Ángel Zárraga – Futbolistas en el llano (1922)

Having not missed a World Cup since childhood, I’m still amazed by how much power this poor man’s sport has in bringing people together. Unless you’re hiding away in a cave, there is no way you won’t get sucked into endless conversations about the game, be it with your friends, partner, family, coworkers, neighbors and, yes, even with your dentist. Your dog will be fascinated watching the ball bouncing around too. And unlike politics, you won’t threaten to never to speak to your dad again when he casually tells you that he wants Portugal to win.

While living in France, Mexican artist Ángel Zárraga became fascinated with football, as a way to study and explore the human body and its movement. He completed numerous portraits of players, shown in glorified stances, in the heat of the match, training or unwinding after a game. The artist depicted men and women alike – the latter might have had something to do with Zárraga falling in love with Jeanette Ivanoff, a successful, Russian-born professional player.

Angel Zarraga - Futbolistas en el llano
Ángel Zárraga – Futbolistas en el llano (1922), oil on canvas

In Futbolistas en el llano the Mexican artist depicted a dynamic moment during a football match. It might not be obvious at first, due to the way the painting has been tightly cropped, but the scene we’re watching is taking place just in front of the goal. We can’t actually see it, except for the vertical blue line to the left which indicates the goalpost. It explains why the goalkeeper in pink has his fists in the air, punching out the ball.

Zárraga does a wonderful job at capturing a whole sequence of events: the man in the far distance, nicely framed by the players in the foreground, sends a pass to his teammate with the green and purple jersey, who is too late to jump to the ball. Meanwhile, a defender has fallen to the ground – the man who looks completely unnatural in the lower half of the painting, as if posing for Men’s Vogue Magazine.

There is movement and speed suggested by the use of line and color; the goalkeeper and the forward, in particular, look rather blurred. The latter’s hands were left unfinished, as they blend in with the background. Meanwhile, up in the air we can see diagonal lines that accentuate the goalie’s arms, body and upward direction. His chest also looks blurred and unfinished, making it clear that we’re witnessing a progressive movement and not a fixed pose. The greens, pinks, reds and blues offer the scene a cheerful mood, something you’d expect from a lively, Sunday game.

Zárraga is largely unknown today, yet, for a while, his Parisian studio gathered some of the most talented personalities, including Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Georges Braque and Guillaume Apollinaire. He remains one of the first artists who revealed the world of football through paintings, at a time when this subject might have been considered out of place and before the popularity of the sport had reached its heights.

16 thoughts on “Ángel Zárraga – Futbolistas en el llano (1922)

  1. you won’t threaten to never to speak to your dad again when he casually tells you that he wants Portugal to win… hmmm… you’ve never watched football with my grandma! 😉
    I love the human shapes/form in this painting and I like the how the colour palette resembles a Mexican flag!

    Liked by 1 person

            1. I was rooting for Germany and France before the tournament started, but it’s possible they won’t do that well, based on what I’ve seen. I’m happy with Mexico and Croatia making it far too. And it would be amazing to see Colombia return to the form from 4 years ago.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post as usual about a sports that I won’t pretend I know much, despite spending a fair amount of my time ferrying my son to practices and cheering from the sideline. I want to believe in its power to unite, display full respect and tolerance, much like what art can be too…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for stopping by, chérie Ingrid! I know how busy you are. I can’t tell you how happy I was that France won the World Cup! They’ve been consistently good over the last few years and that’s what I want to see in winners: teamwork and persistence. None of those one-star teams. So while you’re not a fan of the sport, I hope you were still happy that France won.

      I think football/soccer has great power in bringing people together – at least those from the same country, haha. I was hearing stories of how fans coming from South America were quitting their jobs, selling their cars, or saving money for years, just so that they could fly to Russia and cheer their teams. For many it’s a spiritual experience. Like art is for you and I!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You got it all right there, dear Gabriela! I never thought soccer would become such an eye opener and unifier but that is the art of it indeed😂

        Liked by 1 person

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