“They did more with their pen and pencil than did many generals with their armies”—Toussaint
218. La Orquesta. Periódico omniscio, de buen humor y con caricaturas, fundado en 1861. [Mexico City]: (successively by) Imprenta Literaria, Calle 2a de Santo Domingo núm. 10; T. F. Neve, impresor, Callejón de Santa Clara número 9; Imprenta de F. Díaz de León y S. White, Segunda Monterilla, núm. 12; and Imprenta de Díaz de León y White, Calle de Lerdo, núm. 2, 1867-1873. 6 vols. of “Tercero época”: 1867: Vol. I, Nos. 1-54 (June 26-December 28, 1867); 1868 Vol. I, Nos. 55-106 (January 2-June 27, 1868) and Vol. II, Nos. 1-45 (July 1, 1868-December 30, 1868); 1869: Vol. II, Nos. 46-149 (January 2-December 29, 1869); 1870: Vol. III, Nos. 1-105 (January 5-Decemebr 31, 1870); 1871: Vol. IV, Nos. 1-104 (January 4-December 30, 1871); 1873: Vol. VI, Nos. 1-105 (January 1-December 31, 1873). Each issue 4 pp. (printed in three columns), usually one lithograph per issue (=565 plates), lithograph plates (satirical political cartoons) by Hesiquio Iriarte, Constantine Escalante, Santiago Hernández and José María Villasana. 4to, contemporary half tan Mexican sheep over mottled boards, spine lettered and decorated in gilt. Bindings lightly shelf-worn, a few slightly bowed, some hinges starting, occasional damp staining and light foxing; text block of final volume sprung from binding, which was too small from the beginning; a few plates wrinkled; 1873 volume plate 12 has a dime-size hole caused by a paper flaw. 1869 volume wants plate 118 but has an added lithographed title page; 1870 volume wants No. 8 and its plate and plate 96, but has hors-series plate; 1871 volume wants No. 5 and its plate. First two volumes have ink signatures on front free endpapers. Otherwise, this a fine set of a periodical rare in any form.
First editions of the first Mexican periodical to employ graphic political satire in a significant way, and a premier illustrated political periodical for any time or place. Charno, Latin American Newspapers, p. 392. Mathes, Mexico on Stone, p. 30: “In 1861, La Orquesta, a periodical of political satire, established lithographic caricature as a field of its own through the excellent work of Constantino Escalante, virtual pillar of the publication until his untimely death in a railroad accident at Tlalpan in 1868”; 54 (illustrating a plate); 59 (title); 63 (Escalante); 64 (Iriarte). Palau 204579. Sabin 57650: “The Mexican Punch.” See also Grabados Mexicanos: An Historical Exhibition of Mexican Graphics 1839-1974 (Mount Holyoke College, 1974).
Toussaint, La Litografía en México, p. xxvi: “En 1861 se comenzó a publicar en México La Orquesta. Duró hasta 1874. Nunca se había lanzado al combate un campeón tan vigoroso. La satira cáustica del texto halla, en las litografías, una arma terrible. Dos colosos del humorismo se habían encontrado: Vicente Riva Palacio y Constantino Escalante. Ellos hicieron más, con su pluma y su lápiz, que muchos generales con sus ejércitos. La Orquesta es la historia de un período de nuestra vida política, pero al desnudo, casi desollada.” [Translation]: “La Orquesta began publication in Mexico City in 1861. It lasted until 1874. There has never been as vigorous a champion leap into combat. The caustic satire of the text finds a terrible weapon in lithographs. Two giants of humor had met: Vicente Riva Palacio and Constantino Escalante. They did more with their pen and pencil than did many generals with their armies. La Orquesta is the history of a period of our political life, but when stripped, it is shameless.”
La Orquesta was an important organ of political and social commentary and depiction at the time of the end of Reforms and the period of French intervention, spilling over into the governments of Juárez and Lerdo de Tejada. The publication’s political stance was such that it was persecuted by both presidents. The most important aspect of the periodical was its lithographs, which revealed successive, trenchant observations of Mexican life. Escalante, called the Daumier of Mexico, and his cousin, Carlos R. Casarín, founded La Orquesta, which contains early work from the biting pen of Vicente Riva Palacio. Successive editors and writers of the series represented here included Manuel C. Villegas, H. Iriarte, Escalante, Hilarión Frias y Soto, Juan de Jarras, and José R. Perez.
