France’s Overseas Empire on Display

•November 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This past Saturday, eighteen French conversation and grammar students from Florida International University arrived at The Wolfsonian for a guided tour of the galleries and a special presentation of French-language materials in the library. The group of Francophiles, organized by Professor Maria Antonieta Garcia, was led by Gaby Ibanez and Saniya Pradhan, the presidents of the FIU French Club and the French Honor Society.

Once the group gathered, we first deconstructed, critically analyzed, and historicized some artifacts representing French colonialism in the fifth and seventh floor galleries. These works of art included a painted plaster maquette for a sculpture created by Arthur Dupagne to adorn the Belgian Congo Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques held in Paris in 1937. The scale model, La barre à mine (Mining bar) depicts an African wearing only a loincloth as he is using a primitive iron bar to break rock. While the mock up celebrates the musculature and physical strength of the native miner (whose hands and feet were deliberately enlarged to emphasize his role as manual laborer), the artist shrunk the head of his subject ever so slightly so as to imply that while the colonial peoples supplied the brawn, the colonizers would need to supply the brain power.

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A painting from the same fair hangs on the wall behind this figure depicting colonial pavilions built along the Seine to represent France’s overseas empire. These modern architectural interpretations drew upon the vernacular vocabulary of the indigenous colonial peoples to demonstrate and celebrate France’s super-national dominions. Hundreds of thousands of visitors to the fair would have been exposed to these and other artifacts of colonial propaganda created to justify European colonialism and cloak their political and economic designs under the guise of humanitarian “civilizing” missions.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A painting from another gallery also generated lots of excitement and discussion, as the students examined a Parisian portrait painted by Anja Decker in 1934. Many colonial troops from Africa were brought to Europe to fight alongside the French in the First World War, and some of them—along with a number of African-Americans remained in France after the war. The student visitors pondered the significance of the title and the depiction of the Strange Couple, and debated whether the artist was sympathetic towards the interracial pair, or was implying something more ambivalent or sinister about the power dynamics of their relationship.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The group made a quick foray into the Art Deco exhibition on our seventh floor gallery to look at a poster designed for the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts decoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris that represented a beautiful nude indigenous woman lifting a curtain to reveal herself and the backdrop of a North African city.

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After discussing the colonial and gender implications of this poster, the students regrouped in our rare book and special collections library to view a display and presentation of rare materials related to France’s overseas possessions and colonies. Thanks to the generosity of our founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., who resides in Paris for much of the year, the Wolfsonian Library possesses an extraordinarily rich collection of rare books, periodicals, portfolios, pamphlets, postcards, and other printed materials. Many of them document France’s 19th and 20th colonial adventures or relate to the representation of their colonies at various world’s fairs.

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The library, for example, holds a bound edition of supplements published by Petit Journal during the Exposition universelle celebrations in Paris in 1900. Many of the issues have color chromolithographic illustrations depicting some of the indigenous peoples who were transported to the fair. These natives populated “human zoo” exhibits designed to educate Parisians and other fair-goers of the races, cultural traditions, handicrafts, and natural products brought under France’s global sphere of influence.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The collection holds some important items from the Exposition coloniale de Marseille in 1922, including this poster picturing indigenous women from across the globe intended to represent France’s far-flung colonial empire.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The vast majority of our French colonial collections, however, were published and printed to document the 1931 Exposition coloniale internationale de Paris. The library holds numerous books, portfolios, postcards, pamphlets, souvenir viewbooks, and even a children’s coloring book describing the fair and the importance to the metropole of her far-flung colonies.

Several of the portfolios provided images of a pavilion designed by architects Albert Laprade and Jaussely, and decorated with bas relief designs by Alfred Janniot.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Details of the bas relief sculpture on the side of the building presented the millions of visitors to the fair with images of the flora, fauna, and natural resources of French colonies around the world, as well as exoticized and eroticized images of the native inhabitants.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The Musée Permanent des Colonies still remains, though it has since been rechristened, Palais de la Porte Dorée. Other buildings representing the indigenous architecture of French colonies were built and positioned in the fairgrounds to reinforce the contrast between native “primitivism” and metropole “modernism.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The temporary and ephemeral examples of native buildings were always intended to give way to the more durable “sophisticated” structures of the Parisians.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

 Perhaps the most interesting image published in a portfolio for the 1931 colonial exposition is a photographic image of a group of indigenous women, presumably brought to the fair to show off their native dress and customs to the visitors. A photographer captured an image of three such women wearing an innovative and beautiful blend of African and Parisian haute culture perhaps as they prepared to leave the fairgrounds for a night on the town.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

We hope our virtual visitors enjoyed their tour as much as our FIU francophile visitors did.

Radicals and Reactionaries: Extremism in America

•October 30, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Earlier this month, twenty-four students enrolled in my America & Movies course focusing on radicalism in America came to The Wolfsonian–Florida International University museum for a presentation of primary source materials about some of the extremists we have been learning about in class. This particular class session was focused on left- and right- wing extremist groups and individuals in the early decades of the 20th century. The Wolfsonian Library holds an important collection of materials produced by and about the Communist Party U.S.A., the Ku Klux Klan and its splinter group, the Black Legion, as well as works celebrating figures, such as African-American poet, Langston Hughes, or lampooning others, such as publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst and the “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin.

