Skip to Main Content
site header image

Stendahl Art Galleries Records: Guillermo Echániz Correspondence

Letter 4: November 13, 1940

Getty Research Institute (2017.M.38) Box 11, Folder 9


November 13, 1940.

Dear Earl:

With my wife’s letter to yours,[1] I attached a note offering you the 300 paintings left, as per sample, at $ 3,00. each or $ 700,00. the lot.

The grasshopper is Aztec civilization, Absolutely good. Yes, I bouth it from Bill Spratling.[2]

The man that sold me the Maya Tiger is the same man that sold me the maya figure you saw at Spinden’s desk,[3] Do you remember which one ?

And both pieces were together with the Stela you gave away to Arensberg.[4]

There is a ranch near Teotihuacan. The farmer[5] found a piramid and in an under-ground chamber[6] there was the fresco and the two pieces, the large woman with thumbs up and the other figure without head.[7] This chamber seems to be a temple to the Godess of Agriculture.

The most important part of it was the fresco that was bought by a local dealer. He sold part of it to a Belgian woman[8] (one square yard) and Caso[9] learned about the rest and the man who had it got cold feet and sold it to me at cost price, because I offered to send it to Caso so the case could fade away.

When this man had it, he experimented several ways to take it away from the thick piece of wall. He was the man that used glue. Not Aguirre.[10]- Then I paid Aguirre to cut part of the wall off.[11] You came and paid Aguirre to take it away from the wall. I wanted you to give your instructions to Aguirre, I had my own ideas, you had yours, Aguirre had his. I sold it to you dirt cheap because I knew how hard it was to get it out and to get it in shape.

All of my urns[12] are O.K. according to my honest opinion. I want to take them back because I do not want you to be fighting at each sale on the authenticity of them. Why should you loose time on such things when we have so much to do to keep on the market ?

I am still working had at my Museum of Graphic Arts.[13] Now every thing is under glass, well lighted, etc. etc. Waiting for Caso’s men to come to fix the value of it.[14]

I am still waiting for the note or check of my last lot.[15]

Our regards to both of you.

                                                            {G.M.E Bill}


1. Juliette (“Julieta”) Latremouille Echániz (1905–1985) and Enid Stendahl (1889–1970) were the wives of Guillermo Echániz and Earl Stendahl (see their Biographical Notes). They appear to have maintained a friendship that supported but also went well beyond their husbands’ business relationship.

2. William (“Bill”) Spratling (1900–1967) was a U.S.-born silver designer and collector of pre-Hispanic art based in Taxco, Guerrero (see his Biographical Notes). This comment reflects the fact that most collectors of pre-Hispanic art in this era bought, sold, and traded objects with one another, which further blurs the lines between collector, dealer, and trafficker. It also complicates provenance research, beginning with the objects’ cultural origin and place of modern discovery. The Aztec grasshopper acquired from Spratling is also mentioned in the letter dated November 11, 1940 in this Research Guide.  

3. Herbert Joseph (“Joe”) Spinden (1879–1967) was an anthropologist trained in Classic Maya art and archaeology, and during this era he was the curator of the Department of American Indian Art and Primitive Cultures (the new name he gave to a portion of the former Department of Ethnology) at the Brooklyn Museum (see his Biographical Notes).

4. Walter Arensberg (1878–1954) was a prominent collector and patron of the arts whose Hollywood Hills estate served as a gallery and art and literary salon (see his Biographical Notes).

5. The “farmer” who found the mural in this paragraph, and the “local dealer” and “the man who had it” in the following paragraph, have yet to be identified.

6. At this time, the urban extent of Teotihuacan was not well understood. Echaniz’s putative ‘cemetery’ (discussed in the letter dated January 4, 1942 in this Research Guide) was actually a labyrinthine residential compound. Teotihuacan’s ancient population of ca. 100,000–150,000 lived in approximately 2000 such compounds that surrounded the central monumental core, but this would not be broadly understood until the publication of René Millon’s map of the site in 1973 in Urbanization at Teotihuacán, Mexico: The Teotihuacan Map, Part One: Text; Part Two: Maps, with R. Bruce Drewitt and George L. Cowgill (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973). Teotihuacanos frequently buried their dead under the floors of these compounds, and they decorated compound walls with elaborate murals. The clandestine discovery, looting, and subsequent reporting on murals at Tetitla, located a half-mile west of the core, seems to have prompted official excavations both there and to the east, at the Tepantitla compound. Work at these compounds as well as Atetelco and the nearby compounds of Zacuala and Yayahuala would begin to clarify the relationship of residential compounds and their murals to the city as a whole into the 1960s. See, for example: Agustín Villagra Caleti, “Teotihuacan. Sus pinturas murales,” in Anales del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, sexta época (1945–1967) 5 (November 7, 1952): 67–74; Laurette Séjourné, Un palacio en la Ciudad de los Dioses, Teotihuacán (México: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1959); and Laurette Séjourné, Arquitectura y pintura en Teotihuacán: levantamientos y perspectivas (México: Siglo Veintiuno, 1966).

