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Mexican Artistic Ex Libris of the 20th Century

During the first years of the twentieth century a certain interest started for ex libris in Mexico. Doctor Nicolas Leon published part of his collection in the Bulletin for the Mexican Bibliographic Institute. With this new perspective, several artists with a profound taste for Mexican history started creating ex libris for their fellow historians. Felix Parra with his disciples Valerio Prieto and Mateo Saldaña who started the century with several ex libris still very much in the academic style of the XIX century. The first ex libris to be considered as modern was created in 1905 by Julio Ruelas.

After that, Roberto Montenegro tried with great results designing ex libris for his friend, Amado Nervo. The Mexican Revolution did not stop the incipient spreading that they started to enjoy. In 1913 Ex Libris of Mexican Bibliophiles was published and three years after the first ex libris competition took place. The results of the competition were excellent since artists of the quality of Saturnino Herran, Luis G. Serrano and Alfonso Garduño were finalists. Each one of them, after some time created ex libris. The cultural changes that took place after the Revolution favored ex libris. However, ex libris were used frequently to decorate editions, printing them on the covers of books or in one of the pages. From being a property seal it became an ornament that sometimes replaced a vignette and this is still current.

Anonoymous (1 7/16 x 2 1/2", 37 x 65 mm) Helio Flores (1 15/16 x 2 7/8", 37 x 73 mm)

The most important promoter and creator of bookplates was Francisco Díaz de León. Before him very few artists created engraved ex libris since they were only drawings. Díaz de León became an expert in several printing techniques and his ex libris were quite original. The most beautiful ones were made in wood. Also he knew how to instill in his disciples and comrades a taste for this art.

In 1932 a very important book was published: Mexican Ex Libris and Libraries by Felipe Teixidor. In this book more than 500 national ex libris were depicted. This book was extremely important contributing to the creation of a fondness of ex libris. Many painters in that time were curious and conceived.

In the 1940′s the intensity slowed down but was not totally lost. By the 1960′s the School of the Arts of the Books disappeared and the best years of the Popular Graphic Workshop were gone. Book production became more commercial and care and beauty regarding editions started to disappear. Illustrated books by artists were the exception and the elaboration and use of ex libris lost strength and it was no longer an ideal complement for beautiful books. Very few intellectuals cared for them and only a few people used ex libris such as collectors, politicians and in general the upper classes. Ex libris became simpler with only initials or names and here is where there was a waning of this art form. This fact damaged the never strong panorama of national ex libris and this is why in the last three decades less than twenty noteworthy artists created ex libris. Some of them were: Pedro Friedeberg, José Luis Cuevas and Pedro Coronel.

Complementing this array of artists are the cartoonists who since the 1920′s up to the present day have always being immersed in the national graphic movement in books and periodical publications. This is why their participation in ex libris has remained constant.

Ten years ago we sadly witnessed that ex libris were used less and less and that they were close to be forgotten altogether. Very few people knew their meaning and since then we have being promoting by different means their diffusion and I believe we have been successful. Ex libris are regaining notoriety and we are optimistic about their resurgence.

 

(Reprinted with permission of the author)

Ex Libris Chronicle
Director: James P. Keenan