Marius de Zayas stands as one of the many centers within the unfathomable sphere of modern art. On March 13, 1880, de Zayas was born into a home that brimmed with public life and the ring of the family printing press in the port of Veracruz. Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the artist was brought up with his family in Mexico City, New York City, and San Francisco. For some time, Marius was but the shadow of his brother, Rafael. During their seven months in San Francisco in the year 1903, the brothers published two magazines: Clever and Revista Latino-Americana. Illustrated Monthly Magazine. In 1906, the two launched yet another magazine, which also failed to last much longer than the prior two: La Actualidad, a weekly society, sports, and literature magazine with headquarters in Mexico City. In October of the same year, the brothers joined a new company, and Rafael became the director of its supplement, El Diario Ilustrado, while Marius would become the graphic columnist for the daily publication El Diario. Though this company did survive for several years, the de Zayas brothers made their exit in early 1907 to join their father in his self-imposed political exile to New York City.
From then on, Marius consolidated his reputation as Marius de Zayas, a talented caricaturist who admired Carlo de Fornaro, Max Beerbohm, Leonetto Cappiello, Al Freuh, Juan Gris, and Sem. In New York, he joined the newspaper The World’s editorial and metropolitan sections and made his mark by drawing caricatures of high society. Marius de Zayas practically lived in the theater, where he produced line drawings for the critic and columnist Charles Darnton. He also drew detailed charcoal and graphite portraits on tabloid-sized Japanese paper—these were quite delicate and quickly captured his public’s attention. Very few people actually had access to his original works, which were shown in the cult avant-garde space known as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession. Though Marius de Zayas rarely dated his works, he likely began sketching around 1908, and most of de Zayas’s work would come to be known from 1909 to 1914 through the magazines The Craftsman and Camera Work, as well as through Current Literature, As Others See Us, and Puck. Most of Marius de Zayas’s public associated him with his caricatures in The World, as well as in La Follia di New York and América. It was also in New York that he began frequenting several artistic and literary circles that focused on casting light on that which is ridiculous in the human species while chipping away at snobbery. Many of these circles embraced de Zayas with open arms, with the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and his magazine, Camera Work, included as well.
In October of 1910, Marius de Zayas moved to Paris for a year, but kept working for The World and América while keeping in touch with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, one of New York City’s top movers and shakers via the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, located on 291 5th Avenue. De Zayas’s stay in Paris proved highly fruitful, as evinced by his essays published in América, his theater posters for the successful producer George C. Tyler, and in his curating of Pablo Picasso’s first solo show in the United States. Further, he had the courage to break away from the new art that he encountered in salons such as d’Automne in 1910 and 1911 as well as in galleries and artist studios. Marsden Hartley was one of the first artists to witness Marius de Zayas’s inclusion in Camera Work, which published the essay A Study of the Modern Evolution of Plastic Expression, which was jointly written by de Zayas and Paul B. Haviland in the Little Galleries. “The De Zayas stuff is so intelligent—and interesting and I am so glad to see that ‘291’ is showing a fine literary side—a good start with Gertrude Stein and De Zayas,” Hartley wrote in a letter to Stieglitz. In a rather discrete and natural process, Marius de Zayas started writing essays on the evolution of artistic forms as well as on the influence of primitive art in contemporary creative processes.
Meanwhile, Marius de Zayas’s French experience added an element of abstraction to his caricatures. This abstraction in his work stemmed from cubism, from the artist’s interactions with Picasso, and from his friendships with Georges Braque and Diego Rivera. However, abstraction remained in the shadows of Marius de Zayas’s work, though he did flesh out his ideas on caricatures relative to abstract art in his essays as well as in a series of portraits that not only stood out in terms of their craft, but also because they included some of his closest friends, Agnes Ernst Meyer and Paul B. Haviland. These caricatures were shown in the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in the spring of 1913 and were later featured in Camera Work.
Marius de Zayas returned to France in the spring of 1914 to set up several commemorative exhibitions for the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession’s tenth anniversary, to be celebrated from the fall of 1914 to the spring of 1915. Through an exclusivity arrangement between Washington Square Gallery and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Marius de Zayas and Francis Picabia ultimately managed to show their Picasso and Braque collection. Alongside Paul Guillaume, Marius de Zayas also collected pieces for yet another exhibition: “Statuary in Wood by African Savages: The Root of Modern Art,” marking the first time these works were shown in the United States from an aesthetic rather than ethnographic perspective. Enthused by Guillaume Apollinaire’s work and magazine, Les Soirées de Paris, Marius de Zayas invited him to New York in 1915 in order to show the pantomime A quelle heure un train partira-t-il pour Paris?, created by Alberto Savinio, Picabia, de Zayas, and Apollinaire himself. However, with the First World War breaking out in 1914, Apollinaire never managed to leave France.
The tragedy in Europe heavily hit Marius de Zayas, and the artist began working on a New York magazine where he would publish the latest satire and artistic expressions of the time. Dada avant la lettre. His original plan was to publish 12 issues of the magazine 291 between March 1915 and March 1916. This magazine was formally unmatched by any other publication of the time. Indeed, each issue was planned and published as a work of art, and its scope in literary and cultural history was unprecedented—a truly avant-garde Lucan in permanent debt to its admired cynics.
Amid the death and devastation of the Great War, Marius de Zayas set up two cross-Atlantic ships to bring modern art to New York. The first, Modern Gallery, sailed from October 1915 to March of 1918, bringing together fresh audiences for the new artistic manifestations of the time. Over its two-and-a-half years of activity, the gallery showed paintings by Picabia, Braque, Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Ribemont Desseignes, Rivera, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Serge Ferat, Frank Burty, Marion H. Beckett, Honoré Daumier, Constantin Guys, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Patrick Henry Bruce; prints by Hélène Perdiart; watercolors and drawings by Marie Laurencin, Mell Daniel, Gustave de Gwozdecki, and Juan Gris; prints by Henri Matisse, Jean-Émile Laboreur, and Timothy Cole; photographs by Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Morton Schamberg; pre-Hispanic Mexican art and African statuettes and masks; and sculptures by Alice Morgan Wright, Adelheid Roosevelt, Adolf Wolff, Amedeo Modigliani, Constantin Brancusi, and Manolo. Subsequently, the second of the artist’s galleries came to be known as De Zayas Gallery. From October 1919 to May of 1920, Marius de Zayas showed Chinese paintings and sculptures; African sculptures; paintings by Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Matisse, Walt Kuhn, Paul Gauguin, and John Covert; paintings, watercolors, and aquatints by Arthur B. Davies; and paintings and drawings by Charles Sheeler.
In 1928, after about five years of running his modern art exhibition, Marius de Zayas drafted the brief historical manuscript A New Point of View on the Evolution of Modern Art, but under an unusual vow of silence, the manuscript remained unpublished for years. His professional memoirs, How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York, which he wrote near the end of his life, also remained unpublished for years.
Marius de Zayas died on January 10, 1961, in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he reamains in a restless grave.