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Several of the students had elected to participate in a curatorial project on the topic and had the opportunity to talk to their fellow classmates about how they had formulated their ideas for the installation and made their selection of materials to be exhibited.

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In focusing on the ideological battles waged between the left and the right, the students looked at how extremist groups used politically loaded imagery and caricature to recruit new members, to demonize their enemies, and to promote their “cause.” The library holds several books and pamphlets produced by the Ku Klux Klan attacking minorities, immigrants, and Catholics, even as they presented themselves as chivalrous white-robe knights and “guardians of liberty.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Long-term Loan

While Ku Klux Klan membership peaked in the 1920s and was in serious decline in the 1930s, a splinter group known as the Black Legion emerged in the Midwest to carry on the WASPish struggle against immigrants until the secret society’s political corruption and criminal activities came to light. Actor Humphrey Bogart’s Hollywood exposé, Black Legion helped topple the sinister organization.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The class also examined some materials that provided evidence of the Communist Party’s strategies for indoctrinating youth and courting African Americans in their membership drives. In focusing their propaganda efforts on the young, the CPUSA were heeding the advice of their late comrade and leader of the failed Spartacus uprising in Germany in 1919, Karl Liebknecht, who wrote: “He who has the youth has the future.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

The American Communist Party leadership published pamphlets, books, and periodicals aimed at children and young adults with stories they could relate to and also encouraged socially-conscious parents to send them to “young pioneer” summer camps.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

The CPUSA also worked hard to recruit African Americans to the cause during the 1930s. Between 1910 and 1930, two million African Americans had migrated North in search of a better life, but in the wake of the 1929 Stock Market Crash and onset of the Great Depression, racist attitudes had flared up so that Blacks tended to be the “first fired and last rehired.” By 1932, half of the African American population was unemployed, and in New York City many of the achievements of the “Harlem Renaissance” had been erased and property gains by the black middle class had been lost. To demonstrate their sincerity and solidarity with the African American community, the Communists organized the “Upper Harlem Council of the Unemployed” and staged integrated demonstrations and marches aimed at stopping evictions. They were also actively involved in fighting “Jim Crowism,” promoting “Negro” civil rights, and championing Federal anti-lynching legislation; and highlighting the exploitation and plight of poor sharecroppers and tenant farmers facing Ku Klux Klan terror and their own push for “Negro self-determination” in the South.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of the August Mecklem Estate

The Party was also the first to nominate an African-American Vice Presidential candidate, James W. Ford.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

Attacking the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) leadership as both elitist and subservient to white interests, the CPUSA competed with them for the hearts and minds of the Black intelligentsia as well as the oppressed African American “underclass” of the “Blackbelt.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

Prominent Black intellectuals such as W. E. B. DuBois and the poet Langston Hughes were recruited to the cause. In a collection of works by Hughes published by the Party in 1933, the editor made much of the fact that even as a famous bard and promoter of American poetry was reciting several of Hughes’ poems at a gathering of political elites in the dining room of the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. in 1925, the distinguished poet was in the room, not as a celebrant in that segregated venue, but invisibly clearing tables as a busboy.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

In an attempt to court conservative Blacks to the cause in the South, the International Labor Defense, the legal arm of the Party, took up the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American youths being “railroaded” in the Alabama courts. In their quest for work, the nine boys had hopped a freight train, only to be hauled off in Scottsboro, Alabama in March 1931, after having gotten into a scuffle with some white hobos. To avoid being charged with vagrancy, two white girls also discovered on the train concocted a story that they had been gang raped by the “brutes.” After narrowly avoiding a lynching, the boys, whose legal defense was a real estate lawyer who encouraged them to plead guilty, were convicted by an all-white jury and all but the youngest sentenced to death. The ILD secured the permission of the parents of the defendants to represent the boys and to demand a retrial, and the Party also organized demonstrations in cities across the globe in support of their clients. As part of their propaganda media campaign, the Party also prepared for publication a lino-block book providing the historical context for the trial lampooning KKK justice in the South.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Great Depression decade became the Party’s “We told you so” moment for their argument that capitalism was on its last legs and Socialism on the ascendancy. It was also a period of unprecedented popularity for the Party and its Popular Front organizations.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca in honor of Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.’s Eightieth Birthday

The unforeseen rise of Fascist and Nazi totalitarian regimes presented the CPUSA with a new challenge and opportunity. Organizing Communist Front organizations like the American League Against War and Fascsim, the Party presented themselves as the most progressive organization in America arrayed against the forces of “social fascism” at home, and fascist dictatorship and military aggression abroad.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of the August Mecklem Estate

William Randolph Hearst, whose media empire controlled a third of the nation’s news outlets, became a target of the labor groups and the left.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

Hearst was particularly despised for visiting Adolf Hitler soon after his seizure of power, at which meeting he negotiated a lucrative deal in which he agreed to print Nazi propaganda in his newspapers and help rehabilitate the dictator’s reputation in America. The CPUSA artist Hugo Gellert produced several scathing caricatures of the media mogul.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Other leftist pamphlets attacked Hearst as a Nazi sympathizer, variously depicting him hiding behind the flag and his 100 percent Americanism slogans, as a Nazi rat enemy of labor, and as a vampire bat in league with Hitler.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchases

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The American League Against War and Fascism even organized a mock trial of Hearst before a packed house at the Hippodrome in New York City in October 1936.

