Nahui Olin: Muse & Maker

Nahui Olin, the pseudonym of Carmen Mondragón, was a Mexican Surrealist active in the 1920s and ’30s. She hailed from the upper echelons of Mexican society, and fraternized with the likes of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in Paris in the 1910s. An exceedingly rare signed and inscribed first edition of her poetry book, Optica Cerebral: Poemas Dinámicos1922, will be crossing the block in our June 13 auction of Art, Press & Illustrated Books.



Lot 122: Nahui Olin, Optica Cerebral: Poemas Dinámicos, first edition, signed and inscribed, Mexico, 1922. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.


She said of her chosen moniker, “My name is like that of all things: without beginning or end, and yet without isolating myself from wholeness by my distinct evolution in that infinite set, the closest words to name me are NAHUI-OLIN. The cosmogonic name, the force, the power of movements that radiate light, life and strength. In Aztec, the power that the sun has to move the set encompasses its system.”


Edward & Cole Weston, Nahui Olin, silver print, 1924, prints late 1960s.
Sold October 25, 2016 for $3,750.


The name was bestowed upon her by her paramour, the painter Gerardo Murillo, who used the pseudonym Dr. Atl, the Aztec Nahuatl word for water. “Nahui Olin,” also of Aztec origin, has to do with renewal and the sun’s force behind the cyclic rhythm of the heavens; it is the symbol of earthquakes. Olin’s intense green eyes were often depicted in paintings of her by artists such as Diego RiveraTina Modotti and Edward Weston.



Lot 122: Nahui Olin, title page for  Optica Cerebral: Poemas Dinámicos, 1922. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.


In addition to being an artist’s muse, Olin was also an artist  and poet in her own right. Optica Cerebral: Poemas Dinámicos was her first collaborative work with Dr. Atl. Her famous eyes are the focus of the cover of the work, an abstract elongation of their whites shooting off the sides of the page hints at the powerful contents within. The Aztec-style illustrations on the title-page and vignette reflect the sun and earth symbolism of her name.


Lot 122: Nahui Olin, Optica Cerebral: Poemas Dinámicos, 1922.
Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.


Here is a translation of one of her illustrated poems (above):

Dizzying glare –

Radiation destructive death –

Craving more luminous splendor –

Desperation for better life –

Purply blue of your greatest desire –

Burning restlessness –

Radiant energy –

Flame gently crowned gold –

Radiance –

Electrocution in whose lumber consciousness is precipitated as an extortionate planet in the fire of a sun … your name is the greatest symbol of the cosmogonies



Lot 122: Nahui Olin, Optica Cerebral: Poemas Dinámicos, first edition, signed and inscribed, Mexico, 1922. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.


The present copy was signed and inscribed to José Martinez Sotomayor, dated Mexico, June 25, 1922, soon after the book’s publication. Sotomayor was a lawyer, judge and writer who published and contributed to contemporary Mexican journals such as Bandera de Provincias, and Contemporáneos, along with José Gorostiza, Jaime Torres Bodet and Xavier Villaurrutia, often under the pseudonym Till Ealling.


For more Art, Press & Illustrated Books, browse the full catalogue.