José Guadalupe Aguilar Posada
Born: February 2, 1852
Died: January 20, 1913
José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, February 2, 1852, he died in Mexico City, Mexico, January 20, 1913. José Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican artist who lived over one hundred years ago. He worked as a lithographer, engraver and cartoonist or what might be termed a caricaturist because he made drawings that were later photographed for publications such as “Argos”, “Gil Blas’ or the “Biblioteca del Niño Mexicano” (Reference: Bonilla, personal communication). He worked at a time when photo-mechanical technology was in its infancy but growing is use. Earlier in his career his images were mainly lithographs and engravings.
Posada’s images are among the most widely seen and his legacy perhaps the most influential of all Mexican artists yet his name has yet to achieve the level of recognition as that of artists such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo or Rufino Tamayo. Various aspects of Posada’s story are contained in the digital format of this website including some of the latest historical research about Posada, his art as contained in our collection, exhibitions, relevant links, documentary film information and merchandise.
From Posada’s famed Day of the Dead images, Chicano Art (Latinx Art), the Grateful Dead and social movement imagery, José Guadalupe Posada inspiring spirit is ever present. Thanks to many fine scholars, as we learn more about Posada we revise and update what we learn and piece by piece a more complete story of his life emerges. For example, the original Monografía. Las obras de José Guadalupe Posada. Grabador mexicano, published in 1930, among other errors, shows his birth year as 1851. This date is still sometimes repeated in subsequent publications but, thanks to research efforts of Alejandro Topete del Valle, Posada’s birth year has been established as 1852 and also to his credit is much more detail about Posada’s family and early life in Aguascalientes.
José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar- (born, Aguascalientes, Mexico, February 2, 1852 – died, Mexico City, Mexico, January 20, 1913).
In brief summary, Posada’s life may be divided into three periods:
Mexico City 1889-1913.
José Guadalupe Posada received his early childhood schooling at an Aguascalientes elementary school run by his older brother José Cirilo (1839-1894). Posada’s family might have contained as many as eight children. The exact number at the time of this writing is not currently known.
Sometime in the 1860s Posada received some formal instruction in drawing at the Municipal Academy of Drawing in Aguascalientes. Census Records in 1867 show that by the age of fifteen, Posada was registered as a painter. It may be that he gained basic experience in design at an uncle's pottery workshop or in a variety of artesian applications. The exact order and timing of his artistic development is difficult to ascertain but we know he was progressing and by 1871(?) he was apprenticed to the print shop of Jose Trinidad Pedroza in Aguascalientes.
At the workshop of Pedroza it is believed he learned lithography and possibly engraving (in wood and type metal). By 1871, the first lithographic political cartoons created by Posada appeared in a publication owned by Pedroza called El Jicote (The Wasp). At that time Posada was only nineteen. Eleven illustrations by Posada are known from El Jicote.
The images Posada created were political in nature and possibly due to fear of retribution, in 1872, Pedroza moved to León, Guanajuato and within a year or so he was joined by Posada where they ran a printing and lithography workshop. In 1873, after only a year or so Pedroza returned to Aguascalientes leaving Posada in charge of the workshop. Posada remained in León for the next sixteen years working in a variety of mediums from lithography to engravings. While in Leon he married María de Jesús Vela in 1875. In 1883, their only known child was born, Juan Sabino Posada Vela (1883-1900?).
José Guadalupe Posada’s subject matter varied including: advertising art, religious images, illustrations for posters, flyers, brochures and books to name a few (see the Posada’s Illustrations section of this website for more detail). He also created images for local printing houses and numerous religious publications. Some of his finest lithographic work was done during his time in León. One example of his artistry is represented in the book Moral Práctica] in which many beautiful lithographs may be seen. Beginning in 1884, he taught lithography at the Leon secondary school for approximately one year.
In 1888, a flood in León damaged Posada’s workshop and possibly caused the death of one or more members of his family (although there is no certainty of the latter). But we do know that prior to the flood and in Posada had developed relationships with several publishers in Mexico City as images by him appeared in publications in 1887 and 1888 (Reference: pers. comm. H. Bonilla). It is reasonable to speculate that the flood together with these contacts, possibly with the desire to seek improved financial opportunity in a larger market, probably prompted Posada to move his business and family to Mexico City where he opened his first workshop at Calle Cerrada de Santa Teresa.
Possibly sometime in the period around the years of 1889-90, Posada began working for the publishing house of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo (1852-1917). The publications produced by Vanegas Arroyo were circulated around much of Mexico and also but less frequently into Spanish speaking portions of North America. The adult level of literacy in Mexico in 1910 is reported to have been 32%. Vanegas Arroyos’ understanding of the market for his publications possibly motivated him in hiring Posada as his chief illustrator. Vanegas Arroyo clearly needed someone who could timely craft an illustration in which the graphics communicated as much as possible regardless of the viewer’s degree of literacy.
When Posada began working for Vanegas Arroyo there was already a talented engraver by the name of Manuel Manilla (1830?-1897?) employed at the printing house. Manilla was senior to Posada at the Vanegas Arroyo house and well established as an engraver. But as may be seen when comparing the work of Manilla and Posada, Manilla was stiffer and more classic in style, while Posada’s technique was more animated and imaginative. In Posada, Vanegas Arroyo found an illustrator whose images of folk heroes; sensational crimes and disasters supported the story lines and more often than not, stood on their own in such a way that they required no words at all.
During his lifetime the calavera (skeleton) images created by Posada were perhaps the most popular items he produced and accordingly, he is generally credited with popularizing the calavera images commonly seen today and most frequently around the date of November 2, known as the Day of the Dead in Mexico. The most iconic image of Posada is a calavera image wearing a very fashionable hat decorated with flowers. She appeared originally la Garbancera and also as la Cucuracha and was later dubbed “la Calavera Catrina” by Diego Rivera. La Catrina as she is now known, is believed to have first appeared in 1912 just a few months before Posada’s death. The first known dated use is from 1913 and was likely published about eight months after Posada’s death. In both cases the image gives us a message reminding all of us that no matter who we are, rich or poor, that death is something we all have in common.
Despite Posada’s high productivity he achieved no real fame in his lifetime and passed away with little notice. He died at the age of 60 on January 20, 1913 in his home. His death certificate shows the cause of death to be “acute alcoholic enteritis” which is now believed to have been related to years of alcohol abuse and possibly connected to Posada’s known habit of consuming large amounts of tequila beginning around the end of December and lasting for an extended period. He ultimately would be buried in an unmarked “common” grave in the Dolores Cemetery of Mexico City.
(Reference: Personal Communication with Dr. Helia Bonilla Reyna, Mexico City, Mexico 2014)