They called us “the internationals”…because we were able to go to other printing establishments thanks to our skills.
Álvaro Sánchez, Charola, machinist at Galas de México
The technique of chromolithography began to be practiced in Mexico at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tobacco industry was the first to make use of the excellent printing quality and pure colors of the brilliant chromos. Other businesses, such as breweries, bottlers, and food processors, soon followed suit.
Advertising by means of calendars was a global phenomenon, appearing almost simultaneously in many different latitudes―from China to Latin America―and drawing on the particular folklore and traditions of each place.
The work of nineteenth-century engravers such as Casimiro Castro and Hesiquio Iriarte had already been used for commercial purposes. The use of chromos in advertising was popularized in the early 1930 by the leading company in the field: Galas de México, founded by Santiago Galas Arce, an immigrant from the Spanish province of Santander.
The combination of the Galas Arce’s keen business sense and technical progress in offset printing generated a boom in the advertising calendar, which became a part of the everyday lives of Mexicans for more than five decades.
An entire generation of painters, including Jesús de la Helguera, Eduardo Cataño, Ángel Martín, José Bribiesca, Humberto Limón, and Aurora Gil, joined forces with technicians, workers, designers, and vendors to fill Mexican homes with these dream images.
Both regular line and special calendars, illustrated with patriotic and historical subjects, costumbrista scenes, well-known athletes, children’s and family themes, humor, or pretty women, were printed continuously from 1933 to 1970, the year Santiago Galas passed away. In the face of new competition in the 1960s from photographic images―children, pets, fruit, and panoramic views of landscape―the once booming business of the calendar was coming to an end. On permanent display at its Plaza Loreto location, Museo Soumaya offers an unprecedented selection of 1,500 works connected with the industrial processes of chromolithography: oil paintings, photographs, glass plates, acetates, printing plates, machinery, and prints, as well as the invaluable oral testimonies of artists and workers from the golden age of calendars of the twentieth century.
The pantheon of the Mexican Olympus―as researcher Alfonso Morales has pointed out― was a universe of heroes, heroines, gods, and goddesses representing some of the most cherished images of Mexican national identity. Stereotypes of muscular warriors and languid damsels were used to depict episodes from Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past―especially in advertising for tires and foodstuffs―through the paintings, in particular, of Jesús de la Helguera, Eduardo Cataño, and José Bribiesca Casillas.
The Comisión Nacional de Libros de Texto Gratuitos, which provided free textbooks for the Mexican school system, was created in 1959 by Secretary of Education Jaime Torres Bodet. The educational vocation of the government of President Adolfo López Mateos used the printed images produced by La Enseñanza Objetiva, Lito Offset Latina, and of course Galas de México to celebrate the central figures of Mexican history. In this way, role models were created for Mexican children and young people. Patriotic images―such as those of Humberto Limón―were transferred from canvas to the dazzling prints that illustrated school projects for decades.
During the years of the “Mexican miracle” (1946–1964), when industry, trade, and foreign investment were booming, the printers of Galas de México focused especially on patriotic chromos. The educational model of José Vasconcelos was taken up again, forty years later, in a new post-revolutionary national project. Jesús de la Helguera, Rodolfo de la Torre, and Jorge González Camarena, among many other artists, produced oil paintings of female figures waving the Mexican flag as representatives of national identity. These chromos, which reflected the prevailing prosperity and abundance, adorned both calendars and the covers of the free textbooks of Mexican public schools.
All in the Family
Following the Second World War (1939–1945) a social model seeking a return to the values of domestic life began to spread in the United States. The phenomenon known as “back to the kitchen” celebrated the role of women as mothers and spouses who, accompanied by the latest in home appliances, abandoned their active roles in the economy as nurses, secretaries, and professionals. This gave rise to a gallery of images of everyday married life, with parents and children: works that depicted, for the first time, middle-class people and their immediate family surroundings.
The oldest printmaking genre in Mexico, dating from colonial times, was the devotional image. Lithographs and copper-plate engravings depicted scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints, as models of protection and exemplary life. Starting in the 1930s, Galas de México produced a constant supply of religious images, demanded year after year by the calendar clientele. These holy images were kept in pocketbooks, attached to the rearview mirrors of automobiles, or used to adorn domestic shrines and the walls of workshops.
The complex and fascinating Mexican cultural mosaic attracted the attention of the calendar industry from the very first years of Galas de México. Antonio Gómez y Rodríguez, Héctor Ladrón de Guevara, and Alfredo González carried out a painstaking study of Mexican costume, fiestas, music, gastronomy, and folklore in their paintings. In the reconstruction of a country that had gone through long years of struggle, the values and customs of each region were celebrated to display the image of a modern nation. In a harmonious combination of mariachi music, jarabe tapatío, and serenades, the calendars celebrated the national identity both within and beyond the borders of Mexico.
