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Letter Drops Tantalizing Clue About a Missing Painting

The locations of 15 of Miguel Cabrera's 16 casta paintings are known
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 29, 2017 2:00 PM CDT
A Mexican Art Mystery, a Tantalizing Clue in LA

As far as art mysteries go, it's a good one, thanks in no small part to a very tantalizing clue. Miguel Cabrera, described by the Los Angeles Times as the "greatest" Mexican painter of the mid-18th century, famously painted a single casta: a set of what is usually 16 numbered paintings whose subject matter was interracial marriage in the New World. But one—formally "3. From Spaniard and Castiza, Spanish Girl" but nicknamed "Española," meaning Spanish girl—is the only one of Cabrera's 16 to be unaccounted for. Two were missing up until two years ago, but the other missing painting (No. 6 in the casta) was found in 2015 and acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—which subsequently received a letter signed by "Española" that included five photos (see them here) showing parts of the missing painting.

It read in part: "You should know that I am well and living less than two (2) miles from LACMA. I have been in the same family for I believe 60 years, although I do not know how I was acquired." Ilona Katzew, LACMA's curator of Latin American art, turned up little with her digging: There was no contact info on the letter or envelope; the photo shop whose name was on the back of the images couldn't provide any helpful info; and even the stamps were weird—one of them was produced by the USPS in 1988. The letter also contained a tease: "If you ever gather a reunion of all my siblings, I would welcome the opportunity to be on display for a limited period of time. I am not lost, I just do not wish to be found." With an 18th-century Mexican painting show set to open at LACMA next month, Katzew hopes "Española" might make contact again. (More art stories.)

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