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“They did more with their pen and pencil than did many generals with their armies”—Toussaint

23. [ESCALANTE, Constantino, Carlos R. Casarín, and Vicente Riva Palacio (editors)]. La Orquesta. Periódico omniscio, de buen humor y con caricaturas, redactado en gefe por el ciudadano Roberto Macario, elector elegible. [Mexico: Imprenta de la Paz, callejon de la Cazuela; Tipografia de M. Castro, Escalerillas núm. 10], 1861. Vol. I, Nos. 1-53, March 1, 1861 to August 31, 1861. 53 issues, each 4 pp. (printed in three columns), one lithograph per issue, plus prospectus and 4 other lithos (including an extra plate of music). [2 title], [2 prospectus], 212 pp., 57 lithograph plates (satirical political cartoons) by Hesiquio Iriarte and Santiago Hernández. 4to, contemporary black Mexican sheep over mottled boards, spine lettered and decorated in gilt. Binding rubbed and worn at edges, small hole on first lithograph (not affecting image), a few tears to text (slight loss of printed text on p. 155), occasional staining and light fox marks, overall very good, with the rare prospectus bound in at front. Contemporary ink note or signature on verso of first lithograph. Small printed label on verso of front free endpaper: “Juan V. Machuca, Encuadernador. Calle de Medinas. n. 21. Mejico.”

     First edition, the first 53 numbers of the first Mexican periodical to embody graphic political satire in a significant way, and a premier illustrated political periodical—for any time or place. The prospectus, which is signed Robert Macario and gives places where one may subscribe, describes in general the state of society and the government, which the editors find dismal and which they intend to attack by way of a humor magazine.

     Charno, Latin American Newspapers, p. 392 (locating scattered issues at Yale, UT, and Bancroft). 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.”

     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 based on Constantino Escalante’s drawings, in which he revealed himself to be a trenchant observer of Mexican life, earning him the sobriquet of the Daumier of Mexico. Escalante and his cousin, Carlos R. Casarín, founded La Orquesta, which contains early work from the biting pen of Vicente Riva Palacio. Some of the illustrations include clever portraits of Escalante wielding his pen as a weapon.

     The 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.

     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.”

     The conjunction of the talents of Constantino Escalante and lithographer Hesiquio Iriarte, both giants of nineteenth-century Mexican lithography, was fortuitous. Escalante (1836-1868) became involved with liberal politics at the close of the Guerra de los Tres Años in 1861. He was the first caricaturist for La Orquesta 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 state. He used his caricatures to draw attention to the many problems that oppressed Mexico. He also produced independent albums of lithographs such as National glories (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 32.

     Hesiquio Iriarte (ca. 1820-1897) was, arguably, the finest lithographer in nineteenth-century Mexico. 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. His El Greco and Rembrandt skills of depicting transparency is evident in the plate “Cocina de los P.P. Dieguinos de México.”

     Iriarte’s association with Santiago Hernández (1833-1908) led to some of the more memorable lithographs of nineteenth-century Mexico, such as those in La Orquesta, where Iriarte explored caricature—a rare departure from his customary themes. The most dramatic result of the Iriarte-Hernández collaboration was El Libro Rojo, portraying infamous drownings, executions, suicides and other mournful and strange events during Mexico's civil and foreign wars. Santiago Hernández, another of the great Mexican lithographers, was a major contributor to La Orquesta and the successor to Escalante as the pillar of the periodical. ($1,200-2,400)

Sold. Hammer: $1,300.00; Price Realized: $1,527.50

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