Joyce Waddell Bailey, an authority on Mexican graphic art, commented on La Orquesta (as quoted by Ron Tyler in Posada’s Mexico, p. 96): “Outside of [a few] circumstantial affinities to the tradition of French magazines of caricature, we find little influence of a specific nature in the prints. Rather, the Mexican lithographs show highly original themes, and styles vary from artist to artist and journal to journal. To a certain extent we can see here traces of how highly creative artists work. A new idea or image may act as a stimulus, but it is combined in the artist’s own work with such agility and acuity that it becomes impossible to accurately delineate specific sources of influence.”
These lithographs represent some of the most riveting early specimens of Mexico’s nationalistic printmaking art, a tradition that began with illustrations in a handful of liberal periodicals such as this one, and later blossomed to influence and encompass such prolific talents as José Guadalupe Posada and José Clemente Orozco. These illustrations proved seminal to modern Latin American art.
The conjunction of the talents of Constantino Escalante and lithographer Hesiquio Iriarte, both giants of nineteenth-century Mexican lithography, was highly fortuitous. Escalante (1836-1868) became involved with liberal politics at the close of the Guerra de los Tres Años in 1861. He was La Orquesta’s first caricaturist and worked for the magazine until his death in 1868, producing over five hundred searing images that provide a detailed vision of Mexico’s history through his critical eyes. His preferred themes were foreign invasions and the relationship between the Church and the state. He used his caricatures to draw attention to the many problems that oppressed Mexico. He also produced independent albums of lithographs, such as Glorias nacionales, which was sponsored by Vicente Riva Palacio (1832–96), the director of La Orquesta. He died in a streetcar accident at the age of thirty-two. The last image he produced appears here in Vol. II, No. 30, and the next issue is devoted almost entirely to him in a eulogy by Hilarión Frías y Soto that ends: “México, jamas olvidará á su primero quizá á su único caricaturista.” The following issue contains a handsome lithograph of Escalante drawn and printed by Iriarte.
His successors continued the excellent tradition that he began. Hernández (1833-1908), who fought at Chapultepec, not only worked on La Orquesta but also drew for many other Mexican satirical periodicals of the era. His drawings were at times so inflammatory that he was persecuted by the Mexican government for his views. One of his innovations was the use of large double page lithographs, examples of which may be seen in Vol. I, No. 14 and Vol. II, No. 85. In addition to his lithographs here, he is also admired for his work in El Libro Rojo, portraying infamous drownings, executions, suicides and other mournful and strange events during Mexico’s civil and foreign wars. He was succeeded by José María Villasana (1848-1904), who helped found El Ahuizote, another satirical periodical, before he began working for La Orquesta. Ironically, Villasana became, in a sense, the butt of his own joke when he ran for office and was elected. Although Villasana generally continued in the tradition of black lines on white backgrounds, one of his innovations was striking illustrations done with white lines on black backgrounds, something that had never been done in this periodical prior to his efforts (e.g. Vol. VI, No. 29).
Hesiquio Iriarte (ca. 1820-1897) was arguably the finest lithographer in nineteenth-century Mexico and probably executed all of the lithographs published in La Orquesta. His earliest major production was that of the numerous plates in the extraordinary four-volume El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (México: Ignacio Cumplido, 1842) and lithographs in El Gallo Pitagórico (México: Ignacio Cumplido, 1845). He also produced excellent plates for Apuntes Históricos de la Heroica Ciudad de Vera-Cruz (México: Ignacio Cumplido, 1850) with an extraordinary portrait of Fernando Cortés; Los Mexicanos Pintados por sí mismos (México: M. Murguía, 1854-1855); Los Conventos Suprimidos de México (México: J. M. Aguilar y Compañía, 1861); and De Miramar a México (Orizaba: J. Bernardo Aburto, 1864) with an outstanding portrait of Maximillian. Spanning a half-century, the role of Iriarte in Mexican lithography cannot be overstated. ($5,000-10,000)
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Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2007