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:
León 1872-1889(with 1888 as a year of transition)
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 was one of what may have been as many as eight children. It is believed that at an uncle's pottery workshop Posada acquired basic experience in design. It is also believed that he later received formal instruction in drawing at the Municipal Academy of Drawing in Aguascalientes and possibly other training. Records show that by the age of fifteen, Posada was registered as a painter. In 1868, he learned lithography while working as an illustrator in the workshop of José Trinidad Pedroza. It was while at the workshop of Pedroza that Posada illustrated his first political cartoons appearing in a publication by the name of El Jicote.
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).
Photo: JG Posada and son Juan Sabino Posada Vela (1883-1900?)
José Guadalupe Posada’s subject matter varied including: advertising art, religious images, books, posters, broad sheets, political cartoons and news illustrations. He 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 Posada had developed relationships with several publishers in Mexico City, as his illustrations for publishers in Mexico City have been noted dating back to the end of 1887 and during 1888. and that the flood together with these contacts, possibly with the desire to seek improved opportunity in a larger market, probably prompted Posada to move his business to Mexico City where he opened his first workshop at Calle Cerrada de Santa Teresa.
Possibly as early as 1889, Posada began working for the publishing house of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo (1852-1917). This association increased in the early 1890s. The publications produced by Vanegas Arroyo were circulated around much of Mexico and also but less frequently into Spanish speaking portions (especially he border state areas) of the United States. 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 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? -1895?) employed at the printing house. Manilla is believed to have been about twenty-two years senior to Posada 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 alcohol 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.