Posada's La Catrina
Figure 1 Calaveras la Cucaracha
Who created La Catrina and when? What does she represent? We know that the image most commonly known now as La Catrina was created by José Guadalupe Posada. We know this simply because Posada signed the printing plate on the lower right-hand side. But to date, no one knows for certain of the first appearance of the image. However, it may be that the first use was in 1912 as an undated broadside entitled, “Calaveras de la Cucaracha” (Figure 1). The assumption here is that Posada did not likely create La Catrina in 1913, which is the first known date associated with the image. It is more likely that the image was created sometime in and before November of 1912.
Using year 1912 as the origin date for La Catrina is based upon several factors: 1) Posada died on Jan 20, 1913 and since the first known dated appearance of La Catrina was in 1913 in the broadside with the title, “Remate de Calaveras Alegres” (Figure 2) it is not likely that he would have created La Catrina in 1913, which would have to have been in the first nineteen days of 1913. 2) Although possible, it is unlikely that the publisher (Antonio Vanegas Arroyo 1852-1917), who commissioned Posada to draw La Catrina, would have asked him to produce an image nearly a year in advance of the 1913 Day of the Dead. Why commit to spending the money so early? Considering the necessity of frugality in the publishing business, it would have made no sense, particularly when there were so many other calavera images that were used or could be used if needed. Additionally, who knows what might come up more worthy of publishing between January and November 1913? There was also the possibility at the time, assuming Posada was available after his holiday break, for him to illustrate other calavera images.
To be fair, there are no known images of La Catrina with a date prior to 1912. Occasionally the date of 1910 or circa 1910 is used by some for the first publication date. However, there is little if any basis at all for this date as there is no known publication of the image bearing the date of 1910. There are, however, several other calavera images present in broadsides within the years 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913, including at least three broadsides with calavera images appearing in 1912. There are at least nine calavera images appearing in 1913 broadsides, including the first dated La Catrina image. Over the years, printing plates might be used many times in broadsides, some with dates and many more without. The original La Catrina printing plate nor its only other known copy (see Figure 3) offer any dates.