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

The Family

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
The Family
signed and dated 'R. Tamayo 1925' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 ¾ x 33 in. (73 x 83.8 cm.)
Painted in 1925.
Walter Arensberg, California.
Mrs. Geta Wright, Los Angeles, California.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1980.
"La pintura de Rufino Tamayo," El universal ilustrado, 1926 (illustrated).
Mexico City, 6 Avenida Madero, Exposición Tamayo, April 1926, no. 14.
New York, Weyhe Gallery, Rufino Tamayo: Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Woodcuts, 19 - 30 October 1926.
Pasadena, California, The Pasadena Art Institute, March 1953.
Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, 17 February - 27 May 2007, p. 137, pl. 13 (illustrated in color). This exhibition also traveled to Miami, Miami Art Museum 22 June - 16 September 2007 and Mexico City, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo 26 October 2007 - 21 January 2008.
Mexico City, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Construyendo Tamayo, 1922-1937, 29 August 2013 - 24 February 2015, p. 135 (illustrated in color).
Washington D.C., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Tamayo: The New York Years, 3 November 2017 - 18 March 2018, p. 79, pl. 1 (illustrated in color).
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Art Museum, extended loan.
Further details
1 Mérida, Carlos. "Un juicio sobre la pintura de Tamayo," 1948. Manuscript. Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City, 2. “El proceso evolutivo de Tamayo ha recorrido largo camino que fluctúa entre el realismo y el idealismo; entre la expression grotesca cercana a las formas populares mexicanas y el más alto sentido poético de la Pintura, todo ello bajo severo tinte nacional.” Author’s translation. Available through the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Documents of 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art. Accessed October 1, 2019.
2 Indigenismo refers to Herrán’s incorporation of both the ancient and contemporary Indian as the subject of his painting parallel with the writings of Mexican intellectuals Manuel Gamio and José Vasconcelos who sought to define the Indian’s place in the country’s national fabric. Modernismo refers to the literary movement initiated by Nicaraguan Rubén Darío that spilled into the visual arts. In Herrán’s case this refers to a synthesis of European Symbolism and Art Nouveau with indigenous subject matter.
3 One of many sources on these developments in Mexican modernism would be Karen Cordero Reiman, “Ensueños artísticos: Tres estrategias para configurar la modernidad en México, 1920-1940,” in Modernidad y modernización en el arte mexicano, 1920-1960 (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1991), 53-81.
4 Karen Cordero Reiman, “Construyendo/Constructing Tamayo, 1922-1937,” in Rufino Tamayo: Construyendo/Constructing Tamayo, 1922-1937 (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2011), 37.
5 E. Carmen Ramos, Tamayo: The New York Years (Washington D.C: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2017), 9.
6 In October of 1907 Émile Bernard published his correspondence with Cézanne in the journal Le Mercure de France. This quote from Cézanne was in a letter dated April 15, 1904.
7 Ingrid Suckaer, “Chronology,” in Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art), 417.
8 Mérida, Carlos. "La obra de Tamayo: En la exposición del artista mexicano se advierte una evolución interesante que reclama cuidadosa atención de los críticos." Magazine: Suplemento dominical de El Demócrata (Mexico City), April 18, 1926. “…una evolución sumamente interesante que está a punto de cristalizarse.” Author’s translation. Available through the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Documents of 20th-Century Latin American and Latino Art. Accessed October 1, 2019.
9 Raquel Tibol in “Rufino Tamayo: Su plataforma estética” quotes Xavier Villaurrutia. “Directa sensualidad de indio y de primitivo, que tendrá que vaciarse en una pintura lírica, libre, cálida." My translation. Accessed October 5, 2019.
10 Bernardo Ortiz de Montellano, “La obra expresiva de Rufino Tamayo,” Revista de Revistas (Mexico City, 1926). My thanks to Diana Bramham for this source.
11 As stated in the object label for La familia in the exhibition Tamayo: The New York Years: Accessed October 10, 2019.

