Celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

Monografía: Las Obras de José Guadalupe Posada, Grabador Mexicano. Authored by Frances Toor, Pablo O'Higgins, and Blas Vanegas Arroyo. Introduction by Diego Rivera. Publisher: México: Mexican Folkways, 1930. Gift of Philip Pinsof

Monografía: Las Obras de José Guadalupe Posada, Grabador Mexicano. Authored by Frances Toor, Pablo O'Higgins, and Blas Vanegas Arroyo. Introduction by Diego Rivera. Publisher: México: Mexican Folkways, 1930. Gift of Philip Pinsof

In honor of the upcoming celebration for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite rare books in the Museum’s Collection, the Monografía: Las Obras de José Guadalupe Posada, Grabador Mexicano.  This first edition monograph, published in 1930, includes 406 of the estimated 20,000 works cut by the illustrator and engraver José Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1851–1913).

 

Posada may be most well-known for his calaveras, the macabre but comical skeletons adopted from the Mexican folk-art traditions of Día de los Muertos. His visually arresting calaveras dance, sing, play instruments, and dress as actors or politicians, blurring the line between the living and the dead. In his Calavera “Don Quijote y Sancho Panza” (ca. 1905, below right), Posada transforms Cervantes’ Don Quixote into a knight crashing over his imagined enemies. In Calavera “Las Bicicletas” (ca. 1889–95, below left), Posada criticizes what he felt was an obsession with progress. Posada’s “sharp graver,” wrote artist Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886–1957), “spared neither rich nor poor.”

Calavera “Don Quijote y Sancho Panza” (ca. 1905)

Calavera “Don Quijote y Sancho Panza” (ca. 1905)

Posada’s images, accompanied by corridos (ballads), were printed on cheap broadsides and sold by traveling musicians who moved from market to market.  During the Mexican Revolution (1910–1919), Posada’s corrido became the “heartbeat of the Mexican culture.”

 

Calavera “Las Bicicletas” (ca. 1889–95)

Calavera “Las Bicicletas” (ca. 1889–95)

One of the most interesting parts of the Monografía is Diego Rivera’s introduction.  Of Posada, Rivera writes: “[h]e is so integrated with this popular soul of Mexico, that perhaps his identity will be lost. But today his work and his life penetrate (without any one of them being aware of it) into the veins of the young Mexican artists whose works have been budding since 1923, like flowers in a spring landscape.”  What a powerful reminder of the inspiration that comes from imagery—and in this case, Posada’s imagery helped inspire a revolution.

 

To help us celebrate Día de los Muertos, please join us on Sunday, October 31, 2010 (10 AM–4 PM) for Kohl’s Art Generation Family Sundays: Día de los Muertos! Day of the Dead!

Heather Winter manages and oversees the Museum’s George Peckham Miller Art Research Library, the institutional archives and the rare books collection.
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