camera Work, 1914

In the spring of 1914 De Zayas traveled again to Paris, where he associated with Picabia and other French modernists, but returned when World War I broke out. Shortly after his return, in partnership with Paul Haviland, and with funding from Agnes Meyer, he inaugurated an artistic magazine—named 291 in honor of Stieglitz’s gallery—which he edited and for which he made radically abstract caricatures, once again strongly influenced by the work of Picabia. While it lasted for only twelve issues, his contribution to this magazine is generally regarded as his most significant artistic achievement.

Unfortunately, De Zayas’s creatively inspiring relationship with Stieglitz came to an end shortly thereafter. In October 1915, De Zayas opened an art gallery on Fifth Avenue, titled The Modern Gallery (renamed the De Zayas Gallery in 1919). While De Zayas insisted that he was simply continuing the work of 291, Stieglitz resented the competition and their relationship deteriorated. De Zayas maintained his New York gallery until 1921. After that date he spent much of his time in Europe, where he continued to organize shows of modern art, although his activities slowed in the late 1930s after he married an American heiress, Virginia Harrison. De Zayas died in Stamford, CT, in 1961.

In addition to his work as an artist and art dealer, De Zayas published two pioneering books, A Study of the Modern Evolution of Plastic Form (co-authored with Paul B. Haviland), 1913, which was one of the first American attempts to understand modern art, and African Negro Art, Its Influence on Modern Art, 1916, one of the first studies anywhere of the aesthetics of African art. In the 1940s, with encouragement from Alfred H(amilton) Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, De Zayas began writing a history of the introduction of modern art into the USA which he worked on for the remainder of his life but which was not published until thirty-five years after his death.


  • How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York. Edited by F. M. Naumann. Cambridge, MA, 1996.


  • Homer, W. I. Alfred Stieglitz and the American Avant-Garde. Boston, 1977.
  • Bohn, W. “The Abstract Vision of Marius de Zayas.” Art Bulletin 62, no. 3 (Sept 1980): 434–452.
  • Saborit, A. and others. Una visita a Marius de Zayas. Xalapa, 2009.
  • Barryte, Bernard, Fort, Ilene Susan, Griffith, Bronwyn A. E., Marshall, Jennifer Jane, Le Normand-Romain, Antoinette, and Pinet, Hélène. Rodin and America: Influence and Adaptation: 1876–1936. Milan: Silvana, 2011.
  • Kroiz, Lauren. Creative Composites: Modernism, Race, and the Stieglitz Circle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
  • Messinger, Lisa Mintz. “The Critic Sadakichi Hartmann as the Subject of a Caricature by Marius De Zayas.” Met. Mus. J. 48 (2013): 239–242.
  • Zayas, Rodrigo de. Marius De Zayas. 2013.
  • Bohn, Willard. “The Abstract Vision of Marius De Zayas.” A. Bull. 62, no. 3 (2014): 434–452.