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A Beautiful & Enigmatic Painting of Zacatecas

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565.     [ZACATECAS]. ‘La Bufa’ Zacatecas [title at lower left in terracotta paint] Unattributed, unsigned oil painting on canvas mounted onto Masonite panel (18 x 40 cm). N.p., n.d. (after 1924, based on materials and scientific analysis by McCrone Associates,; full report on our web site). Excellent condition with minor craquelure throughout (mostly affecting the sky area); small area of overpainting at lower left. In a handsome gilt frame with brass label incorrectly attributing the painting to Mrs. H.G. Ward. Date based on materials and scientific analysis by McCrone Associates.

     This is a strong, beautifully executed image focusing on the symbol of the town of Zacatecas, El Cerro de la Bufa, the promontory rising above the town on which stands the handsome late eighteenth-century structure Capilla de los Remedios or Virgen del Patroncinio Señora de los Zacatecas. At lower right are scattered small structures of the village, the trailhead to the mountain, and a few people walking. The scene is suffused with light, the technique is painterly and impressionistic, and the colors are pastel. The work is understated, and this is a case in which less says more.

     The painting came to us purported to be the work of Lady Emily Elizabeth Swinburne Ward (1798-1882), wife of Henry G. Ward. Mrs. Ward illustrated printed two books by her husband, Mexico in 1827 (see Item 554 herein) and Six Views of the Most Important Towns, and Mining Districts, upon the Table Land of Mexico (1829). The report of McCrone Associates definitively proves the present painting cannot be the original work of Mrs. Ward because of the materials used to create the painting. Some pigments used by the artist were not available until about 1919. Techniques employed by McCrone included specimen sampling, elemental analysis, examination using ultra-violet light, scanning by electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry, and other tests. Other factors are discussed in the analysis.

     Subsequently, a highly respected Mexican art historian suggested that the work might be that of Mexican artist Manuel Pastrana (1860-1938), who worked extensively in Zacatecas. Pastrana’s primary body of work is now in the Museo de Guadalupe in Zacatecas. We also consulted with the leading Pastrana expert, Raul Toledo, Director of the Pedro Coronel Museum in Zacatecas. Sr. Toledo was not certain if the work was that of Pastrana but opined that it "might" be. A colleague in Puebla visited the Museo de Guadalupe in Zacatecas and consulted with the director, who stated that none of their paintings by Pastrana is on Masonite, a material not commercially available until ca. 1925.


Sold. Hammer: $2,500.00; Price Realized: $3,000.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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