• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 12166

    Latin American Art

    25 - 26 May 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 16

    Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)

    Maestros cantores

    Price Realised  


    Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
    Maestros cantores
    signed and dated 'Tamayo, O-49' (upper left)
    oil on canvas
    33 1/2 x 27 5/8 in. (85.1 x 70.2 cm.)
    Painted in 1949.

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    We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.

    Rufino Tamayo’s Maestros cantores vibrantly plays on a theme that preoccupied the artist throughout his career. Three street singers stand before us with mouths agape as if caught in the midst of open song. The leader who stands authoritatively at the center with legs spread apart holds a mandolin, a pear-shaped instrument from the lute family. Our attention is drawn to the musician’s fingers splayed unnaturally across the front of the mandolin, emphasizing the act and skill of playing the instrument. Two singers peer out from behind him on both sides in a staggered fashion, creating a dynamic zigzag effect that animates the composition. Tamayo concentrates on all three of the singers’ expressive faces, capturing the emotive essence of music. Bright hues of pink, purple, blue, and green throughout increase the sense of impassioned performance.

    Musical themes abound in Tamayo’s oeuvre. Many of the artist’s numerous still lifes from the 1930s, for example, contained musical instruments, especially mandolins. Other easel paintings of this early period depict singers, and music served as the subject of his first mural (Song and Music) painted in 1933 for the National School of Music. With his early works painted at a time when he was associated with the Contemporáneos, a modernist literary and artistic group espousing universalism, Tamayo often used music as one among many elements that make reference to the senses. Instruments and song provided the means to visualize sound and touch (the strings of the mandolin). Music also served as a cipher for the painter’s practice, a trope found in much modernist painting, most famously in Picasso’s takes on the subject. An abstract artistic language, music embodies the pursuit of non-literal representation. The Contemporáneos especially privileged the forging of a symbolic equivalence among the arts of poetry, painting, and music.

    In addition to its aesthetic allegorical functions, music (and musicians) also held special personal significance to Tamayo. He met his wife Olga, an accomplished concert pianist, while painting the mural at the National School of Music where she was a student. In 1926 he traveled to New York City for the first time with his friend and composer Carlos Chávez with whom he would form a long-lasting and influential friendship. Although Tamayo and Chávez never officially teamed up on a musical production, the painter benefited greatly from Chávez’s stewardship of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) between 1947 and 1952, enjoying unprecedented attention from the Mexican state during this period.[1] It is important to note that Chávez garnered international acclaim, like his counterparts in painting, for combining references from colonial, folk, indigenous, academic, and modern cultural forms to create a new form of modernism.

    Then, too, Tamayo was also a gifted musician known for his guitar playing, as evidenced by the circulation of images such as Carl van Vechten’s famous photograph from 1945. As Tamayo does in the photograph, the figures in Maestros cantores look upward as they strum the guitar and sing. Tamayo especially enjoyed singing Mexican folk songs and although it was used in classical compositions, the mandolin is generally perceived as a “folk” instrument. Maestros cantores, then, not only sums up Tamayo’s passion about music in general, but also his particular interest in fusing the folk with the modern into a new form of aesthetics.

    Anna Indych-López,
    Associate Professor of Art History, CCNY and The Graduate Center, CUNY
    Chairperson, Art Department, CCNY

    1 The Palacio de Bellas Artes hosted a Tamayo retrospective (1948); Tamayo was given a one-man show at the Venice Biennale (1950); his Homenaje a la raza india was featured in the 1952 Paris exhibition of Mexican art; and later in 1952 Tamayo received a commission to execute two murals for permanent installation at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.


    Galería de Arte Mexicano, Mexico City
    Álvar Carrillo Gil collection, Mexico City.
    Private collection, Mexico City.
    By descent from the above.
    Artemundi Global Fund.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    E. F. Gual, Rufino Tamayo, New York, Erich S. Herrmann Inc., 1952 (illustrated in color on the cover).
    J. Silva Herzog, et. al., American Notebooks, No. 6, XIV, November-December 1955 (illustrated).
    M. Nelken, "Ensayo de exégesis de Rufino Tamayo", Cuadernos Americanos, año XIV, no. 6, Mexico City, November-December 1955 (illustrated).
    O. Paz, Tamayo en la pintura mexicana, Mexico City, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1959, p. 58, no. 54 (illustrated).
    P. Westheim, Cincuenta obras de Tamayo: Segunda bienal interamericana de México, Mexico City, Artes de Me´xico, no. 35, vol. VI, año IX, 1961, p. 27 (illustrated).
    E. Odio, "Tamayo en el mundo de la luz", Cuadernos de Bellas Artes, año III, no. 7-8, Mexico City, July-August 1962, p. 75 (illustrated).
    Exhibition catalogue, Tamayo, Tokyo, Shirogane Geihin Kan Hall, Mainichi Newspaper, 1963 (illustrated in color).
    R. Tibol, Historia general del arte mexicano, Mexico City, Editorial Hermes, 1964, p. 170, no. 146 (illustrated).
    T. del Conde, "Tamayo Artist and Demiurgue", Voices of Mexico, no. 8 and 9, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, p. 64 (illustrated).
    A. Mendoza, "Volver al humanismo", Revista me´dica, año XVI, Mexico City, August 1991, p. 62 (illustrated).


    Mexico City, Galería de Arte Moderno Misrachi, Rufino Tamayo, 15-30 July 1949, no. 11.
    Paris, Musée Nacional d'Art Moderne de la Ville De Paris, Art Mexicain du Precolombien a nos tours, 21 May-July 1952, no. 1076.
    Stockholm, Fran forntid Hill nutid Liljevalchs Konsthall, Mexikansk Konst, September-December 1952, no. 1061.
    London, The Tate Gallery, Mexican Art from the Pre-Columbian Times to the Present Day, 4 March-26 April 1953, no. 1238.
    Mexico City, Galería Proteo, Tamayo, exposición retrospectiva, 3-20 May 1956, no. 5.
    Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Cincuenta obras de Tamayo: Segunda bienial interamericana de México, 1961.
    Tokyo, Shirogane Geihin Kan Hall, Tamayo, 11 September-6 October 1963, no. 2.
    Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Rufino Tamayo, September 1964, no. 10.