Lot 29
  • 29

Tina Modotti

200,000 - 300,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Tina Modotti
  • Campesinos Reading El Machete
  • Gelatin silver print
on a double-mount, signed, dated, and annotated 'Mexico' on the secondary mount, numerical notations on the reverse, 1929


Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, 2000


New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Tina Modotti, Photographs, May - June 1997


This print:

Tina Modotti: Photographs (New York: Robert Miller Gallery, 1997), pl. 17

Other prints of this image:

Jesús Nieto Sotelo and Elisa Lozano Alvarez, Tina Modotti: A New Vision, 1929 (Centro de la Imagen, 2000), p. 76

Mildred Constantine, Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life (New York, 1983), p. 146

Frida Kahlo und Tina Modotti (Frankfurt, 1982), p. 23

Tina Modotti: Photographien & Dokumente (Berlin: Sozialarchivs, 1990), p. 99

Valentina Agostinis, Tina Modotti: Gli Anni Luminosi (Pordenone, 1992), p. 105

Margaret Hooks, Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary (London and San Francisco, 1993), p. 149

Sarah M. Lowe, Tina Modotti: Photographs (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1995), pl. 88

Dear Vocio: Photographs by Tina Modotti (University of California, San Diego, 1996), p. 15

Tina Modotti (Aperture, 1999), p. 61

Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: Mexican Years (New York, 1999), pl. 28

Tina Modotti and The Mexican Renaissance (Quercy, 2000), p. 111

Margaret Hooks, Tina Modotti 55 (London and New York, 2002), p. 91

Sarah M. Lowe, Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: The Mexico Years (London: Barbican Art Gallery, 2004), pl. 85

Dario Cimorelli and Riccardo Constantini, eds., Tina Modotti (Milan, 2014), p. 105


This impressive, slightly warm early print, on matte surface paper, is mounted on buff-colored card and is mounted again to a lighter buff card mount. It is in generally very good to excellent condition. Faint silvering is visible in the dark areas. In raking light, the following are visible: faint rubbing of the surface in the upper darker area; tiny transparent and black pinpoint deposit of indeterminate nature in the upper right quadrant of the image in the campesino's brim (2R); and what appears to be a thin and barely discernible scratch that does not break the emulsion in the lower right quadrant. The underlying mount is age-darkened at the edges, and there is an ink deposit at the upper right corner. The edges are rubbed, and the corners are bumped. The reverse of the mount is soiled and somewhat age-darkened, with adhesive remains at the left and right sides, likely from a previous mounting. There is a small area of abrasion in the center. The following numerical notations are written on the reverse, all in pencil: 53 (circled) (1001) 169 (circled) 5/1/80 4/21/81 LM 3/19/82 4/11/83 11/9/84 PH78.2.87
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Campesinos Reading ‘El Machete’ represents a synthesis of Modotti’s formalist aesthetic with her passionately-held social and political concerns.  In this image, a group of Mexican workers are gathered in the harsh sun around the newspaper, El Machete.  They are graphically portrayed not as individuals, but as a collective of citizens in sombreros, their faces in shadow.  With its meticulous composition and masterful balance of the extreme values of sunlight and shadow, Modotti's image is both meaningful and aesthetically adventurous. The struggle for land that was emblematic of the revolution is spelled out in the newspaper’s headline:  ‘All the Land, not just Pieces of Land!’   

El Machete was founded by the Syndicate of Revolutionary Mexican Painters, Sculptors and Engravers in 1924 to communicate to workers the revolutionary cultural, ideological, and political concerns of the day. Because most of the Mexican population at the time was illiterate, the conveyance of information relied primarily on graphic design and photography.  Its masthead slogan was ‘The machete is used to reap cane, to clear a path through underbrush, to kill snakes, end strife, and humble the pride of the impious rich.’  The paper became an official organ of the Communist Party in Mexico in 1925.  Modotti’s friends David Alfaro Siqueiros and Xavier Guerrero were on the editorial board, and dozens of Modotti’s photographs were published on the paper’s pages.  As a result, her work attracted the attention of art publications Creative Art, Mexican Folkways, and Forma. 

This image was among the 57 photographs included in Modotti’s only lifetime solo exhibition, at the Biblioteca Nacional, Mexico City, in December 1929. Siqueiros, who delivered a presentation on the final day of the show called it ‘the first revolutionary photographic exhibition in Mexico.’  Modotti authority Sarah Lowe characterizes the image as ‘provocative, if not seditious.’ Aware of Modotti’s photographs and her political leanings, the Mexican government pressured her to renounce her beliefs.  She refused, and two months later was expelled from Mexico (Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: The Mexico Years, p. 37). 

Prints of this image are scarce. At the time of this writing, no other print of this image is believed to have been offered at auction.