Iztacciuatl — the Sleeping Woman

Photograph — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Iztaccihuatl, one of the two volcanos that overlooks Mexico City (the other is Popocatepetl) is familiarly caled The Sleeping Lady. When I photographed Ivette Hernández (she hails from León, Guanajuato) it took only one exposure for me to recreate the idea of the lovely volcano that has snow year round.

In the mid 70s, before Rosemary, our two daughters and I came to Vancouver, I attended a posh wedding at the home of a former president of Mexico, Adolfo López Mateos. He had a huge very long living room that could have accomodated with room to spare a luxury yacht. On either side there were smaller rooms, open to the large one that contained paintings of volcanoes by Dr. Atl. Since that time I have been intrigued by the man who was originally called Gerardo Murillo Coronado.

Then a couple of years ago when Rosemary and I went to Mérida in Yucatán, Mexico I found a lovely book about a woman called Nahui Olin. I wrote about her here, here and here.

The little essay below explains a bit about the relationship Dr. Atl had with Nahui Olin. My friend, Mexican poet Homero Aridjis was also influenced by Olin. He met up with her in her later years when she was a “cat lady” in the Alameda Park in Mexico City.

The Tumultuous Relationship Between A Painter of Volcanoes And A Woman In Eruption

by Olympia Villagrán

Nahui Olin was the fourth movement of the sun in the Aztec calendar, when the cycles of the cosmos would be renewed. It was also the name that was given to the nineteenth-century Mexican painter and poet, Carmen Mondragón. Her brutal eroticism –borderline violent– drove men wild with desire, but also inspired them to make great works of art.

Her intelligence turned her into a woman full of wit and creativity, muse for novelist Homero Aridjis, poet Tomás Zurián, biographer Adriana Maldivo, muralist Diego Rivera, photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, and writer Alain Paul Mallard. The latter wrote a novel recreating the relationship between this hurricane of a woman and a painter of volcanoes.

Olin was made out of lava, while Gerardo Murillo Coronado, also known as Dr. Atl, was the man who became obsessed with taming her wild nature. They fell in love with a passionate craze, but Olin was never truly convinced. Every man was hers, yet she belonged to no one.

In 1921 both these groundbreaking artists met and began a torrid affair full of passion and fights. The painter of volcanoes was mesmerized by the one natural disaster he could not understand. Murillo had climbed the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, witnessed the birth of the Paricutín in 1943, but he was never able to fully have the heart of Nahui Olin. When Edward Weston photographed the writer’s mysterious gaze, Dr. Atl was lost in her eyes, while Antonio Garduño captured the beauty of her body.

Murillo hated himself for loving a woman like her. Though he believed there was no woman more divine than her, she found it impossible to tie herself to just one soul forever.

Mallard’s book proposed several irreconcilable situations between the couple: temperament, society, art, mood, and even age. Their relationship was as intense as unstable. Biographies on Olin claim that when the couple had parties, she would welcome her guests completely naked.

Between pencil sketches, glasses of wine, and music, Murillo would incite her to drink as well as consume drugs. In her eyes he was the one who drove her to madness. Her creative mind was suddenly overflowing with jealousy, her beauty made of rage, and her soul broken into shards.

She wrote him over 200 letters; he painted her dozens of times. Their love was full of splendor and despair. Their sexual encounters were as rapturous as their fights. Despite it all, Murillo became a mentor for Olin’s paintings and poetry. The painter had become enamored of this woman accused of murdering her own son. During a trip with her husband, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, he claimed she had strangled the baby in a fit of madness.

The pairing of Nahui Olin and Dr. Atl was the most eccentric and absorbing of the many relationships of both artists’ lives. The jealousy, decadence, madness, infidelity, and other evils led them down a path to destruction. Murillo seemed to not be able to find any comfort after her. On the other hand, she found herself in the arms of Eugenio Agacino, a Spanish sailor.

Just when it seemed Olin had found stability in this new partner, Agacino died during one of his travels to Cuba. That was the end of this fiery woman. Solitude, the haunting memories of her relationship with Murillo, and her interrupted story with Agacino killed her little by little.

When Murillo died, an older, devastated Olin appeared at his memorial in the Palace of Fine Arts. The beautiful woman full of mysticism and artistry was transformed into a shadow of heartbreak. The greatest hate was born from two souls who loved each other in the most devastating way. This love consumed them both until their deaths.

Translated by María Suárez


Link to: Iztaccihuatl — The Sleeping Woman



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