Other targets of the left included Father Charles Coughlin, the “Radio Priest” who used his national broadcast to 30,000,000 listeners to rake in $50,000 a week during the depression as he attacked the Godless Communists, preached Anti-Semitism, and lauded the fascist regimes of Europe. Gellert published several caricatures of the priest.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

These are but a few examples of the holdings of extremist materials in The Wolfsonian Library and a small sampling of some of the items that will go on display in our next library installation which will open on January 30, 2020.

Caricaturist Conrado W. Massaguer and His Contemporaries

•August 20, 2019 • Leave a Comment

In little more than a week, a Wolfsonian Library installation titled Caricaturas will open to complement an exhibition in our fifth-floor gallery dedicated to Cuban art director, publisher, illustrator, and caricaturist, Conrado Walter Massaguer (1889–1965).

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

This new installation will include works by the world-renowned Cuban caricaturist but will also feature the satirical portraits made by other Latin American artists.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

In tandem with the proliferation of popular magazines and periodicals in the early twentieth century, the caricature provided something better than an “objective” or photographic image of politicians and celebrities; by exaggerating easily recognizable facial features, mannerisms, or physiques of popular figures, the caricature combined portraiture with pictorial wit. Caricature rose to prominence both as a byproduct of mass media and celebrity culture, and as an important shaper of public opinion.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

The modern caricature in Latin America developed in the aftermath of independence from Spanish rule, which tolerated no political dissent, humorous or otherwise. As the liberated colonies became nations, caricaturists emerged to celebrate their new cultural identities, but also to wage ideological war and to lampoon the incompetence and corruption of new political elites. Even during the era of the Cuban Republic, caricaturists frequently found themselves in trouble with disgruntled political leaders, angered by their satires. Conrado Massaguer despised Cuban president Alfredo de Zayas y Alfonso and his Conservative Party vice-president, General Francisco Carrillo, as his caricatures made clear.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Although originally supportive of their successor, Gerardo Machado, once the latter broke his campaign promise and extended his term of office, caricaturists Massaguer, José Cecilio Hernández Cárdenas (Hercar), Ramon Arroyo Cisneros (Arroyito), and Juan Eduardo David Posada (David) all used their satirical wit to embarrass the Cuban President and all were subjected to arrest or fled the island into temporary exile.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Caricatures circulated widely either on or between the covers of popular magazines published in the Caribbean, and the South and North American continents. Massaguer’s caricatures of Cuban politicos, world leaders, artists, celebrities, and stars of the silver screen regularly appeared in the “Ellos” and “Cine” sections of his flagship magazine, Social (Havana).

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

His popular illustrations also graced the covers of Carteles (Havana) and Cosmopolitan (New York), and could also be found within the pages of Vanity Fair (New York), and numerous syndicated newspapers.

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Contemporary Cuban caricaturists, such as David (Juan Eduardo David Posada, 1911–1981), Hercar (José Cecilio Hernández Cárdenas, 1904–1957), Arroyito (Ramon Arroyo Cisneros, Cuban, 1901–?) also achieved real popularity in that island nation. Their caricatures were reproduced both in Massaguer’s publications, and in the pages of his chief rival, Bohemia (Havana), though only a few of these artists achieved the international acclaim that Massaguer received.

David made his public debut with a solo exhibition in Santa Clara, Cuba in 1931, and was arrested soon after for his political opposition to the regime of President Gerardo Machado. Following Machado’s fall from power, David moved to Havana in 1935 exhibiting and winning awards for works exhibited at the Salón de Humoristas, and publishing his caricatures in the popular Cuban periodicals Social, Patria, Grafos, and Bohemia.

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David caricatured a wide variety of world figures, including a scowling portrait of the Duke of Windsor, whom the artist despised as a Nazi sympathizer; a beaming Queen Elizabeth II on her ascension to the British throne; and the troubled former Venezuelan president and exiled opposition leader, Rómulo Betancourt, following a failed attempt on his life ordered by that nation’s military dictatorship.

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 Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

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Loan, Yucef Merhi

Born and raised in the Santa Amalia barrio of Havana, the Afro-Cuban boxer José Hernández Cárdenas also won renown as a graphic humorist. His first illustrations were featured in the periodical El País under the pseudonym “Juvenal” in 1923; the following year he participated in the Fourth Salón de Humorismo under his penname, Hercar, a contraction of his two surnames. As early as 1934, he was jailed for lampooning Fulgencio Batista, the army leader who overthrew President Machado the year before. Hercar continued to pen portraits critical of many Cuban politicos, and he was arrested numerous times after Batista returned to power in a 1952 coup.