Brought to you by

Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

Tamayo’s evolutionary process has traveled a long road that has fluctuated between realism and idealism, between an intimate raw expression to Mexican popular forms and painting’s highest poetic feeling—all of that under a strong national shade.
Carlos Mérida, 19481
La familia of 1926, a painting belonging to Rufino Tamayo’s earliest production, participates in the immediate post-Revolution drive to forge new artistic languages that would redefine Mexican national identity as native, popular, and modern. Born in Oaxaca at the very end of the 19th century, Tamayo just turned eleven at the outbreak of the Mexican civil war whose violent phase would last ten long years. His mother dead, Tamayo had moved to Mexico City spending his days at La Merced mercado, where his Aunt ran a fruit stand. By 1917, Tamayo had enrolled at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes to study drawing under Saturnino Herrán, a proponent of indigenismo and modernismo2; Tamayo and his classmates (including, for example, Julio Castellanos, Gabriel Fernández Ledesma, Agustín Lazo, and Antonio Ruiz “El Corcito”) would become Mexico’s artistic avant-garde.
The stylistic innovation and diversity that ensued was nourished in part by the newly re-opened Escuelas de Pintura al Aire Libre (EPAL, Open Air Schools) under the direction of Alfredo Ramos Martínez, and the Método Best Maugard (Best Maugard Method) pedagogical system, which many of the emerging artists, including Tamayo, taught in the public school system and absorbed into their personal work.3 Marking a shift away from the Best Method’s decorative expression, in La familia Tamayo synthesized the lessons of the Open Air Schools, his interest in 19th century provincial portraiture and studio photography, his familiarity with the post-impressionist paintings of Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, and his new understanding of pre-Columbian form, which he gained working at the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Within his oeuvre, La familia is a dynamic and laden work.
Ramos Martínez’s Indian Couple with Watermelon of 1914 presents one of the earliest examples of the stylistic approach, which was taken up again within the decade by Open Air School artists; a native man and woman wearing distinctive hand-woven clothing, offer a ceramic tray weighed down with local fruits (watermelon, bananas, a pineapple). Filling the canvas are isolated, centrally-placed figures who bear dark phenotypes and sculpted physiques; located in nature, rather than an urban setting, they are pushed up against the picture plane in a shallow pictorial space where the background of tropical foliage crowds in on the subjects. Additional examples of the period that employ these same formal devices and content are Frida Kahlo’s Two Women of 1929, Ramón Cano Manilla’s Indian Woman from Oaxaca of 1928, and Fernando Leal’s Indian with Red Sarape of 1922. Ramos Martínez established the first open air school, Santa Anita, in 1913 as an alternative to the Academy; closed in 1914, it was a short-lived experiment. The Open Air Schools reopened in 1920 and proliferated up through the 1930s with the intent to renovate the arts by encouraging creativity across the social spectrum, and valorizing naïve and children’s art.
EPAL painting characteristics such as the focus on the indigenous subject, depicted as deliberately blocky, sculpted figures who fill the frame pressed forward by a verdant landscape, are evident in La familia. Art historian Karen Cordero Reiman points out that Tamayo did not participate in EPAL directly as a student or teacher, but that he would have had contact through the Open Air School movement’s exhibitions and publications; she notes that “the visible impact on his personal, creative proposals is evident in his adoption, from 1925 on, of a deliberately ‘primitivizing’ naïveté in his drawing style, and a rougher, more intense quality in his brushstrokes, which are applied to the reworking of traditional genres of pictorial representation,”4 such as his revisiting of 19th century provincial portraiture and studio photography.
E. Carmen Ramos in Tamayo: The New York Years reproduces an early 20th Century studio portrait by photographer Romualdo García of a young couple wearing their Sunday best, posed formally and frontally against a backdrop of foliage, the mustached-man in a rumpled suit and necktie, the woman donning a flower in her hair, with striking resemblance to Tamayo’s couple in La familia.5 Tamayo would have been aware that García was especially known for his posthumous studio portraits of children reflecting the high infant mortality rate at the time. The painter intentionally avoids a direct narrative in La familia, leaving interpretation of the scene up to the viewer. Is the peaceful, swaddled baby sleeping, newly baptized, or not? Is this a tragedy, or a celebration? The poignant, high key color palette, likely derived from arte popular indigenous craft, challenges any potential melancholic reading of the scene.
The solid, mask-like faces of the couple and neutrality of emotion offer evidence of Tamayo’s recent contact with pre-Columbian objects. In January of 1922 the Minister of Education José Vasconcelos hired Tamayo as a draftsman in the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the Museo Nacional de Antropología. There daily he studied, touched, and drew pre-Hispanic and popular art objects. That hands-on knowledge of the chiseled, abstracted features of an ancient Aztec mask, for example, translated not only into his approach to the family’s faces in La familia, but also those in the contemporaneous paintings La frutera and Hombre y mujer of 1926, all exhibited together in Tamayo’s first solo exhibition in Mexico City.
In addition to EPAL aesthetics, the tradition of studio photography in Mexico, and the pre-Columbian form, Tamayo also drew from 19th century Mexican provincial portraiture, learning, for example, from the charming stiffness with which José María Estrada posed his sitters, while rejecting the latter’s extreme attention to detail. Tamayo further looked to the post-Impressionist example of Cezanne and Gauguin; he was interested in not only Cézanne’s advice to “treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone,”6 and Gauguin’s primitivizing and exoticizing tendencies, but also, both the symbolic and expressive use of color as well.
Reviewing Tamayo’s exhibition in April of 1926 for El Démocrata, artist Carlos Mérida discussed the difficulty that young artists encountered at the time in securing a venue to present their artwork and the significant, unseen effort behind every exhibition. In fact, prior to the establishment of the Galería de Arte Mexicano by Inés Amor in 1935, Mexico City had no gallery system in place to represent contemporary artists. Ambitious and forward-thinking even in his mid-20s, Tamayo secured the recently vacated storefront Armería Convaloucier at Avenida Madero 66 for the sum of 100 pesos where he hung twenty oil paintings.7 Mérida saw in Tamayo’s exhibition “an incredibly interesting evolution that is just on the verge of crystalizing,”8 while poet Xavier Villaurrutia, writing for the exhibition’s catalogue noted that the artist’s condition of “direct sensuality of Indian and primitive, necessitates emptying itself into a lyrical, free, and warm painting.”9 Critic Bernardo Ortiz de Montellano commented that with paintings such as La familia and La frutera, Tamayo exhibited the “opulent sensuality of the painter who achieves precise chords of beauty with primary tropical colors.”10 The exhibition’s success encouraged Tamayo to quit his museum and teaching jobs and head to New York City with his friend, the musician Carlos Chávez. La familia traveled with Tamayo, and would hang in his first exhibition in Manhattan held at the Weyhe Gallery in October 1926.11
Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

More from Latin American Art

View All
View All