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

Mujer con rebozo (Woman with a Shawl)

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Mujer con rebozo (Woman with a Shawl)
signed and dated 'Tamayo-O-48' (upper left)
oil and pastel on masonite panel
48 x 36 in. (122 x 91 cm.)
Painted in 1948.
Galería de Arte Mexicano, Mexico City, 1958.
Acquired from the above.
"In Elihu's Steps," Art, Time, Vol. LXXV, no. 24, Atlantic Edition, 13 June 1960, pp. 92-97 (illustrated).
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture Collected by Yale Alumni: An Exhibition, 19 May - 26 June 1960, p. 101, no. 108 (illustrated).
Post lot text
1 “I have always been figurative” stated Tamayo when interviewed by Concepción Solana for Mañana no. 1296 (June 29, 1968) reprinted in Raquel Tibol, Textos de Rufino Tamayo (Mexico City: Coordinación de Difusión Cultural Dirección de Literatura, 1987), 97.
2 Carlos Mérida, “Un juicio sobre la pintura de Tamayo,” July 1948. Manuscript. Museo Nacional de Arte. ICAA Documents of 20th Century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Accessed February 14, 2019. My translation.
3 These include the stylistically varied portraits of Peggy Schwab Muray, Cantinflas (Mario Moreno), Francisco Madero, Rosalind Richards, and Louise Vauclain Pulitzer.
4 Sylvia Navarrete, “The Gelman Collection: Figurative Painting, Surrealism, and Abstract Art” in Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Twentieth-Century Art: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection (San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2000), 27.
5 Mary K. Coffey, “Portrait of Rosalind Richards” in Modern and Contemporary Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art (Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, 2009), 26.
6 Ibid.
7 Olivier Debroise, “Retrato de la Señora Gelman” in Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Twentieth-Century Art: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection (San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2000), appendix.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.
“Yo siempre he sido figurativo.”[1]
--Rufino Tamayo, 1968
At midcareer in 1948 and nearing his 50th birthday, Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, after twelve years of self-imposed exile in New York City, having achieved an increasing level of international success, was finally receiving the national recognition at home that he had long awaited; Tamayo: 20 años de su labor pictórica, the artist’s first retrospective in Mexico City, comprised of 82 paintings and drawings, was presented that year at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Responding to the exhibition at the time, his contemporary Carlos Mérida noted:
Tamayo’s evolutionary process has traversed a long path that shifts between realism and idealism, between a grotesque expression close to Mexican popular (art) forms and the highest poetic sensibility in painting, all of it under a strong national color. His palette, at times violent, at times delicate and subtle, cannot be but from an extraordinary painter who has admirably attained, a personal seal that makes him unmistakable.[2]
Hanging in the exhibition was a recent portrait of Tamayo’s wife Olga, imposing and refined, her face a serene mask, her three-quarter length body a study in balanced geometry. Olga’s pastel may have initiated the several portrait commissions Tamayo accepted in 1948, a small body of works related in their classicizing formal approach, to which Mujer con rebozo belongs.
Given that portraiture was a genre not frequently visited by Tamayo post-1930s, and when he did, one usually reserved for Olga, who he painted some 20 times over the course of their long partnership, unusual is the concentration of portraits produced in that single year.[3] Natasha Gelman recalls that “When Rufino arrived from New York (to Mexico City) in 1948 he set up shop in a studio on Avenida Insurgentes. Jacques asked him to do a portrait of me. He accepted, and we set to work.”[4] Molded ethereally from triangles, circles, and cylinders, Gelman’s portrait including her circular choker, is the ghost of the aforementioned study of Olga. Tamayo places his sitter centrally, frontally, against a high-backed wood chair rooting her in an amorphous soft space while achieving a rhythmic, ever-so-slightly asymmetrical composition; this treatment of Olga and Natasha he echoes in two additional 1948 portraits of elite patrons Rosalind Richards (wife of New York entrepreneur Irving Richards) and Louise Vauclain Pulitzer (first wife of Joseph Pulitzer, Jr.), as well as the mysterious, unidentified Mujer con rebozo. Tamayo at once individualizes his sitters capturing some essential degree of likeness in their posture, physique, and coiffure, while also solidifying and immobilizing their form into an “iconic presence,”[5] a sculptural body—still, permanent, frozen in time—that reveals his close relationship with pre-Columbian statuary.
Art historian Mary Coffey and curator Olivier Debroise in separate catalogue notes (Coffey on Portrait of Rosalind Richards and Debroise on Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman) have each commented that these portraits harken back to Tamayo’s “earlier style”[6] or “first period,”[7] where, committed to arte puro (“pure art”) in opposition to the politically dogmatic, public murals of Los tres grandes (the “Three Greats” Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco), Tamayo explored formal qualities in painting; privileging the poetic over direct narratives, he was a modernist who invoked the legacy of 19th century Mexican provincial portraiture while remaining open to the lessons of the European avant-garde (Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, for example) akin with the interests of his then-partner, artist María Izquierdo. Indeed, Mujer con rebozo dialogues with Tamayo’s Self-Portrait of 1931, where similarly, his torso and head are draped in a rebozo that peaks at his crown, a small bird in both canvases easily located, the earthy palette of black, gold, tezontle, and white mirrored in both works.
Tamayo enjoyed tremendously the potential of fabric to create surprising geometric form when covering the human body. Pushing lines and rubbing pigment, he could expand the mass and volume of his draped figures so that they embodied landscape, echoing rock formations and evoking pre-Columbian stone and ceramic sculpture. He enveloped his subject, whether Izquierdo, Olga Tamayo, or an allegory of song (as in his mural El canto y la música of 1933), in yards of cloth, from which, charcoal pencil in hand, he carved folds, creases, and crevices on his two-dimensional surface, creating repetition, pattern, tension, and compositional complexity. The human figure wrapped in cloth gained volume, appearing as mountain, as cave, as maguey; Tamayo thus proclaimed humanity’s proximity to, and oneness with nature. The artist offers this universal viewpoint with Mujer con rebozo, while also affirming Mexican identity with the simple, yet powerfully symbolic article of clothing: the rebozo shawl, a garment that Tamayo painted repeatedly in rough gouaches and watercolors throughout the 1930s and 40s declaring Mexico a matriarchy: peasant, rural, and hard-working.
Nonetheless, the rebozo is multifarious; it can transgress boundaries of fashion, function, and class. For example, Olga wears her rebozo slung over her left shoulder in her 1948 portrait, which was reproduced in Life magazine on March 16, 1953 above the headline “Tamayo: After 15-Year Exile, Mexican Painter Wins Fame at Home.” Here the rebozo not only creates compositional balance, but serves as an elegant, fashionable accessory, indicating the status of a woman of acumen who moved in elite circles referred to in the caption as the “frequent model for her husband, a former concert pianist, she handles Tamayo’s business affairs.” On the other hand, Mujer con rebozo exudes the sacred feminine; mantle covering her head, she invokes the holy mother, the Virgin Mary in her many manifestations. And yet, Tamayo equally references popular culture presenting an archetype of Mexican feminine beauty as Mujer con rebozo clearly evokes Emilio Fernández’s close-up shots of Golden Era diva María Felix, her sculpted face framed tightly by a woven rebozo as in the films Enamorada (1946), Maclovia (1948), and Río Escondido (1948).
As indicated by the opening epigraph, Tamayo rejected the label of “abstract artist” for himself proclaiming his commitment to figuration. Mujer con rebozo expresses Tamayo’s life-long concern: to conjure the human form in space through its simplification and abstraction, simultaneously shaping a visual language at once universal and essentially Mexican.
Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

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