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Guide to the Jose Guadalupe Posada Prints, ca. 1875-1913
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Access Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Posada, Jose Guadalupe, 1853-1913. Prints,
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1875-1913
    Collection number: M1238
    Creator: Posada, Jose Guadalupe, 1853-1913
    Extent: 6 linear ft. (ca. 1000 items)
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Abstract: The collection contains broadsides, pamphlets, and prints by the Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions


    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.

    Acquisition Information

    Purchased, 2001.

    Preferred Citation:

    Jose Guadalupe Posada Prints. M1238. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    Born in poverty in 1852, Jose Guadalupe Posada became the "Printmaker to the Mexican People," an influence on future Mexican artists such as Orozco and Rivera, and is often compared to such icons as Goya and Daumier. Posada is labelled an artist, a folk illustrator and a political cartoonist; no matter how he is categorized, it is clear that, through his prolific career, "an inarticulate public found expression."
    Posada left his small village of Aquascalientes, where he had attended a drawing academy, to become an apprentice lithographer in Mexico City. He had shown a talent for engraving, which he originally did on wood. In Mexico City, he opened a small shop where he did commercial illustrations. In 1887, he joined the Antonio Vanegas Arroyo Publishing House, doing illustrations for a wide variety of printed publications, many of which had editions in the thousands. Posada is credited with introducing the process of etching on zinc to Mexico, around 1895. The process offered Posada more freedom as a draftsman, and resulted in fast and prolific numbers of finished prints. The prints, which ranged from broadsides to chapbooks all had one thing in common - the emphasis was on the illustration created by Posada. Posada knew his intended audience well; most were poor, illiterate and enjoyed the sensational aspect of any story. Using well-known symbols, and with an uncanny journalistic sense, Posada was able to identify a hierarchy of interests for the common man: family, work, neighborhood, government, disasters, religion and the supernatural. His illustrations, which were always linked to a story, were graphic reports that read from left to right. Posada was a master of composition and chiaroscuro (dark/light) and his prints always convey a feeling of action and movement. He also expressed a love of character, which can be seen in his humorous and satirical Calaveras series. Many of his prints deal with basic issues confronting the common man, especially the theme of guilt and punishment. It is estimated that more than half of his work deals with sensational crimes, especially atrocities committed by women. His political drawings reveal a deep social consciousness; Posada was a moralist whose criticism was aimed at everyone, not just the obvious government officials. His personal and artistic integrity were well-known, even though he worked for much of his life in complete obscurity. He died in 1913 and was buried in a common grave.
    Although he was considered a self-taught folk artist during his lifetime, Posada's importance was re-established by Mexico's political muralists Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco in the 1920's. His work has been the focus of many museum exhibitions in Mexico and the United States. The collection at Stanford University is the largest holding of Posada's work in the country.

    Scope and Content

    The Posada Collection consists of approximately 900 original prints, grouped into four main categories: Cuadernillos (small booklets), Hojas Chicas, Hojas and Oversized. Within these categories, the prints are grouped according to subject headings, such as: Cuentos (stories), Politicas, Religiosa, Folklorico, etc. Most of these subject headings were determined by the seller, prior to acquisition by Stanford University. The processing staff has made every effort to group the prints in a manner that would be easily recognizable, and consistent with other Posada collections (eg., the University of Hawaii).
    The Cuadernillos (sometimes referred to as chapbooks) are small booklets, measuring 5 ½" by 3 ½". These booklets cover a wide range of subjects, from simple stories, to riddles and fortune telling, via printed text and the illustrations done by Jose Posada. Hojas, or broadsides, were quickly-produced flyers that were distributed on the street, mainly to an illiterate population. The full page hojas measure 10 ½" by 14"; the hojas chicas were printed on a half sheet and measure 8 ½" by 11 ½". The Oversized series consists of political posters, measuring 15 ½" by 23 ½". All of the prints were published by the Antonio Vanegas Arroyo Publishing House, beginning 1887 until Posada's death in 1913. Even after Posada's death, the Arroyo Publishing House continued to use his illustrations in hojas that dealt with the Mexican Revolution. It is difficult to determine an exact number, or chronology of Posada's prints for Arroyo (although some hojas are dated), but it is estimated that in a 44 year career of engraving Posada created more than 20,000 prints.
    The prints in this collection were produced by means of relief etching, a process that was both quick and prolific, so that thousands of copies could be made. In relief etching, a design is drawn (in reverse), using acid-resist ink, upon a zinc plate. The exposed parts are hollowed in an acid bath, and the plate is inked with a roller (like a woodcut). The result is a black line penned on a white ground. Posada became so proficient in this technique that he could do it on the street, capturing an event as it happened. Posada's broadsides were usually printed on cheap paper that had been colored with natural vegetable dyes, and sold to the public for 1 or 2 centavos each. One author has noted that, "The people of the streets identified with Posada's engravings because they saw themselves and their environments faithfully portrayed in them."

    Access Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Art, Modern--Mexico.