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Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

Arroyito was born in Havana in 1901, and began publishing caricatures in La Semana, his own periodical, Karikato, and later in Bohemia. Cuban President Machado’s anger over his satires forced him into temporary exile. In this humorous drawing of Ramón Grau San Martin, the artist has the Cuban president demonstrating his keen grasp of the obvious as he exclaims “It appears that it is going to rain!”

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Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

An Arroyito portrait of Fulgencio Batista has him looking like the cat that swallowed the proverbial mouse. The description on the back of the drawing notes Batista’s rise from modest sergeant stenographer to leader of a military coup that ousted President Machado in 1933 and effectively (and often capriciously) ruled the country from behind the scenes for the next eleven years.

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Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

As he had during the Machado regime, Arroyito again left the country after Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries took power. He continued to produce political satires, many of them appearing in Bohemia Libre published by Cuban exiles in Venezuela.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Famed bandleader Xavier Cugat (1900–1990) also earned a reputation as a splendid caricaturist, though he eschewed the biting satires of Cuban politicians that embroiled his fellow Cuban illustrators in controversy. Instead his illustrations parodied other celebrities and promoted Cuban music and culture. He is pictured here working on one of six full-page color illustrations of Latin-American musicians and dancers that appeared in The American Weekly, and in self-portraits that decorated his autobiography and one of his record jackets.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Of Massaguer’s contemporaries, only Mexican artist and ethnographer Miguel Covarrubias (1904–1957) rivaled his reputation for caricature in the United States of America. Covarrubias moved to New York City in 1924 where he famously documented the Harlem Renaissance, published his first book of celebrity caricatures the following year, and regularly provided illustrations for the covers of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Covarrubias was not afraid of using his pictorial wit to puncture the inflated egos of world leaders and rising dictators. When Italian officials complained about Covarrubias’ depiction of Mussolini on the cover of Vanity Fair, Condé Nast editors diplomatically replied that unlike the photograph, a “conspicuous caricature” provided “vivid interpretation” of the personalities, and ought to be regarded as “an acknowledgement of world importance, rather than an insult.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Covarrubia’s wit and humor are in evidence in his satirically titled book of caricatures, The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1925.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Within its pages, Covarrubias lampooned all sorts of famous Americans and international celebrities, ranging from U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, silent film star Charlie Chaplin, industrialist John D. Rockefeller, and baseball player Babe Ruth.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Caricaturists not only contributed to the concept of modern “celebrity”; their witty renderings sometimes made celebrities of their irreverent illustrators. Many caricaturists produced self-deprecating self-portraits or were satirized by other sketch artists.

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Covarrubias self-portrait, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

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Covarrubias caricature by Massaguer, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki G. Levi

Conrado Massaguer included in his autobiography a 1916 portrait of Italian operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso, as well as one of himself made by that famous singer.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Another caricaturist who achieved notoriety in the United States was the Mexican illustrator, Antonio Arias Bernal (1914–1960), who was described on his death in The New York Times as “the most strident voice in Latin America against the dictators of the Second World War.” His caricatures regularly adorned the covers of Hoy [Today] and Siempre! [Always], two of the most popular weeklies of their kind in Mexico. He also made the covers of American magazines as Colliers.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

When U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to encourage neutral Latin American countries to join the Allied war effort, Arias Bernal was commissioned by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) to create anti-Axis posters and an illustrated deck of cards to spread that message. The posters for the project were completed eight months before the peace was signed, but the playing cards project was discontinued as the war’s end was in sight.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre

Massaguer contributed some of the most memorable anti-Axis propaganda in Cuba, reproduced as magazine and cookbook illustrations and advertisements.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Such humorous and irreverent wartime illustrations not only poked fun at enemy leaders; they were instrumental in raising and maintaining morale on the home front. We hope that those of you living in or planning a visit to South Florida will take advantage of the opportunity to see some of these caricatures in person.

Italian Ethiopia at The Wolfsonian Library

•August 6, 2019 • 1 Comment

This past month, The Wolfsonian Library hosted a three-week visit by James De Lorenzi, hailing from John Jay College (CUNY) and enjoying one of our Wolfsonian fellowships. Dr. De Lorenzi is currently working on a project about the Italian Orientalist scholar, Enrico Cerulli (1898–1988), and the ways in which his knowledge of East African anthropology, folklore, linguistics, and history was placed in the service of the Italian propaganda campaign and colonization project undertaken by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist state. While a simple search of our library catalog did not bring up any books penned by Cerulli, the fellow was impressed with how much primary source literature and visual propaganda we have concerning the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935–1936. Many of these materials were originally purchased from History Revealed or donated by some of our long-term supporters such as Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder Funds

Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 was not the first time that the Italians attempted participate in the “scramble for Africa” or to turn Ethiopia into a colonial possession. Between 1887 to 1889, the Italian monarchy fought a war with the Ethiopian Empire that resulted in the Italian annexation of Eritrea and a treaty of peace that the Italian victors interpreted as effectively establishing an Italian protectorate over the region disputed by the Ethiopian Emperor, Menelik II. As early as 1893, Italian colonial troops in Italian Eritrea invaded Ethiopia, with a full-scale war being fought between 1895 and 1896. The 100,000 strong indigenous army inflicted a decisive defeat of the 20,000 Italian troops led by General Baratieri at the Battle of Adwa, killing 7,000 and capturing 3,000 more, with another 2,000 of their Eritrean Ascari allies dying in battle or being slaughtered after surrendering. The surviving colonial troops retreated back to Eritrea. The Wolfsonian Library holds a rare collecting card produced by the Compagnia Italiana Liebig in Milano that commemorates the battle.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

