In Brief

A Mysterious Letter Claims a Long-Lost Baroque Painting Is in LA

The letter, received some two years ago by curator of Latin American art at LACMA, was penned in an odd, first-person style, speaking as the painting itself.

Miguel Cabrera, “3. From Spaniard and Castiza, Spanish Girl (detail)” (1763), oil on canvas (image courtesy LACMA)

It seems as though someone has gotten tired of waiting for the next Dan Brown novel to come out, and taken matters into their own hands. As reported by the LA Times, a mysterious letter was received by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), indicating the presence of a long-lost painting somewhere in a two-mile vicinity of the museum itself.

The painting in question is known as “Española” (Spanish girl), after the central figure in the painting, and is the final piece in a set of 16 casta paintings by Miguel Cabrera (circa 1715–1768) — a uniquely Mexican genre of ethnographic paintings showcasing children as the result of interracial relationships among the viceroyalty of New Spain colonies.

The letter, received some two years ago by curator of Latin American art at LACMA, Ilona Katzew, was penned in an odd, first-person style, speaking as the painting itself, and signed as if by the little girl, who appears in the family portrait, dressed like a little princess.

(image courtesy LACMA)

“You should know that I am well and living less than two (2) miles from LACMA,” “Española” wrote, late in the summer of 2015. “I have been in the same family for I believe 60 years, although I do not know how I was acquired.”

Katzew has pursued various leads, trying to track down the owner or location of the painting, to no avail, all the while developing her research for Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790: Pinxit Mexici, the most comprehensive museum survey ever devoted to the period. With “Painted in Mexico” finished and set to open at LACMA on November 19, she’s gone public with the information, perhaps hoping Española’s owner might drop in to see it and be moved to renew contact — or perhaps merely as a terrific publicity stunt for an exhibition long in the making.

Whether the airing of this mysterious missive is a portent of the painting emerging from obscurity to join its multiracial brethren, or merely a publicity stunt that will drive it deeper into hiding in plain sight, there is one question undoubtedly on the mind of everyone in Los Angeles today: Who has purchased the movie rights to this blockbuster art mystery?

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