LACMA Buys 18th-Century Mexican Masterpiece Stashed Under Owner’s Couch


Christopher Knight has a fascinating, thorough story in the LA Times today about one of the recent major acquisitions by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA)—an 18th-century casta painting by Mexican master Miguel Cabrera that had long been stored under a couch in a Bay Area owner’s home before she finally got around to researching it. (See: Sotheby’s Ratchets Up Price on Rediscovered Constable and Constable Painting Bought for $5,000 Sells for $5 Million at Sotheby’s).

The painting is a long-lost masterpiece by Cabrera, who was considered the  greatest painter of his era in Mexico City, according to Knight. “His prolific workshop produced religious and secular art for the Catholic Church and the social elite.” The work is the sixth in a series of casta paintings, which he describes as “a controversial but fascinating genre invented in Mexico.” Amid the backdrop of a system “devised by white elites, castas explore the Enlightenment Age theme of miscegenation, or interracial marriage among Indians, Spaniards and Africans.”

The particular work, titled From Spaniard and Morisca, Albino shows a prosperous Spanish father and North African mother doting on their charming albino baby.  The painting will go on view at LACMA on April 26 as one of 50 new acquisitions celebrating the museum’s anniversary.

Though the price was not disclosed, one expert quoted in the story, LACMA curator Ilona Katzew, told the LA Times that work of this caliber could easily bring $1 million at auction. It was purchased with funds from a museum trustee and was a partial gift from the owner.

According to the artnet Price database, the record at auction for a work by Cabrera is $362,500, realized at Sotheby’s New York in 2010 for El Nacimiento de la Virgen (1766), a set of eight works that were part of a Latin American paintings sale. (See: The Striking Absence in The Detroit Institute of Arts Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Blockbuster and Frida Kahlo Love Letters Go To Auction at Doyle).

Eight works from the full set of 16 are in Madrid’s Museo de America and five are in a private collection in Mexico. Says Knight: “With one casta from the set still missing, you might want to check under your sofa.”


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