One of the first artists to visit the Mayan ruins at Palenque after Mexican independence, Jean-Frederic Waldeck has long been dismissed as unreliable, his drawings of pre-Columbian art marred by his excessive interest in European styles of beauty. With this fresh look at Waldeck's entire output, including his desire to exhibit at Paris salons, his reconstructions of Mayan and Aztec subjects can be understood as art rather than illustration. Pasztory sees him as a unique Neoclassicist who has never been fully appreciated.
In addition to illustrating Maya antiquities in the days before photography, Waldeck painted imaginary reconstructions of pre-Columbian life and rituals and scenes of everyday life in nineteenth-century Mexico. Most of his contemporaries looking for exotic subject matter went east and are now referred to as Orientalists. Waldeck went west and found the exotic in the New World, but as Esther Pasztory suggests, he is an Orientalist in spirit.
Waldeck's work was not considered interesting or important in its day, but twenty-first century viewers can appreciate his sensibility, which combines the modern domestic with the ancient mythic and features a theatrical version of Neoclassicism that looks forward to a Hollywood that would not exist until decades after the artist's death in 1875 at the age of 109.
Publication of Jean-Frederic Waldeck is sponsored by InterAmericas®/Society of Arts and Letters of the Americas, a program of The Reed Foundation