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Stendahl Art Galleries Records: Guillermo Echániz Correspondence

Letter 8: August 13, [1941?]

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


August 13th. [1941?]

Dear Earl:

I just finished to pack a two thousand lot which will be sent to Joe[1] as soon as I get the papers from the American Consul.[2]

Covarrubias[3] is in that hotel right now and you are bound to meet him with Valliant,[4] with Spinden,[5] etc. etc.      

As you will not be able to avoid him,[6] your story is going to {be} that you bought six months ago a lot of thirty cases of pre-colombian art to a Belgian diplomat who had been posted here.[7] IT IS QUIIT IMPORTANT. Then if he sees your photos or any of your slides, then he will find it logical for you to have such a large stock. At the same time, he will ask for the frecoe[8] and then it is the begining of the location of it. If Caso[9] learns that you bought it from a diplomat, he won’t be able to do any thing, as I have learned that he try to stop the cases of the Belgian Ambasador and the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs did not find it advisable to stop them,[10] so he wont be able to do a thing about it.

Spratling[11] is going in about a week, and he will stop at the Barbi{z}on[12] also.

To-day’s news papers bring the news of the visit of Madame Rubinstain[13] to Diego’s[14] place.- They show a photo of Diego showing his collection of pre-colombian art and express the desire of Rubinstaint to form a collection. YOU CAN SELL HER PLENTY. But Spratling is going to hang about her most of the time, as his partner is married to her sister.

The lot I am sending is the best lot I ever had: you will see a collection of Maya clay figures, which are nice and very hard to find.

The price I have put to it, is the best I can, with the idea to continue periodical shipments on the same order: good stuff and the best possible margin for you.

This way we can save money on your benefit, and you wont have to spend time and money comming over and will have more time to the selling end of it over there.

But if you keep me without money you are stoping a good business.

I hope to receive sound news from your Secretary.[15]

If Mrs. Stendahl[16] is with you, give her our love and regards.

{Write me righ away to know you received this. Explain reasons why I should go to El Paso.-}[17]


1. “Joe” here is Joe Ramírez, an individual about which little is currently known. It seems that both Joe Ramirez, Sr. and Joe Ramirez, Jr. handled shipments arriving from Mexico to the United States, primarily via Ciudad Juárez/El Paso. (See also the letter dated July 31, 1941 included in this Research Guide.)

2. Echániz and Stendahl were able to obtain documents from American consulates in Mexico that enabled them to legally import items into the U.S., even though they had to smuggle them out of Mexico. 

3. Miguel Covarrubias (1904–1957) was a multi-faceted Mexican artist and cultural figure (caricaturist, illustrator, painter, muralist, lithographer, set and costume designer, dance company director, museum curator, and professor) who lived and worked in Mexico City and New York City. For retrospectives on his diverse body of work in the visual arts, see, for instance: Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, and Museo Soumaya, Miguel Covarrubias: Homenaje nacional. Cuatro miradas / Miguel Covarrubias: National Homage. Four Visions (México: Editorial RM, 2005) and Carolyn Kastner, ed., Miguel Covarrubias: Drawing a Cosmopolitan Line. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014). He was also deeply invested in research related to the ancient Olmec, and was recognized by his contemporaries both as an important voice in pre-Hispanic studies and as a prominent collector of pre-Hispanic objects. He had regular dealings with artists, collectors, dealers, and archaeologists, and collaborated on many publications, including: Alfonso Caso and Miguel Covarrubias (drawings), El pueblo del sol (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, [1st ed. 1953] Colección Popular 1971); Miguel Covarrubias with William Spratling and André Emmerich (texts), Mezcala: Ancient Mexican Sculpture (New York: André Emmerich Gallery, 1956); and Román Piña Chan, Luis Covarrubias, and Miguel Covarrubias, El pueblo del jaguar: Los olmecas arqueológicos (México: Consejo para la planeación e instalación del Museo Nacional de Antropología, 1964). The “Archivo Miguel Covarrubias” at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla reflects the wide-ranging interests and activities of the artist and his wife, Rosa Rolanda (1895–1970), who was a dancer, artist, and photographer. Together they published Island of Bali (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1937) and Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1946).

