Start Over

José Maria Cao

  • “Master of the pencil and the pen”, Galician artist José María Cao became one of the most relevant illustrators of Buenos Aires press by the beginning of the twentieth century.
  • José Maria
  • Cao
  • Demócrito II

  • 13-12-1862
  • Cervo (ES)
  • 27-01-1918
  • Lanús (AR)
  • CartoonistIllustratorGraphic Artist
  • “Master of the pencil and the pen”, Galician artist José María Cao became one of the most relevant illustrators of Buenos Aires press by the beginning of the twentieth century.

    Word Count: 31

  • Portrait of José María Cao, Caras y Caretas, no. 1 009, 2 February 1918.
  • “Master of the pencil and the pen”, the Galician artist, trained as a ceramicist, José María Cao became one of the most relevant illustrators of the Buenos Aires’ press by the beginning of the twentieth century. He migrated from Spain to Buenos Aires in 1886, where he encountered a vivid intellectual and cultural scene with a flourishing public press filled with magazines and periodicals. Spanish exiles found in this sphere a professional outlook that offered the opportunity to express political views through sharp prose and satirical caricatures.
    These publications created a network of journalists, illustrators and intellectuals, whose links and collaborations endured through time and in different media. For example, José María Cao had a long-running association with the weekly paper Don Quijote, founded in 1884 by Spanish exile and friend Eduardo Sojo. Cao’s satirical caricatures (under the pseudonym Demócrito II) created political commotions and scandals, many of which led to his temporary incarceration. For example, in 1893, one of his drawings provoked such wrath in president Luis Sáenz Peña that he banned the circulation of Don Quijote.
    Afterwards, Cao and Sojo, along with Spanish graphic artist Manuel Mayol, collaborated in Caras y Caretas. An article from 1899 captured these links: in a presentation of the senior staff at Caras y Caretas, Cao drew Mayol’s satirical portrait and vice versa. Mayol’s representation of Cao was as a slim, intellectual character accompanied by a dog and a chicken, identified as “the little animals in whose company he rejoices, turning his country house in Lanús into a Noah’s ark” (Lasso de la Vega 1899).
    Cao joined the staff at Caras y Caretas in 1898, a significant milestone in his career since it was through the magazine that he achieved recognition. In 1906, he was promoted to main illustrator and artistic director, positions he held until he left the magazine in 1912. Regarding the work he produced, Laura Malosetti Costa states that: “it is fair to say that, in the style of Cao’s caricatures in the years of Caras y Caretas, it is possible to find traits that make them unmistakable and beautiful, as well as offering visual commentaries of extraordinary insight regarding the events and protagonists of Argentine politics and culture of those years” (Malosetti Costa 2004). After his close collaboration with Caras y Caretas, he founded in 1912 Fray Mocho, another key publication of Buenos Aires’ intellectual and cultural scene.
    On his death in 1918, family and friends flocked to his house in Lanús, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and reached by train via Constitución station. The neighbourhood of Lanús remained closely identified with Cao, as an article years later would remember: “He, with his own hand, helped the neighbours to build sidewalks. He gave away books. He gave lectures. He paid off the debts of others. He paid the stew of many poor people” (Soiza Reilly 1931).
    Overall, Cao became a relevant figure not only within Spanish exiled circles but also within local communities. One of his obituaries summarised: “adapting to the environment with all the ductile power of his mastery. Cao knew how to make his work clearly Argentine; he was European and did not want, however, to Europeanise” (Anonymous 1918).

    Word Count: 534

  • Manuel Mayol, "José María Cao." Caras y Caretas, no. 53, 7 October 1899.
    José María Cao (signed), Caras y Caretas, no. 516, 22 August 1908 (via Wikimedia Commons).
  • Bockelman, Brian. “Bohemians, Anarchists, and Arrabales: How Spanish Graphic Artists Reinvented the Visual Landscape of Buenos Aires, 1880–1920.” Arrival Cities. Migrating Artists and New Metropolitan Topographies in the 20th Century, edited by Burcu Dogramaci et al., Leuven University Press, 2020, pp. 353–370. JSTOR, Accessed 23 April 2021.

    Gutiérrez Viñuales, Rodrigo. “Presencia de España en la Argentina. Dibujo, caricatura y humorismo (1870–1930).” Cuadernos de Arte de la Universidad de Granada, vol. 28, 1997, pp. 113–124, Accessed 21 April 2021.

    La Argentina sin careta. José María Cao, Ilustraciones 1893–1918, edited by Julio Neveleff, exh. cat. Fundación OSDE, Buenos Aires, 2007. issuu, Accessed 21 April 2021.

    Malosetti Costa, Laura. “Arte, humor y política de un gallego en Buenos Aires: José María Cao Luaces.” Anuario Centro de Estudios Gallegos, 2004, pp. 143–164.

    Malosetti Costa, Laura. “Los ‘gallegos’, el arte y el poder de la risa.” La memoria compartida: España y Argentina en la construcción de un imaginario cultural (1898–1950), edited by Yayo Aznar and Diana B. Wechsler, Paidós, 2005, pp. 245–270. Academia, Accessed 21 April 2021.

    Word Count: 203

  • Anonymous. “José María Cao.” Caras y Caretas, year XXI, no. 1009, 2 February 1918, n.p. [p. 39]. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Hemeroteca Digital, Accessed 21 April 2021.

    Lasso de la Vega, Leoncio. “Caretas.” Caras y Caretas, year II, no. 53, 7 October 1899, n.p. [pp. 31–38]. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Hemeroteca Digital, Accessed 21 April 2021.

    Semanario DON QUIJOTE, 1884–1893, Proyecto Patrimonio Histórico, Instituto de Historia Argentina y Americana "Dr. Emilio Ravignani", Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Accessed 24 March 2021.

    Soiza Reilly, Juan José. “Vicente Blasco Ibáñez y José M. Cao.” Caras y Caretas, year XXXIV, no. 1700, 2 May 1931, n.p. [p. 18]. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Hemeroteca Digital, Accessed 21 April 2021.

    Word Count: 157

  • Milena Gallipoli
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina (1886–1918)

  • Dr. José María Cao, Lanús (residence); Caras y Caretas, Calle Bolivar 578 to 586, Buenos Aires (editorial office).

  • Buenos Aires
  • Milena Gallipoli. "José Maria Cao." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 12-05-2021.
  • Francisco Fortuny Masagué
    PainterIllustratorGraphic Artist
    Buenos Aires

    Spanish-born Francisco Fortuny migrated to Buenos Aires in 1887. His most renowned work was done as illustrator in printed magazines such as Caras y Caretas.

    Word Count: 24

    Caras y Caretas
    Buenos Aires

    Caras y Caretas was one of the widest read magazines in Buenos Aires. A collective venture, run largely by exiles, it renewed the public press through an attractive layout.

    Word Count: 29