In the wake of Benito Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922 and the subsequent assumption of dictatorial power by his National Fascist Party (PNF), Il Duce would begin to clamor for Italy’s “place in the sun.” Although Libya was colonized in the 1910s, the Fascist state would turn its attention back to Ethiopia in the mid-1930s, first embarking on a propaganda campaign to “educate” the Italian people about the region, and afterwards to publicize supposed Ethiopian barbarism, savagery, and atrocities committed against Italian nationals to court public opinion, curry favor at the League of Nations, and ultimately, to justify their military invasion.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder Funds

Once the invasion and colonization began in earnest in 1935, the Fascist regime produced a barrage of visual material for domestic consumption. Perhaps most disturbing of these materials are those that targeted the young and that perverted educational materials into manipulative propaganda. One game taught young Italians about the geography, history, and natural resources of Ethiopia, while another game board produced by a patriotic baby food company encouraged them to crisscross the country to be the first to capture the capital of Addis Abeba.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian Library also holds numerous school notebooks with color illustrated front covers depicting Italian troops not as invaders, but as heroic and triumphant “liberators” welcomed by the Ethiopian populous for abolishing slavery.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Lucia Stafanelli Torossi

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other mass-produced items included a series of postcards illustrated by Aurelio Bertiglia (1891–1973). The artist used images of children in colonial military uniform fraternizing with friendly natives to imply that comraderie and friendly relations rather than animosity and violence were the norm during the colonization of Ethiopia.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

As an enticement to colonial military service, the regime printed pamphlets, posters, and display cards depicting heroic Italian soldiers winning honor and glory in battle.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Popular Italian periodicals used caricature and pictorial wit and humor to ridicule Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and the supposed temerity of their Ethiopian adversaries. One cover of Il Travaso delle Idee depicts Ethiopian technology as rudimentary and primitive; another depicts an Ethiopian male rousting his wife from bed in order to wave the sheet as a white flag of surrender at the approach of the Italians.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

While musical scores and razor packages reminded Italian men of the triumphal reversal of fortunes in Adwa in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935–1936, pocket-sized calendar booklets reminded these same clean-shaven conscripts that every Italian woman adored a man in a uniform.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Other materials aimed at young Italian males offered up images of the “Black Venus” on everything from hygiene pamphlets, fans, to calendar leaves to invite them to equate military and sexual conquest.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

While Italians were being encouraged to celebrate and take pride in the establishment of their new empire, British colonial boosters and anti-imperialists alike published maps of the region and tracts critical of Italian interlopers.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The British consular corps and concerned American citizens groups and anti-Fascists also published pamphlets that reproduced abstracts of testimony at the League of Nations questioning the claims and motives of the Fascist invaders.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

Other nations produced scathing critiques of the Italian invasion of the last autonomous nation in Africa. The Turks were particularly strong in visually lambasting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia with biting caricatures printed on the covers of the popular magazine, Akbaba, ridiculing Mussolini’s pretensions to empire, and the savagery of his use of poison gas and bloody reprisals to subdue the country.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

When the League of Nations imposed economic sanctions and trade restrictions on Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia, Mussolini ignored the protestations and his government continued to produce all sorts of publications documenting their road-building efforts and “civilizing” mission in Africa.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

By May 1936, the Italians formally annexed the country, though Ethiopian rebels continued to resist, with many killed in Marshal Graziani’s cruel and bloody reprisals. As neither Great Britain nor France recognized the legitimacy of Italian Ethiopia and the League of Nations had imposed punitive economic sanctions, the Fascist state embarked upon a policy of Autarky (economic self-sufficiency) with the aim of replacing lost trade with goods and new materials that could be produced within the confines of their new Empire.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Fascist regime also encouraged Italians emigration to their new colony by celebrating their efforts in elaborately decorated, large-format books.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Once the Second World War began, Italy would find their imperial possessions in Africa under attack. To encourage neutral Latin American countries to join the Allied war effort, the U.S. government commissioned Mexican artist Antonio Arias Bernal to create an illustrated deck of anti-Axis caricature playing cards to spread that message. The posters for the project were completed and printed in portfolio format eight months before the peace was signed. But as the war’s end was in sight, the project was discontinued, though the artist privately printed and distributed a small number of the playing cards. Two of Arias Bernal’s images questioned the legitimacy of Italian East Africa: one print depicts Mussolini as a modern Nero, playing the fiddle while Africa burns while the next pictures exiled Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie heading for Geneva and London to lodge a complaint with the League of Nations and seek aid as the dictator presents his crown to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre

While Italian colonial troops invaded British Somaliland in 1940, by the spring of 1941 British forces counterattacked deep into Ethiopian territory, restoring Haile Selassie to the throne by early May. The Italian army surrendered after their defeat at Gondor, and while a few Italian Black-shirted guerrillas continued to resist, arrangements were made with the British to repatriate Italian civilians back to Italy under the auspices of the International Red Cross. The Vulcania, an Italian passenger ship commandeered and converted into a troopship during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and again during the Second World War, was among the vessels dispatched on such missions. The Wolfsonian Library holds a rare photograph album produced by the Ministero Africa Italiana in 1942 documenting that evacuation and the end of Italian imperial ambitions in East Africa.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Maria Paola Maino

Oblivious to the realities of their military situation in Africa, as late as 1942 Fascist propaganda continued to promise that the Italians would return.