7. The “frescoes” discussed in this selection of letters include at least two from the Tetitla compound and one from the Atetelco compound, all likely looted from Teotihuacan c. 1939–1942. The two from Tetitla are now in the collections of Dumbarton Oaks (PC.B.062, the so-called “Net-Jaguar Mural”) and the Denver Art Museum (1965.202). Earl Stendahl sold the Net-Jaguar Mural to Robert Woods Bliss in 1941 (Inventory Number 579 found in Inventory Book). His son, Alfred (“Al”) Stendahl, sold the other to the Denver Art Museum in 1965 (Inventory Number 1538 found in Stock Book and Inventory Book). The Atetelco Mural is now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1950-134-404). Earl Stendahl sold it to the Arensbergs in 1950 (this may be Inventory Number 1539 found in Stock Book and Inventory Book; see: Hoobler, “Smoothing the Path for Rough Stones,” in Hollywood Arensberg, 385, n. 264). At least one other mural, now at the Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire/Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis in Brussels (A.AM.48.16.623), was also extracted during this same period, though it did not pass through Stendahl’s hands (see the letters dated November 13, 1940 and August 4, 1941 included in this Research Guide). Additionally, there is at least one other “frescoe” listed in the Stendahl Galleries stock books (Inventory Number 580 found in Stock Book and Inventory Book), and yet more are referred to in other letters from Echániz, suggesting that some mural fragments extracted during this period are either no longer extant; remain unidentified in private collections; or lack definitive links to the looting that took place c. 1939–1942.

8. Germaine Wenziner (1893–1950), identified phonetically as “Mis. Benzinaire” in the letter dated August 4, 1941 in this Research Guide, was a wealthy collector with ties to the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels (see her Biographical Notes).

9. Alfonso Caso (1896–1970) was an attorney-turned-archaeologist and the first director of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, which was founded in 1939 (see his Biographical Notes). Caso sought to reign in illicit excavations and exports, and to better regulate and professionalize official Mexican archaeology.

10. Porfirio Aguirre (1889–1951?) was a Mexican archaeologist best known for his discovery of the “Máscara de Malinaltepec” (see his Biographical Notes). The identity of the person who used the glue is unknown.

11. While these letters implicate Porfirio Aguirre in the physical handling of a mural from Teotihuacan, he is much more benignly connected to one of the murals trafficked by Echániz and Stendahl in two other accounts. A decade after the events, Diego Rivera claimed that Aguirre made a tracing of the “Net-Jaguar Mural” (PC.B.062) now at Dumbarton Oaks—a drawing that, according to Rivera, was seen by Alfonso Caso, then Head of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (see his Biographical Notes), and although this should have prevented its export, Caso dismissed the report as a fraud (Alfredo Cardona Peña, “Fotocharlas: Diego Rivera, XLVII,” El Nacional, July 2, 1950, Section 2, 3, Hemeroteca Nacional de México). Two decades after the events, César Lizardi Ramos wrote that a Mexican archaeologist who had been “separated” from his employment at the Museo Nacional de Antropología made the drawing of the mural (again, the “Net-Jaguar Mural” sold by Echániz to Stendahl, and then Stendahl to Bliss) that appeared in the magazine ZETA in 1940 (“Los maestros pintores de Teotihuacan,” Excélsior, June 21, 1959, Sección Dominical, 1, 4, Hemeroteca Nacional de México; Luis Ángel Rodríguez, “La leyenda de las pirámides,” ZETA. Revista Continental, Year 1, No. 8, Nov. 1940, 27–33). Lizardi Ramos did not include this claim in the article he published on the subject in 1944 (“Escándalo por el Robo de una Gran Pintura India,” Excélsior, Nov. 27, 1944, Miscelánea Semanal, 6, Hemeroteca Nacional de México). 

12. The allegedly fake Zapotec urns (also addressed in the letters dated October 22, 1940, November 2, 1940, and November 11, 1940 included in this Research Guide) caused a serious but surmountable conflict at what appears to be an early stage in the professional relationship between Stendahl and Echániz. April Dammann recounts this story in Exhibitionist: Earl Stendahl, Art Dealer as Impresario (Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2011), 133–134.

13. Guillermo Echániz’s Museo de Artes Gráficas was at this point in the Librería Anticuaria Echániz at Donceles 12 in Mexico City, but it later moved with the bookshop and the Echániz family to Mar Arafura 8 in Popotla (see Echániz’s Biographical Notes).

14. Echániz appears to have had a complicated relationship with Caso. Caso was a government official whom Echániz sought to evade in order to successfully excavate and export pre-Hispanic objects (see the letters dated December 7, 1940, August 13, [1941?], and January 4, 1942 included in this Research Guide). However, Echániz also needed to collaborate with Caso so that his own collection in Mexico, the Museo de Artes Gráficas, would be recognized and respected.

15. The reference to a “note” in this and other letters concern promissory notes that served as paper documents of monetary loans with set deadlines for repayment. Many copies of these promissory notes are preserved in the Stendahl Art Galleries Records.