I traveled to Cuernavaca to see the Robert Brady Museum, and survey his extensive collection of art, furniture and objects of cultural significance. Brady was a free-spirited refugee from a wealthy Iowa family who eventually settled in Mexico, and in addition to being a skilled painter had spectacular taste in art and objects. The best of his collections cover most available wall space, but somehow the house never feels overwhelming. The ambiance reminded me of Toller Cranston’s house in San Miguel de Allende, with a “more is more” Mexicana-chic aesthetic.
Regarding the history of the museum building itself (Brady’s former residence), the “Casa de la Torre” was built in the 16th century as part of a Franciscan convent, and the tower was added at the beginning of the 20th century. Robert Brady bought the house in 1961, and lived there until his death in 1986, and on February 18, 1990 it became a museum. The house has items collected in Papua New Guinea, India, Haiti and South America. He also designed weavings which he had woven by artists in Chiconcuac. The artworks range from pieces by Rivera, Tamayo, Kahlo and Covarrubias, some amazing 17th and 18th century Mexican pieces, religious icons, pre Columbian sculpture and bowls, indigenous textiles, and two late Tamara de Lempickas that I had never seen before, as well as Brady’s own paintings and weavings. I particularly enjoyed the excellent textile pieces in the collection as well as Brady’s portrait of fellow American ex-pat-bon-vivant Peggy Guggenheim who Brady became friends with when he lived during his pre-Cuernavca, Venice days. Like la Guggenheim herself, Brady is buried with his dogs on the property of his museum.
Judging by his taste in art, jewelry, big pendant neck pieces, and general fabulousness, I think it’s pretty unlikely he was a lover to his close friend Josephine Baker, despite what is said about their “marriage” in Acapulco on the Josephine Baker website. Baker occupied the Indian and Asian themed upstairs red bedroom during her frequent visits, and there are artworks featuring her iconic persona to be found in the collection as well.
Overall it is an absorbing and pleasurable experience to be immersed in his personal environs, his was a fortuitous convergence of means and aesthetic.
I also visited the Jardin Borda which according to my guide, was a palacio and a series of formal gardens (and a small lake) that was built in 1778 by wealth of José de la Borda a Spanish transplant who founded a silver mine dynasty and who built many churches (including the one that adjoins the garden), in order that he could show his gratitude for his personal good fortune. Both of his children entered the life of the clergy: priest and nun respectively, and the fabulous house was inherited by his priest son, who seems to have also inherited from his father an appreciation of the worldly trappings of extensive formal gardens in an 18th Century style. The house became well known for garden, library and general beauty from the 18th Century on.
The interesting history of the garden continues, when in 1865, after their tour of the Yucatan, the Hapsburg emperor Maximilian and empress Carlota took over the villa as a summer residence. They used the stage by the by lake for concerts and theatre and hosted illustrious guests. I was surprised to learn that Maximillian’s tenure as emperor of Mexico only lasted three years. My guide felt that the plans by Maximillian to annex Brasil were not looked upon favourably by then-president Abe Lincoln. That, and Napoleon III needing the army back in Europe to deal with issues of his own left Maximilian hung out to dry, and the French-Mexican empire fell, and as was captured so dramatically by Manet, the emperor faced the firing squad in Querétaro in the summer of 1867. His widow Carlota, was the daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium who had tried desperately to get help for her husband from Louis Napoleon, her many close royal relatives (who were his close relatives too as the couple were second cousins) and even Pope Pius IX to no avail, was unhinged by the events and continued asking for her husband seemingly unaware that he was dead, until she herself died in 1927 at 87.
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian Edouard Manet,1867
The garden has native plants as well as exotics. Some of the native plants are atoyaxocotl, cacaloxitl, fan palm, clavellina, copal, chaya, tlilsapotl, pascualxochitl, zompantle, tzompancuahuitl, cuajinicuitl, matarrata, cocoite, guaje, huacen, guamúchil, ahoacaquahutl (avocado), amate prieto, guava, ash, and hoja santa. Exotics adopted from other localities are: Creole mango, jacaranda, Swiss chard, seaweed leaf, Indian laurel, tulip, coquito palm, eucalyptus, brush, rose apple, coffee, and onions.
It is currently a cultural center coordinated by the Ministry of Culture and Maximilian and Carlota’s bedrooms and private chambers now exhibit modern work by artists from the state of Morelos.
Museo de Arte Indígena Contemporáneo:
Located beside the Jardin is the Museo de Arte Indígena Contemporáneo, which has many examples of beautiful indigenous textile work. In the collection there are examples of work by the Rarámuri, Yoreme, Yaqui, Purépecha, Huichol, Mazahua, Otomí or ñañu, Nahua, Mixteca, Tzotzil, Zeltal as well as Zapotecas. As well as a great cafe that looks out over the gardens.
Cuernavca was long known as a sleepy little town that possessed a nearly perfect climate. The city has an illustrious history, having served as both as ancestral home for the Tlahuicas who called the city Cuauhnáhuac, and later Cortés whose Palacio was constructed from a former citadel of the Tlahuicas. Post the 1985 Mexico city earthquake the town grew quickly with displaced residents of Mexico city and now has a population of approx 350,000. There was an earthquake in Cuernavaca in 2017, and as a result the Palacio Cortés and the cathedral are closed to visitors for repairs. The Zocalo and plaza in front of the Palacio de Gobierno Estado de Morelos however are lively and vibrant.
Update: I also had the opportunity to visit the neoclassical Imperial palace that had been Maximilian and Carlota’s residence in Mexico city. Now it is know as the Chapultepec Castle and is located in Chapultepec park close to the Mexican Museum of Modern Art. Several of the rooms that the Imperial couple lived in have been restored and are suitably magnificent. There are also the living quarters of subsequent Mexican leaders like Porfirio Diaz on display. Add to this the spectacular panoramic views of the city, and altogether it makes for a splendid visit.
In addition to my guide Edgar at Jardin Borda , information came from the following sources:
Manet image: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/8