"Calaveras" in the Collections of Carlos Monsivais

José Guadalupe Posada, Leopoldo Méndez and other artist

I am Don Juan and I’ll dish up your skeletons for breakfast (1900) by José Guadalupe PosadaMuseo del Estanquillo

Posada’s Skeletons

Indisputably, the elements most often found in Posada’s work are his skulls or "calaveras", a journalistic form of graphic art that was already in fashion in the 1880s. Stimulated by Catholic traditions and superstitions surrounding the Day of the Dead in Mexico, it was reinvigorated by the popularity of José Zorrilla’s 1844 play, Don Juan Tenorio.

The New Spectres of Love (1913/1913) by José Guadalupe PosadaMuseo del Estanquillo

Thanks to the "calaveras", popular humor enjoys considerable impunity: death is the great leveler, and its premonition in drawing and verse allows devastating critiques and corrosive perspectives (...).

Posada took advantage of that, turning it into one of the great awe-inspiring landscapes of Mexican art.

Video (2014) by VideoMuseo del Estanquillo

The Estanquillo Museum devoted an exhibition to José Guadalupe Posada in 2013.

The Street Cleaners’ Calavera (1900) by José Guadalupe PosadaMuseo del Estanquillo

Posada’s Story

José Guadalupe Posada was born in Aguascalientes in 1852. During his childhood and adolescence, the struggle between the liberals and conservatives had reached its bitterest point: the three-year war and the French intervention.

The great feast of the calaveras (1900) by José Guadalupe PosadaMuseo del Estanquillo

We know that, in his youth, he studied at the Academia Municipal de Dibujo (Municipal Academy of Drawing) in Aguascalientes. A document from 1867 gives the 15-year-old the "profession of painter."

The young artist’s political involvement started at the early age of 17, as a liberal supporter of Club Chávez in Aguascalientes.

The new Morrongo calavera (1903/1903) by José Guadalupe PosadaMuseo del Estanquillo

Posada’s first drawings were his combat caricatures, published in 1871 in El Jicote—a satirical magazine (with 300 copies in circulation) published by the printer José Trinidad Pedroza.

Here are the calaveras of Don Folías and the Little Black Boy… (1900/1900) by José Guadalupe PosadaMuseo del Estanquillo

El Jicote attacked Gómez Portugal and supported the landowner Carlos Barrón, who was aligned with Porfirio at national level.

The artist entered the world of art, politics, and journalism as a graphic editorial writer in a Porfirian publication about combat.

Calavera de la Catrina from the portfolio 36 Grabados: José Guadalupe Posada (c. 1910, printed 1943) by José Guadalupe PosadaThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Part of Posada's criticism of the Mexican society of the time can be seen in the figure of La Catrina (the Dapper Skeleton), created in 1913 and originally named "La Calavera Garbancera".

Big Knees-Up and Wild Party (1900) by José Guadalupe PosadaMuseo del Estanquillo

Garbanceros was the name given to those of indigenous origin who claimed to be European; in other words those who disowned their culture.

It's worth 30 cents (1950/1950) by Leopoldo MéndezMuseo del Estanquillo

Leopoldo Méndez

The Museo del Estanquillo is not only home to skulls by José Guadalupe Posada. There are other artists such as Leopoldo Méndez who used the skulls as an image to represent inequality and the shortcomings of the Mexican people.

Calaveras televisiosas (1949/1949) by Leopoldo MéndezMuseo del Estanquillo

These Leopoldo Méndez creations served to showcase the Day of the Dead "calaveras" from the Taller de Grafica Popular (TGP) (People's Graphic Art Workshop).

Leopoldo Méndez en el Estanquillo (2014) by videoMuseo del Estanquillo

The Museo del Estanquillo marked the artistic legacy of Leopoldo Méndez with an exhibition in 2015.

Calaveras’ symphony concert (1934/1934) by Leopoldo MéndezMuseo del Estanquillo

The story of Leopoldo Méndez

The artist was born in Mexico City in 1902 and studied at the Academia de San Carlos, where he learned from teachers such as Saturnino Herrán, Germán Gedovius, Ignacio Rosas, Francisco de la Torre, and Leandro Izaguirre.

Calaveras in nylon stockings, with foot-and-mouth disease (1950/1950) by Leopoldo MéndezMuseo del Estanquillo

He was also one of the key artists of post-revolutionary Mexico. He was a prominent member of the Estridentista movement -the outpost for the avant-garde artists in our country- and an activist in the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists) (LEAR).

“Calavera” of the poor millionaires (1945/1945) by Leopoldo MéndezMuseo del Estanquillo

He was also a founder and director of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) and is considered by many historians a key figure in the Escuela Mexicana de Pintura (Mexican School of Painting).

Calavera with guitar (1938/1938) by Leopoldo MéndezMuseo del Estanquillo

He was a virtuoso engraver, both powerful and exquisite at the same time, who built a following and had an impact on several generations of graphic artists. He sought to disseminate and popularize art, and strived to make Mexico a better country.

Rainbows and puddles (1951/1951) by Leopoldo MéndezMuseo del Estanquillo

Throughout his life he worked for what he called the "progressive" causes: he supported the popular, democratic, and nationalist causes while at the same time fighting fascism and its allies.

His stance had an unquestionable ethical quality that transcended our borders.

Untitled (1935/1935) by Andrés AudiffredMuseo del Estanquillo

Other authors

In the Carlos Monsiváis collections there are also pieces by artists like Andrés Audiffred, one of the most important cartoonists of the twentieth century in Mexico.

Day of the Dead (1930/1930) by Ernesto García CabralMuseo del Estanquillo

Ernesto Garcia Cabral focused on portraying the Mexican society of that time as well as the Day of the Dead.

The Calavera of Don Juan Tenorio (1913/1913) by Manuel ManillaMuseo del Estanquillo

The museum's collection also includes pieces by Manuel Manilla, another artist who painted death in everyday situations.

Here are your bunches of wicked dead montonero [rebel] calaveras, up from the grave (1900) by Alberto BeltránMuseo del Estanquillo

The skulls in the Carlos Monsiváis collections illustrate how Mexicans perceive death as part of our existence, something to which we offer respect but also humor.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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