Dear Helaine and Joe:
My grandmother purchased this painting by Manuel Leal when she was in Mexico. She attached a note to the back of the picture telling a little about the artist. She also stated that, since written permission had to be given to remove the painting from Mexico, she had to conceal the painting in order to travel with it back to the United States. What is the value today?
Dear R. W.:
The date on the note was 1952, and it is said the name of the work is "Kiss Street." We believe this is a simplification of the actual name, which is "Callejon del Beso," or "Alley of the Kiss." With it goes a romantic but tragic tale.
Leal (1893-1975) was a painter, teacher, storyteller and novelist in the town of Guanajuato, Mexico, which is located in the center of the country and is now a community of about 170,000. Guanajuato means "hilly place of frogs."
The Spanish came in the 1540s and began mining metals. It is said that at one time gold nuggets could be found on the ground. And during the 18th century, Guanajuato was the world's leading producer of silver. The town is said to have been the richest in Mexico during much of the colonial period.
Guanajuato is hilly, and streets are often just alleyways (the main street even runs underground for 3 kilometers). Many streets are impassible for automobiles, and the Callejon de Beso is just 66 inches wide. Many of the streets have small piazzas, and balconies on the upper floors on either side of the street often almost touch each other.
There are steep steps on the Callejon de Beso, and tradition says if couples kiss on the third step, they will have seven years of happiness together. The other legend is of star-crossed 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 either side of the alley. And as they held hands across the "Alley of the Kiss," Dona Carmen's father caught them and stabbed her to death. She died with Don Luis still holding her hand.
Leal was Guanajuato's most famous painter, and it should be noted he painted similar scenes of the Callejon de la Galarza. Leal does have a small international following, but that leaves the question of the painting's worth. That is actually an interesting question because we do not know the size, and there is also conflicting information on pricing.
One source lists a similar painting that is approximately 29 1/2 by 23 1/2 inches as having sold for $25,000, but we discovered in our research this was misreported, and the selling price was actually 25,000 pesos ($1,962 at the time in 2014). That painting had a figure in it, and other Leal paintings without figures have sold for less. We feel the insurance replacement value for R. W.'s painting would be in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, 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'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.