||José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) was a printmaker and draftsman considered
to be the founder of the satirical print tradition in Latin America. He is best
known for his calaveras: the costumed skeletons
portraying politicians, heroes, and common people, originally published in
broadsheets sold on Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
||Posada was born February 2, 1852, in the city of Aguascalientes; he was one of nine
children of Germán Posada, a baker, and Petra Aguilar. As a child he worked
in his uncle Manuel Posada’s pottery business and received his early education
his brother Cirilo. He attended the Academía Municipal de Dibujo de
Aguascalientes, where he studied with Antonio Varela.
||In 1868, at age sixteen, he apprenticed to the publisher and artist José
Trinidad Pedroza, where he learned lithography. In Pedroza’s shop, El Esfuerzo,
Posada’s work included cigar box labels, letterheads, and diplomas, and beginning
1871, illustrations for Pedroza’s satirical periodical El
Jicote. Posada’s caricatures for El
Jicote of the ex-governor Jesús Gómez Portugal created a
political scandal which forced Pedroza and Posada to leave Aguascalientes. The
relocated to León, Guanajuato, where Pedroza set up shop. Pedroza returned
to Aguascalientes in 1873; Posada stayed in León to run the business and
became its owner in 1876. His work output included some political works and such
things as matchbook covers, logo designs, diplomas, and religious images.
||In 1875, Posada married María de Jesús Vela. In 1884, he began
teaching lithography and bookbinding at the Escuela de Instrucción
Secundaria de León.
||Posada moved to Mexico City in 1888, taking his lithography press with him. He soon
discovered that he was unable to secure much work because of the slowness of the
lithographic process and its relative incompatibility with letterpress. He began
working with wood engraving and quickly mastered this technique, but he found
difficult to procure the large blocks of end-grain boxwood necessary for wood
engraving. He thus shifted to type-metal engraving, with which he had great success.
He eventually discovered the somewhat obscure technique of relief etching, a medium
that allowed him the freedom of drawing directly on the plate.
||Posada found work in Mexico City with the editor and publisher Ireneo Paz
(grandfather of Octavio Paz), providing illustrations for various periodicals,
including La Patria Ilustrada, La Revista de México, La
Estación, and El Ahuizote, as
well as several books and calendars.
||In 1890, Posada joined the team of engravers and writers who worked for Antonio
Vanegas Arroyo, a national publisher of broadsides, chapbooks, song books, and
forms of popular literature. Vanegas Arroyo (1852-1917) established his publishing
house in Mexico City in 1876. In 1887, he began issuing illustrated penny broadsides
on cheap paper intended for a large and mostly illiterate public. These sheets
depicted sensational crimes, disasters, supernatural phenomena, physical
deformities, high-society gossip, heroes, and moral stories. Illustrated corridos, the folk ballads that relate a story or event
of local or national interest, were particularly popular. Corridos are usually quatrains of eight-syllable lines, often sung in a
fast waltz tempo. Vanegas Arroyo commissioned Constancio Suárez to write
many of these songs. The engraver Manuel Manilla, who began work with Vanegas
in 1882, provided most of the illustrations.
||Manilla, born in 1830 in Mexico City, was already producing work for other publishers
before starting work with Vanegas Arroyo. Manilla was an innovator with his
engravings for children’s publications and popular songbooks, as well as his designs
for paper-back book covers, entertainment posters, and school text illustrations.
Perhaps most notably he was the first to use the calavera in popular prints.
||Posada’s early work with Vanegas Arroyo was influenced by the style of the more
established Manilla. (The similarity between their work during Posada’s early
in Mexico City led to the attribution to Posada of almost all of the Vanegas Arroyo
broadsides. In recent years, however, several hundred works once attributed to
Posada have since been identified as having been produced by Manilla.) It was
long before the quality and quantity of Posada’s work surpassed that of Manilla’s;
Posada could work with great speed, briefly studying a text and then sketching
his illustration, often producing a printing plate within an hour after design
conception. The demand for Manilla’s work diminished; he retired in 1892 and died
||Posada opened his own workshop around the corner from the Vanegas Arroyo publishing
house. As a prolific freelance engraver he produced illustrations for various
publishers. His seemingly naive style based on a strong Mexican graphic tradition
was a strong influence on later twentieth-century artists, particularly the
muralists. Estimates of the total number of Posada images have varied wildly,
ranging from 1,600 to 20,000.
||Posada died January 20, 1913, in Mexico City.