4. George Vaillant (1901–1945) was a Harvard-trained archaeologist who is credited, along with his wife, for undertaking meticulously documented, methods-based field work and excavations in central Mexico and in Guatemala that contributed to a better understanding of the ceramics and chronological sequence of pre-Hispanic cultures of Mesoamerica (“George Clapp Vaillant,” American Museum of Natural History). His greatest contribution may be his reasoned assessment of Maya chronology, linking pottery to texts, in Raymond Edwin Merwin and George Clapp Vaillant, The Ruins Of Holmul, Guatemala. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University v.3, no. 2 (Cambridge: Peabody Museum, 1932). Vaillant also received widespread recognition for his popular book, The Aztecs of Mexico: Origin, Rise and Fall of the Aztec Nation (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Doran, 1941). Serving as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History, he was familiar with the challenges of authenticity of pre-Hispanic objects experienced by dealers, collectors, and museums. He also taught at Yale, NYU, Columbia, and UNAM; served abroad for the U.S. State Department and the Office of War Information; and was the director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the time of his death in 1945 (“George Clapp Vaillant: Curriculum Vitae,” American Museum of Natural History).  

5. 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).

6. “Him” appears to refer to Covarrubias here.

7. Echániz is encouraging Stendahl to use a cover story of having bought items from a Belgian diplomat, referring most certainly to Robert van de Kerchove d’Hallebast (1890–1974), Belgian aristocrat and career diplomat who served as Belgian Minister to Mexico, 1937–1940 (see his Biographical Notes).

8. 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.

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 illegal excavations and exports, and to better regulate and professionalize official Mexican archaeology.

10. The belongings of diplomats and other specified foreign officials normally passed through customs without inspection in accordance with Article 11.1 of the “Decreto de 7 de enero de 1936.” See: “Reglamento del Decreto de 7 de enero de 1936,” Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, Diario Oficial, Órgano del Gobierno Constitucional de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, Tomo CXXI, Núm. 15 (July 18, 1940): 2–5. The Secretaries of Education and Foreign Affairs at the time of van de Kerchove’s departure from Mexico in April 1940 were Ignacio Beteta and Eduardo Hay, respectively. Echániz and Stendahl were aware that their work was illicit and, in this case, chose a convenient cover story to explain their inventory.

11. William Spratling (1900–1967) was a U.S.-born silver designer and collector of pre-Hispanic art based in Taxco, Guerrero (see his Biographical Notes).

12. The Barbizon-Plaza Hotel was popular among an international community of artists and their social circles. Frida Kahlo, for instance, normally lodged there when visiting New York City. The photographer Lucienne Bloch captured an image of Kahlo at the hotel in 1932. See: Frida at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, 1932, gelatin silver print, 29.7 x 20.5 cm. (11.7 x 8.1 in.), Artnet.

13. Helena Rubinstein (1872–1965) was a Polish-born businesswoman who made her fortune in cosmetics. She was also an avid art collector, and a friend and patron of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. There is a well-known photo of her with Rivera and Kahlo in their San Ángel studio, and pre-Hispanic objects can be seen in the background (undated photograph, Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, Google Arts & Culture). Roberto Montenegro (1887–1968) painted her in his most famous portrait in 1941, and for which she wore a dramatic silver necklace made by William Spratling of Taxco. See: NPG.2011.141 (oil on canvas, 80 x 70.7cm (31 1/2 x 27 13/16"), National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

14. Diego Rivera (1886–1957), a world-famous Mexican painter and muralist, was also an active collector of pre-Hispanic art (see his Biographical Notes). Rivera was not against collecting pre-Hispanic items but expressed concern about their widespread removal from Mexico.

15. Stendahl’s longtime secretary and accountant was Delfina Bateman. See April Dammann, Exhibitionist: Earl Stendahl, Art Dealer as Impresario (Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2011), 35, 100, 147, 156.

16. Enid Stendahl (1889–1970) was the wife of Earl Stendahl (see their Biographical Notes).

17. Just as Stendahl and Echániz worked with U.S. consular officials in Mexico, they also worked with customs agents at the U.S.–Mexico border, specifically in El Paso and Laredo, Texas. This is likely in reference to a shipment or contact that needed attention.