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Posada's Resurrection

appeared in la Garbancera & la Cucuracha

Diego Rivera’s Mural

“A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”

Although José Guadalupe Posada died in relative obscurity, in the years following his death the images he produced appeared over and over again in the publications of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo’s printing house. The ongoing presence and success of the printing house combined with the quality of Posada’s images (and to some extent Manuel Manilla) kept Posada’s images in the public eye. When the founder Antonio Vanegas Arroyo passed away in 1917, his son Blas Vanegas Arroyo continued the family business and in turn when Blas died, the family business continued under Blas’ son Arsacio. Today, since Arsacio’s death in 2001, the family continues to preserve the legacy of the publishing house as well as that of Posada and Manuel Manilla.  


In the 1920s, Mexico was recovering from the Mexican Revolution and the world from World War I. It was a time of dynamic change in many ways and within that change there was a flourishing of the arts, intellectual growth and education projects within Mexico. Persons contributing to the time included on the Mexican side: José Vasconcelos, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Gerardo Murillo (aka Dr. Atl); and on the ex-patriot side Upton Sinclair, D.H. Lawrence, Tina Modotti, Pablo O’Higgins, Jean Charlot, and Frances Toor. There are almost too many names and interconnections.  


Perhaps the most significant person to champion Posada’s resurrection was from the French – Mexican ex-patriot artist Jean Charlot (1898-1979), who while living in Mexico City during the 1920s encountered Posada’s images contained in the publications of the Vanegas Arroyo printing house. Intrigued by the artwork he searched out and contacted the publisher Blas Vanegas Arroyo. Charlot would later write the first known article in 1925 detailing Posada’s work entitled, "Un Presursor del Movimiento de Arte Mexicano," appearing in “Revista de Revistas”. In it he describes Posada as “printmaker to the Mexican people”. Although there were many people who contributed to Posada’s “discovery” it was Jean Charlot who can be credited with being the main driving force behind Posada’s resurrection.


Just as it takes many threads to make a piece of cloth there are also many factors leading to the resurrection of José Guadalupe Posada. For example, just a few years prior to Jean Charlot’s 1925 article in “Revista de Revistas”, there was a reference to José Guadalupe Posada (and also Antonio Vanegas Arroyo) made by Mexican painter, printmaker, writer and some say also a volcanologist, Gerardo Murillo (Jalisco, Guadalajara, 1875-1964). He signed his works as "Dr. Atl" (atl = the Nahuatl word for water). Published by the Mexican government, the references appeared in the two-volume set of Las Artes Populares de Mexico published first in 1921; (just four years after the death of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo and eight years after the death of Posada).  


In the book Dr. Atl briefly reviews printmaking and aspects of literature such as songs, religious works and what might be called "tabloid-like" publications of Mexico. The publishing house of Vanegas Arroyo is discussed and grabador  (printer) "Guadalupe Posadas" is very briefly mentioned; significantly, the printing house is described as one of the leading printing establishments of it kind for the time. A variety of Posada's images were pictured in the volume. Some of engravings/etchings were signed by Posada and some unassigned images (possibly by Manuel Manilla) are also reproduced.  


Although Dr. Atl mentions Posada, he does not go into the detail provided by Jean Charlot’s 1925 “Revista de Revistas” article. The art of José Guadalupe Posada, Charlot thought, was connective to Mexico’s history and influential to the modern Mexican art movement. It is important to note that at this time Jean Charlot had a working relationship with Diego Rivera. Additionally, the community of artists in which they associated and collaborated would have an influence on Posada’s growing notoriety. Thus, begins the resurrection of Posada in the 1920s.  


The next key publication appears in “Mexican Folkways” which was a Mexico City based magazine published from 1925-1937. The magazine was in Spanish and English. Its founder/publisher was Frances Toor (1890-1956), an American woman and anthropologist who in 1922 came to study in Mexico City and essentially made Mexico her home. Jean Charlot was her art editor from 1924-1926 and Diego Rivera, became the magazine's art editor in 1926. In the 1928 edition, with cover art by Rivera, the first significant article about José Guadalupe Posada appears. It is written by Frances Toor. In the same year, author Anita Brenner (1905-1974), born in Aguascalientes, Mexico (which was also the birthplace of Posada), writes an article about Posada in “Art News” Brenner refers to Posada’s work, if not the artist himself, as prophetic.  


The article appearing in “Art News” would later be incorporated into Brenner's 1929 book, Idols Behind Altars. These publications set the stage for the first comprehensive published collection of Posada’s works, the Monografía. Las obras de José Guadalupe Posada. Grabador mexicano (all of the Monografia images were from the Vanegas Arroyo printing house). Printed in 1930 by Frances Toor via “Mexican Folkways”, its authorship would record collaboration between Frances Toor, Blas Vanegas Arroyo and Pablo O’Higgins. The introduction would be written by Diego Rivera.  


The world did not have the Internet in the 1920s and 1930s but many of the artists travelled to Europe and the United States (see the Taller de Gráfica Popular discussion below), in particular the Soviet Union, France and Germany. During these trips ideas and images were exchanged. In some cases artists from Europe travelled to Mexico. For example, Russian-Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein came to Mexico in 1930 to work on a film project eventually called “¡Que Viva México!”. Although never completed by Eisenstein himself, the film was later finished and contained calavera images of Posada and Manilla shot by Eisenstein. Researcher Masha Salazkina reports in her book, In Excess: Sergei Eisenstein's Mexico, that the original impetus for Eisenstein’s interest in Mexican culture was from Posada’s images.


Eisenstein had seen Posada’s images in Moscow as early as the 1920s and had also read Anita Brenner’s book Idols Behind Altars. Perhaps artists from the Vkhutemas art school in Russia, Germany’s Bauhaus as well as artists working in Montparnasse area of Paris had exchanges with each other, possibly introducing Posada to Europe and eventually to Eisenstein and others.  


Of the aforementioned artists, it is important to note the role of Pablo O’Higgins. As an ex-patriot living in Mexico Pablo O’Higgins (1904-1983) was a printmaker and muralist. In 1922, he became a student of Diego Rivera and like many artists starting out, assisted Rivera with his murals. Besides his participation in producing the Posada Monografia, O’Higgins was active in the communist party and active in collectives producing illustrations such as those of the publication, in the early 1930s, Frente a Frente for the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (LEAR). He was not the only artist making illustrations for LEAR, there were others such as Leopoldo Méndez, Alfredo Zalce and Luis Arenal among others. O’Higgins also won a scholarship to train in Russia in 1932, perhaps again reinforcing the idea of artistic exchange involving Posada’s work.  


In 1937, Pablo O’Higgins, together with Leopoldo Méndez and Luis Arenal, among others, would form the artists’ collective called the Taller de Gráfica Popular or TGP (based in Mexico City). Artists at the TGP used their art as a vehicle countering the ills of society such as war, censorship of the arts, fascism and Nazism.  


Without any likely exception the members of the TGP credit Posada’s spirit, as the artist of the people, and collectively admit he was of significant inspiration. The art of the TGP and its influence traveled around the world in the form of exhibitions, professorships, lectures, in a variety of publications and as the imagery supporting various social movements. This chain of events which we call the resurrection of Posada transformed itself to a living and dynamic legacy as evidenced in the contemporary images of artists working in the social movements of today.

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