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Posada, José Guadalupe free

(b Aguascalientes, Feb 2, 1851; d Mexico City, Jan 20, 1913).
  • Elisa García Barragán

Mexican printmaker and draughtsman. He showed an aptitude for drawing as a child and briefly attended the Academia de Aguascalientes, where he was taught by Antonio Varela. Afterwards he studied lithography in the workshop of José Trinidad Pedroza and began to attract attention with his critical illustrations for Pedroza’s periodical El Jicote. Local political hostility forced both men to move, however, and in 1872 they went to León, Guanajuato, where Posada began wood-engraving. In 1884 he taught lithography at a local secondary school. Following the severe floods of 1888 he moved to Mexico City, where the following year he began to work as a draughtsman at Antonio Vanegas Arroyo’s printing house and started to move away from lithography towards cheaper printmaking on zinc, wood and type metal.

Posada and Vanegas propagated news items on printed flyers, illustrated by Posada as corridos gráficos in order to communicate with a largely illiterate public. Posada also illustrated sensational stories in Vanegas’s regular Ejemplos, using the figure of the devil to represent the temptation to commit serious crimes, and he drew scenes from daily life, such as festivities, brawls and traditional customs, as well as popular character types and portraits of such heroes as Emiliano Zapata and depictions of dramatic religious scenes (e.g. Universal Final Judgement, 1899; see Wollen, 1989–90 exh. cat. p. 73). Posada also contributed to many periodicals, including El Centavo perdido, El Teatro, Vanegas’s La Gaceta callejera (e.g. Great Pantheon of Lovers, n.d.; Mexico City, Mus. N. A.), El San Lunes and El Hijo del ahuizote. The political and social stance of these periodicals, however, led to repeated brief periods of imprisonment of both men.

José Guadalupe Posada: Calavera Las Bicicletas, relief etching, 154 × 268 m, ca. 1900 (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Artropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Jean Charlot, 1930, Accession Number: 30.82.112); image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Artropolitan Museum of Art

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Posada’s fictional character Don Chepito was one means to convey social criticism, but he is perhaps best known for his costumed skeleton characters or calaveras. He used these as a vehicle for political and social satire, as in Calavera of the Cyclists (1889–95), in which he criticized what he saw as an obsession with progress. The clergy, revolutionaries and Mexican pastimes also came under attack (see fig.). These calavera engravings epitomize Posada’s originality and characterization, and they anticipate Mexican mural painting of the 1920s and 1930s. They were skilfully executed, with eloquent use of black and white as well as middle tones; proportion and disproportion were more effectively used in his work on zinc, wood and type metal than in his lithographs.

José Guadalupe Posada: Calavera Revolucionaria, engraving, 356x267 mm; c. 1910; photo credit: Snark/Art Resource, NY

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  • El novio de la muerte (Mexico City, 1996)


  • Posada: Printmaker to the Mexican People (exh. cat. by F. Gamboa, Chicago, IL, A. Inst., 1944)
  • José Guadalupe Posada: 50 aniversario de su muerte (exh. cat. by P. Westheim, J. Fernández and J. J. Rodríguez, Mexico City, Mus. A. Mod., 1963)
  • J. Charlot: Posada’s Dance of Death (New York, 1964)
  • Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820–1980 (exh. cat. by D. Ades and others, London, Hayward Gal., 1989), pp. 111–23
  • Posada, Messenger of Mortality (exh. cat. by P. Wollen, Oxford, MOMA, and elsewhere, 1989–90)
  • T. Gretton: ‘Posada’s Prints as Photomechanical Artefacts’, Print Quarterly, 9/4 (Dec 1992), pp. 335–56
  • R. González Mello: ‘Posada y sus coleccionistas extranjeros’, México en el mundo de las colecciones de arte, 5 (Mexico City, 1994), pp. 312–73
  • R. González Mello: ‘Posada and the ‘Popular’: Commodities and Social Constructs in Mexico before the Revolution’, Oxford Art Journal, 17/2 (1994), pp. 32–47
  • J. Gómez Serrano: José Guadalupe Posada: Testigo y crítico de su tiempo. Aguascalientes (Aguascalientes, [1995])
  • Posada y la prensa ilustrada: Signos de modernización y resistencia (exh. cat. by C. Monsiváis and others, Mexico City, Mus. N. A., 1996)
  • P. Frank: Posada’s Broadsheets: Mexica Popular Imagery, 1890–1910 (Albuquerque, 1998)