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Ironically, in the twenty-first century, many thousands of North Africans have been crossing the Mediterranean by way of Italy’s former colony in Libya to begin new lives in Southern Europe.

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June 30, 2017. Refugees arrive at Augusta, Sicily. Rescue boats have brought more than 10,000 migrants to Italy this week. EMILIO MORENATTI/AP
Image courtesy of Tom thetimes.co.uk

In Memoriam: Dr. Marjan Groot

•June 17, 2019 • 1 Comment

The staff at The Wolfsonian–Florida International University were saddened to learn this week of the recent and unexpected passing of Dr. Marjan Groot, a former Wolfsonian fellow, academic partner, and longtime friend of the institution. Marjan studied Cultural Anthropology and Art History in Amsterdam and Leiden, graduating from the Academy for Art and Design in Amsterdam and earning a doctorate in the Humanities from the University of Leiden. Most recently, she taught the history of Western design and decorative arts as an associate professor and senior lecturer at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

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I first had the pleasure of meeting Marjan when she came to The Wolfsonian as a research fellow in the summer months of June and July 2003. The Wolfsonian Library possesses the largest holdings of Nieuwe Kunst (or Dutch Art Nouveau) book bindings outside of The Netherlands, all published between 1880 and the 1920s and purchased by our museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. in the 1990s. While most of these books could be found in various libraries in her homeland, Marjan was eager to explore our collection where she could see all of the books together in one place. Our holdings also include the original cover art drawings—complete with publishing house comments and suggestions for changes—normally discarded after the books were produced. Elsewhere in the museum, the books and ephemera are complemented by decorative arts objects and furniture made by the same artists.

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While the library staff had already catalogued most of the books in this collection, our bibliographic records only identified those bindings produced by famous Dutch artists like Jan Toorop (1858–1928), Theo Neuhuys (1878–1921), L. W. R. Wenckebach (1860–1937), Theo. W. Nieuwenhuis (1866–1951), Carel Adolph Lion Cachet (1864–1945), Gerrit Willem Dijsselhof (1866–1924), for which there is more than adequate documentation in Ernst Braches’ seminal study. Marjan’s particular area of interest was Dutch decorative arts and the Modernist movement during the period 1880–1940, and reclaiming the role played by marginalized and largely ignored women designers.

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Book Cover Design by Wilhelmina Cornelia Drupsteen

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Book cover design by Willemina Polenaar

When Marjan arrived to work on her own independent study project, we were delighted to find that she was more than generous in sharing her work and discoveries with us. Not only did she help us identify the many less-renowned but equally talented Dutch women artists represented in our collection, but showed us how to recognize their often subtle makers’ marks and initials. Because of her review of our materials and records, we were able to substantially improve our bibliographic records of our holdings.

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Book cover designs by Anna Sipkema

Marjan was so enamored of our collection that she returned to The Wolfsonian many times over the course of her academic career. Between October and November 2004, and most of the month of May 2005, she visited our institution to review the collection, all the while helping us to provide English translations of titles and other information to make our holdings more accessible to the community of scholars around the world. As a direct result of her invaluable aid and assistance, we can acknowledge and share with the public the art of Dutch women designers such as Anna Sipkema (1877–1933), Cornelia van der Hart (1851–1940), Fabea Elisabeth Lydia Brandt (1853–1907), and Wilhelmina Cornelia Drupsteen (1880–1966).

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Designs by Anna Sipkema

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Book Designs by Cornelia van der Hart

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Book Design by Elisabeth (Fabea Elisabeth Lydia) Brandt

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Book Cover Design by Willemina Drupsteen

Marjan returned to Miami Beach in January 2012, where she was invited to participate to a multi-day curatorial research project partially sponsored by public funds from the Netherlands Cultural Services. Marjan collaborated with our own curators, Silvia Barisione and Marianne Lamonaca, and three other scholars: Frans Leidelmeijer, Dutch decorative arts expert; Mienke Simon Thomas, senior curator of decorative arts and design at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam; and Esther Cleven, curator at the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar and expert on Dutch graphic design. It was in the course of this workshop that the group considered possible themes for a future exhibition mainly drawn from own Dutch holdings.

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Photographed by Lynton Gardiner

When the exhibition Modern Dutch Design came to fruition in November 2016, Marjan returned to Miami Beach for the opening, having played no small part in its preparation and success. Not only did she contribute an essay to the catalog, titled: “Another Perspective: Women in Dutch Decorative Art and Design,” but she also introduced the exhibition organizers to contemporary Dutch artist Christie van der Haak, who provided an amazing treatment of the museum’s façade and lobby, More Is More, to celebrate the show.