An important generation of artists arrived in Mexico before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Republican refugees who had fled their country, without resources and with families to maintain, were given the opportunity by the government of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) to settle in Mexico and begin a new life. Santiago Galas, in fraternal solidarity with his compatriots, hired a large number of Spaniards to work in his factory in the areas of sales and administration, and of course in the calendar painting workshop as well. Demetrio Llordén, José Espert, Josep and Juan Renau, Ángel Martín, Manuela Ballester, Conchita Pesquera, and Aurora Gil were only the most important of those who evoked their native land in images of bullfighters, majas, gypsies, and scenes of Seville and Granada.
Love on the Silver Screen
The theme of romance was constantly evoked in Mexican calendars. Inspired by the golden age of Mexican motion pictures―under the direction of Roberto Gavaldón, Ismael Rodríguez, Fernando de Fuentes, and Emilio Indio Fernández―chromos drew on scenes of rapturous love, in a gallery of figures that evoked the great films of María Félix, Dolores Del Rio, Pedro Armendáriz, Jorge Negrete, and Pedro Infante. From simple village settings to fancy balls in the capital, artists depicted scenes of open courting and seduction that would remain on the wall for an entire year.
Mexico’s tourism boom coincided with the economic growth under the country’s first civilian president since the Revolution: Miguel Alemán (1946–1952). Along with strong foreign investment and the consolidation of a middle class, advertising posters from different states attracted the attention of other countries. The port of Acapulco played a central role in the motion picture industry both in Mexico and Hollywood during those years of glamour.
The cameras of Luis Osorno Barona, Luis Vives, and Elodia Portal, among other great photographers, captured the landscapes and traditions that would make Mexico one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Gags and physical comedy have been a source of humor, without the need for words, since the first comic film in the history of cinema: L’arroseur arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled) a one-minute short made by the Lumière brothers in 1895. The calendars of Galas de México ―especially the chromos of Luis Améndolla and Humberto Limón―made light of the everyday lives of the Mexican middle class with a keen eye for ordinary detail.
In the 1950s, the calendar industry brought children over the threshold of commercial art. In both urban and rural contexts, children were portrayed to advertise soft drinks, candy, toys, and clothing. In the warmth of the home, at school, at parties, or at religious ceremonies―as in Jesús Becerril’s famous oil painting Marcelino, Bread, and Wine― children are movingly portrayed, sometime dressed as tiny adults.
Sports and sporting scenes are a fundamental part of the history of advertising. Through soccer balls, crowded stadiums, and intrepid players, breweries and soft drink companies advertised their products in the warmth of family gatherings, around the television or in the euphoria of competition.
Soccer, athletics, and baseball filled the calendars as signs of cultural identity. Sports and leisure activities that encourage us to lift a mug of beer to the sound of the familiar cry: “Gooooaaal!”
Galas de México became a part of the advertising world in the 1930s. Companies of all kinds were eager to invest in calendars in order to promote their brands and gain market position through appealing chromos. Santiago Galas offered two modalities: special and regular line calendars. For the former, a client paid for the exclusive rights to the painting produced to advertise the product. The regular line calendars were offered by sales people in thick binders with a wide range of images. Thus, the same chromo might be used to advertise soft drinks, tires, cookies, or medicines.
Beautiful, sensual pinup girls soon became central figures in the universe of the chromos. Attractive young women modeled after Hollywood actresses fired the imaginations of men with their seductive and erotic poses. The impact of movies, radio, and television in a consumer society made a place for these earthly goddesses who even became interplanetary travelers. Both objects and subjects of desire, after their long social struggle, women play a different role today. These images are history now…
Fábrica Galas de México
The little almanacs that circulated in the nineteenth century contained caricatures, games, religious prayers, and basic information about the weather and important events.
Located in the historic center of Mexico City, on Calle 16 de Septiembre, La Helvetia, a postcard printing establishment, was the first business founded by the brothers Santiago and Miguel Galas.
Fábrica Galas de México, located first on Isabel la Católica and then in its famous brick premises on San Antonio Abad, was a leader in the Latin American printing industry. Using lithography and offset printing, the company produced images in large numbers of copies, aimed at all sectors of the population. Gathered in calendars, they were handed out as gifts in markets, liquor stores, dairy shops, drugstores, and corner stores for more than four decades.
In this exhibit, industrial archaeology, the history of printmaking, and chromolithography pay homage to all the men and women who left their mark on Galas de México. A vision that spans generations and is now printed in four inks in our calendar memory…