Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)
Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)

Portrait of Audrey Hepburn

Rufino Tamayo (Mexican 1899-1991)
Portrait of Audrey Hepburn
signed and dated 'Tamayo O.57' (upper right)
pastel on paper mounted on board
24 3/8 x 18½ in. (61.9 x 47 cm.)
Executed in 1957.
Acquired directly from the artist.
Mel Ferrer collection, Santa Barbara.
Estate of Mel Ferrer, Santa Barbara.
Mrs. Lisa Soukhotine-Ferrer, Santa Barbara (gifted from the above).

Lot Essay

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

Regarded by many as one of the most beautiful women of all time, Audrey Hepburn's classic, yet distinct and beguiling features are as iconic as her many acting roles and her unparalleled sense of style. Already a massive box-office phenomenon and critically acclaimed actress at the time this portrait was executed, in many ways for Hepburn, the actress and Tamayo, the artist, the 1950s was a truly watershed decade as it marked the solidification of each of their respective careers on an international "stage." Hepburn's film credits in the 1950s included Roman Holiday (1953); Sabrina (1954); War and Peace (1956); and her first musical Funny Face completed in 1957 the same year of Tamayo's portrait. Tamayo on the other hand, despite the lingering grumblings that consistently posited him on the opposite side of the social agenda of the Mexican mural painters--most famously led by Rivera and Siquieros who referred to Tamayo's approach to art making as "arte puro" [1]--continued to garner numerous mural commissions--Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico, (1952), Dallas Museum of Art in Texas (1953), and UNESCO in Paris (1957), exhibitions and awards, including the First International Painting Prize at the Second São Paulo Biennial (1953) and the acquisition of a major work by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (1959).

Thus both artist and muse appear to have intersected in a most opportune moment. Likewise Hepburn's classic features and timeless elegance must have certainly captivated Tamayo's aesthetic sensibilities. Indeed the present work while undoubtedly capturing the subject's iconic face in many ways transcends mere portraiture and suggests a level of formal simplification and abstraction associated with aspects of ancient and modern art. Here, Tamayo's able skills as a former draftsman in the ethnographic division of Mexico's Museum of Anthropology are fully on view as his ability to harness an aesthetic language rooted in the twentieth century vanguard practices of abstraction and cubism while simultaneously grounded in the ancient and indigenous arts of his native Mexico.

From pre-Colombian and Cycladic art to the stylized forms of Modigliani and Brancusi, Tamayo deftly transforms Hepburn--Hollywood's eternal contemporary "it" girl--into an image of extreme simplicity and enduring beauty--a fitting tribute to a woman who ultimately eschewed the artifice of celebrity for a life devoted to philanthropy and social causes.

1 See I. Suckaer, "Chronology" in exhibition catalogue Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007, 418.

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