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More Is More lobby_photo by Lynton Gardiner (2)

Marjan visited The Wolfsonian Library and Miami twice more because of her love of the museum and the city. She returned to Miami in May 2017 and again in November, where she read a paper, “Art Deco Design between the Netherlands and Belgium: the Case of the Kuijken Family, 1918–1940,” at the ICDAD Annual Meeting in Miami held at The Wolf in November 2017.

Marjan will be sorely missed by all of us who had the great privilege of getting to know her and admire her generosity of spirit. We can be sure, however, that her legacy of celebrating women artists and designers will live on in her academic and curatorial contributions to the field, in the lives of the students she taught and influenced, in the artwork she loved, and in the memories of her family and colleagues.

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The Artwork and Caricatures of Conrado Walter Massaguer

•May 31, 2019 • 1 Comment

This Thursday and Friday, The Wolfsonian–Florida International University will celebrate a promised gift by Vicki Gold Levi of artwork and ephemera with the opening of Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer, an installation of works by the celebrated Cuban artist, caricaturist, and publisher, Conrado Walter Massaguer (1889–1965). In the process of organizing an installation, the curator begins with the widest range of works for possible inclusion, and slowly winnows down that selection to just those items that best support the central themes and the physical limitations of the exhibition space. Inevitably, many excellent works and much text gets culled. This post will include some items from the installation, but will also feature some items that deserved inclusion but did not make the final cut.

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Loan, Leonard Finger, Private Collection

Born in Cárdenas, Cuba, Conrado spent his formative years freely moving between his homeland, Mexico, and the United States. To escape the hostilities of the Cuban Independence wars, the Massaguer family fled to Mérida, Yúcatan, México when Conrado was only seven and returned after the establishment of the Cuban Republic in 1902. Believing their son would benefit from an education in the United States, his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Throughout his life, Massaguer easily crossed national borders, internalizing and synthesizing the social trends and artistic movements of North America, Europe, and Latin America, and becoming a trendsetter and taste-maker in his native Cuba.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

In the early 1900s, Massaguer’s artwork graced the covers of El Figaro magazine, where his illustrations first explored many of the themes that would interest him throughout his life: imaging the “new woman” (or flapper) ideal; promoting Cuba as a tourist destination; and satirizing and caricaturing public figures.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

As early as 1910, Massaguer turned his artistic talents to profit when he co-founded “Mercurio,” his first advertising agency. Six years later, he founded the Instituto de Artes Gráficas and another advertising firm, “Kesevén Anuncios.” Together with his brother, Oscar, Conrado co-founded the short-lived Grafico (1913–1918) and two of Cuba’s most influential magazines, Social (1916–1933, 1935–1937), catering to and shaping the cultural tastes of the island nation’s elites, and Carteles (1919–1960), aimed at a more popular audience.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Ads designed by Massaguer’s advertising firms often depicted nationally and internationally recognized politicians and celebrities (such as Charlie Chaplin and Cuban president Gerardo Machado) hawking Cuban products or promoting local establishments; these typically appeared in the many magazines he and his brother published.

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Massaguer ad for chocolate using a caricature of Charlie Chaplin

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

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Keseven ad with Massaguer caricature of Cuban President Machado

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

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Loan, Emilio Cueto Private Collection

After the Great War ended and Cuban officials decided to promote the island as a tourist destination for North Americans, Massaguer represented Cuba at the World Convention of Advertisers meeting in New Orleans. In the decades that followed, he provided artwork for hotel brochures, advertisements, and posters promoting his homeland as an island paradise for the Cuban Tourist Commission.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

While the Great Depression and political strife under the Machado dictatorship dampened enthusiasm for tourism in the 1930s, Massaguer continued to keep the Cuba dream alive.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Massaguer painted a mural for one of the principal salons of the Cuban pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair that depicted world leaders and celebrities ogling a Cuban rumba dancer. A scandal arose after someone in the Cuban government denounced it, claiming it had caused offense with the American public; Cuban President Laredo Bru preemptively ordered it painted over.

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As art director and publisher, Massaguer mingled with local politicos, foreign dignitaries, and visiting celebrities, many of whom he parodied in his syndicated caricatures. In Cuba, he was responsible for disseminating modernist aesthetics and graphics and mentoring and promoting avant-garde artists such as Jaime Valls.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

During Massaguer’s early stays in New York, he drew inspiration from the American artist Charles Dana Gibson’s popularization of late Victorian high society and debutantes with his “Gibson Girls.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

As an unapologetic modernist, Massaguer made Social a vehicle for shaking up conservative Cuban society. In first year of the publication of Social, Massaguer introduced an illustrated feature, wryly captioned “Massa-Girls”—a play on the sound of his surname, but also having bawdy connotations since “masa” was the Cuban slang word for describing female flesh.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

On its covers and within its pages, Massaguer promoted the “new woman”  in his portraits of beautiful, young Cuban women who dared to “bob their hair,” discard constraining Victorian corsets and values, and embrace social and sexual liberation.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Though Massaguer frequently produced idealized illustrations of beautiful women, he rarely caricatured the female sex in the same way that he regularly exaggerated the features of male celebrities and leaders.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

