By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson Tribune News Service
My grandmother bought this painting by Manuel Leal when she was in Mexico. On the back of the picture she put a note telling something about the artist. She also explained that she had to conceal the painting in order to be able to travel with it back to the United States, since written permission was required to remove the painting from Mexico. What is its value today?
The date on the note was 1952, and it said the work’s name was “Kiss Street.” We believe this is a simplification of the actual name which is ‘Callejon del Beso’ or ‘Kiss Alley’. With that comes a romantic but tragic story.
Leal (1893-1975) was a painter, teacher, storyteller, and novelist in the city of Guanajuato, Mexico, which is in the center of the country and is now a community of about 170,000 people. Guanajuato means “hilly place of frogs”.
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The Spanish arrived in the 1540s and began mining metals. It is said that gold nuggets could once be found on the ground. And in the 18th century, Guanajuato was the world’s leading silver producer. The city is said to have been the wealthiest in Mexico for much of the colonial period.
Guanajuato is hilly and roads are often just alleys (the main road runs underground for as much as 3 kilometers). Many streets are impassable for cars, and Callejon de Beso is only 66 inches wide. Many of the streets have small squares, and balconies on the upper floors on either side of the street often almost touch.
There are steep steps on Callejon de Beso, and tradition has it that couples who kiss on the third step will be happy together for seven years. The other legend is about the unhappy lovers Dona Carmen and Don Luis, whose love was forbidden by Dona Carmen’s father. The couple met on two of the balconies, one on each side of the alley. And as they held hands across the “Kiss Alley,” Dona Carmen’s father caught her and stabbed her. She died while Don Luis was still holding her hand.
Leal was Guanajuato’s most famous painter and it should be noted that he painted similar scenes of Callejon de la Galarza. Leal does have a small international following, but that leaves questions about the value of the painting. That’s actually an interesting question because we don’t know the size and there’s also conflicting pricing information.
One source lists a similar painting that is approximately 29″ x 23″ and sold for $25,000, but during our research we found that this was misrepresented and the selling price was actually 25,000 pesos ($1,962 to the time in 2014). This painting contained a figure, and other Leal paintings without figures sold for less. We believe the insured replacement value for RW’s painting would be in the range of $2,000 to $3,000, with $2,500 being about right.
(Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you want to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917 or send them an E -Mail to Treasures @knology.net If you would like your question to be considered in their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your request.)
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