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Stendahl Art Galleries Records: Guillermo Echániz Correspondence

Letter 9: January 4, 1942

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


Meico, January 4th. 1942.-

Dear Earl:

Moving a junk shop is a terrible task.[1] I am taking a little rest to wish a HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU.

First of all, I want to hear you say that you are not upset over a roten dish of chop suey and that you are ready to take the advantage of the moment.[2] Long time ago I told you that the winners of this war were going to be Rusia and U.S. and that still goes.

I did wire you for money because the mosaics that I sopoke to you about came to the market. I had chance to get them and you had chance to handle the most important pieces that ever came near us. But you did not want or you could not hear the voice of my anguish, so they went and now they are beyond our reach.

But we can not afford to cry over spiled milk. There is something in sight that will water your mouth and with a little effort of your part WE CAN SECURE IT, if this thing is done rapidly.

You know that archaeologists are puzled over the fact that Teotihua-can, being the most important cultural center la{c}ked of cementery? they have been looking for it and they have not been lucky enough to find it.


Well, I have located it. It is outside of the arqueological zone.[3] is composed of six tracks of land each about a square block of your naborhood. In this six tracks of land adjoining each other, there are no less than six hundred tombs. Most of them have DECORATED WALLS, the decoration is similar to the frecoes you have.[4] Not all of them are in good shape because roots of trees have spoiled them partly. But you can have all you want in this line.

I need about ten thousand pesos to buy all this land and to plant corn all arround so any work could be done when the corn is high, under cover. My plan is to take out enough to cover my investment and then wait for better times to do complete and accurrate work with learned staff. I have bought two pieces of frescoes, large enough and today they have come to offer me painted skulls and esgraphiated bones. I had to give these up, in order to scare them to stop digging, telling them that Caso[5] is right after their toes. And that make them promise to cover every thing they have opened and wait for my news.

Here is my proposition: if you pay promtly so I can buy this land, I will acept your partnership with equal ammount of my investment ( to pay escavation work ) and then we will sp{l}it on a 50-50 basis the money rendered by the objects found in six hundred tombs with decorated walls.

Guess this is the best bundle that Saint Claus could offer to you.

Caso is going to Yucatan to-morrow and I want to move arround while he is out.

I have moved into the new house[6] and I find it much better than I thought.- Now I can work just the way I want.

I need your answer within this week. If you do not answer, or if you do not want to accept my proposition or you can not afford it, then I want to find parter as quick as possible.


Regards. {B 52}[7]


1. Echániz here is referring to moving his business, La Librería Anticuaria Echániz and his nascent Museo de Artes Gráficas, from Donceles 12 in Mexico City’s historic center to Mar Arafura 8 in Popotla, in the outskirts of the capital. The Echániz family home on Mar Arafura would later host his bookshop as well as a greatly expanded Museo de Artes Gráficas (see Echániz’s Biographical Notes).

2. This statement is likely referring to the United States’ entrance into WWII and, with it, the opportunity to sell more pre-Hispanic art: with Atlantic shipping lanes closed and European art more difficult to come by, wealthy buyers tuned in to emerging trends, and many were willing to venture into this newer area of collecting.

3. At this time, the urban extent of Teotihuacan was not well understood. Echaniz’s putative ‘cemetery’ 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).

4. 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.

5. 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). He sought to reign in illicit excavations and exports, and to better regulate and professionalize official Mexican archaeology. However, while this letter highlights the need to evade Caso if Echániz and Stendahl want to expand their operation in Teotihuacan, a subsequent letter (Echániz to Stendahl, January 22, 1942, Box 11, Folder 9) proposes that it will be necessary to involve Caso and the Institute in order to successfully undertake such a large project, followed by a report that a preliminary agreement with the Institute was under review (Guillermo Echániz to Earl Stendahl, July 18, 1942, Box 11, Folder 8).

6. Again (see footnote no. 1), Echániz is moving both his bookshop, La Librería Anticuaria Echániz, and his family to a home that can accommodate both, in addition to functioning as a gallery for his growing Museo de Artes Gráficas.  

7. “B.52” is a codename sometimes used by Echániz (see also the letter dated August 4, 1941 included in this Research Guide), and it appears that his wife, Julieta, used “B.51” (Julieta Echániz to Earl Stendahl, January 8, 1941, Box 11, folder 9). The significance of these codenames has yet to be identified; the B-52 bomber was designed in 1948.