“The Pugilist and the Heiress” at Lori Bookstein Fine Art

Meraud Guinness Guevara, Still Life (c. 1938), oil on canvas, 23-1/4″ x 28-3/4″; courtesy of Lori Bookstein Fine Art

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The Pugilist and the Heiress sounds like the title of an overlooked MGM musical circa 1952, but it is, in fact, an exhibition of paintings by the British modernists Meraud and Alvaro Guevara at Lori Bookstein Fine Art.

It’s something of an event as well: The Bookstein show is the first time paintings by this husband-and-wife team—a word used advisedly here, given Meraud and Alvaro’s fractious marriage—have been displayed together. Anglophiles will take interest in the couple’s association with the Bloomsbury crowd. Devotees of 20th-century art will note the connection to Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso—Meraud introduced the two. Fans of painting will be charmed and, in the case of Meraud’s uncanny Still Life, bowled over by the couple’s minor key accomplishments.

Heiress to the Guinness brewing fortune, Meraud studied painting at The Slade School of Art and was later mentored in New York by the great Russian sculptor Alexander Archipenko and in Paris by the great Dadaist gadfly Francis Picabia. It was in Paris that she met Alvaro, a Chilean ex-pat and champion ex-boxer, who had done an earlier course of study at the Slade. Within two months, Meraud and Alvaro eloped, but the marriage was a loose-limbed, mostly separate affair, due, in part, to Alvaro’s homosexuality, but also to each partner’s stubborn individuality.

That’s the way it comes across at Bookstein. Could Meraud and Alvaro be any more different as artists? Meraud’s portraits and still lifes are weighty-bordering-on stolid, hearkening to Picasso’s neo-classical phase and imbued with a dry strain of Surrealism. Alvaro was given to giddy, almost frivolous depictions of leisure—theater, café society, napping in the park, like that. Meraud’s brush molded mountains, Alvaro’s lighted upon moments. Their collective paintings don’t butt heads so much as blissfully go their own way. The Pugilist and the Heiress offers a discreet and lovingly paced glimpse of their quixotic relationship.

© 2010 Mario Naves

Originally published in the November 23, 2010 edition of City Arts.


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