In fact, after the noted American composer Mana-Zucca introduced Massaguer to members of the Miami Music Club in April 1926, The Miami News quoted him as modestly claiming to be a better husband than caricaturist. Having described himself as being on excellent terms with his mother-in-law, he admitted that he hadn’t “done her caricature—perhaps that’s the reason we get along.” When pressed, he told the reporter that “I don’t mind making a man’s caricature” but that he was “timid about making a woman’s.” There were some rare exceptions.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Massaguer frequently traveled back and forth between his homeland, the U.S., and Europe, exhibiting his work in galleries, contributing to magazines, and establishing his reputation as one of the most celebrated caricaturists of world leaders and celebrities. He adopted a modernist approach to caricature, believing that a simple, fine line and a spontaneous, secretive hand better captured the essence of a subject than a studied and highly edited portrait made of a posed or posturing subject. As early as 1911, Massaguer had gained recognition for his popular caricatures with a solo exhibition of this work at the Havana Ateneo. In 1921 he founded La Primera Exposicíon de Humor and the following year published Guignol [Puppet Show], a collection of his most popular caricatures.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Full-page color caricatures of Cuban politicians and world leaders and celebrities were a regular feature of the “Ellos” section of Social.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

As an illustrator and publisher, Massaguer was directly involved in shaping the art scene in Cuba and in promoting avant-garde aesthetics. He was an active member of the Minoristas and provided a caricature portrait of the group for a spread in his Social.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Massaguer straddled the worlds of Havana and New York City during important moments of his career. Determined to make a name for himself in “populosa Manhattan,” Massaguer created a calling card to introduce himself to New York society, describing himself as “yet young, single and easy to look at.” When he disembarked in New York in November 1924, however, he arrived with his new bride, a niece of the former Cuban president Mario G. Menocal. After honeymooning at the Waldorf-Astoria, Massaguer established a studio in the city and contributed cover art and caricatures to many quintessential American magazines.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Some of Massaguer’s artwork celebrating Cuban life and culture was exhibited at the Delphic Studio in New York City.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

A page in his Social proudly noted that “The reviews in the newspapers and the art magazines have all had praise for Massaguer, whose New and Noisy triumph in the great Yankee metropolis so difficult for the foreign artist to conquer, fills those of us working for this magazine with intimate satisfaction and pride because it signifies triumph not only for our compatriot, but also for our publication and for Cuba.”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Cuban president Gerardo Machado’s repudiation of a campaign promise not to seek a second term, coupled with economic chaos and ruthless repression of dissent, pushed many early supporters like Massaguer into the dissident camp.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

In 1929 Massaguer eschewed political strife at home by sailing for Paris. There he exhibited 40 color caricatures before traveling to the League of Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland to make caricatures of the world leaders in attendance for the King Features Syndicate. News of the Stock Market Crash and violence and repression in Cuba convinced Massaguer to returned to New York City in 1931 as a political exile; he remained there for much of the decade in far more humble circumstances. Economic and political difficulties necessitated the suspension of Social and Carteles, and he concentrated on providing cover art and humorous portraits of celebrities for American magazines and books such as Cosmo Hamilton’s People Worth Talking About (1933).

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Massaguer caricature of Rudyard Kipling

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

As political turmoil in Cuba and global economic depression forced him to suspend publication of Social, Massaguer provided American magazines and publications with cover art and illustrations.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Once Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office, Massaguer began supplying witty caricatures of his controversial National Recovery Administration (NRA) program aimed at reviving the economy.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Massaguer was back in Cuba during the Second World War, where he put his caricature to use in the service of the Allies.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

The U.S.-Cuba tourist trade flourished in the post-war 1950s, and Massaguer greeted and sketched visiting foreign dignitaries and celebrities in his capacity as public relations director of the Instituto Cubano de Turismo.

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Massaguer painting Maurice Chevalier, Loan, Ramiro Fernández

Towards the end of his long career, Massaguer self-published an illustrated autobiography reproducing some of his most popular caricatures.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Towards the close of the decade, Cuba’s thriving tourist trade was once again interrupted by political strife as revolutionaries sought to depose President Batista, who had assumed power by a coup. Following the overthrow of the Batista regime in 1959, Massaguer published a book providing the first caricatures of Castro and his triumphant revolutionaries.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Ironically, many of the advertisements within depict the bearded revolutionaries enjoying and hawking classic American products, like Coca-Cola, Buick, Jell-o, and other brands soon to be taboo once Castro nationalized businesses and relations with the U.S. grew strained.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

But Fidel Castro’s revolution would soon prove to be too radical for Massaguer and the social order he once knew, influenced, and celebrated with his long-defunct magazine, Social. The last of Massaguer’s popular magazines, Carteles, would stop being distributed in 1960 and the former publisher would finish out his remaining days quietly working in the Cuban National Archives.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

We hope to see you at the opening party (free to the public) one week from today. The event, co-presented by The New Tropic, features live music by Son Cubano, dancing, and Bacardi mojitos. RSVP here.