Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN COLLECTION
RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)

Personajes en la sombra

RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991)
Personajes en la sombra
signed and dated ‘Tamayo O-59’ (lower left) titled ‘Personajes en la sombra’ (on the reverse)
oil and sand on canvas
37 1⁄2 x 50 7⁄8 in. (95.3 x 128.9 cm.)
Painted in 1959.
M. Knoedler and Co. Inc, New York.
Roberto García Mora, Mexico City.
Galería de Arte Misrachi, Mexico City.
Private collection, Texas.
By descent from the above to the present owner.
J. García Ponce, Tamayo, Mexico City, Galería de Arte Misrachi, 1967 (illustrated).
A. de Neuvillate-Ortiz, 10 Pintores mexicanos, Mexico City, Ediciones Galería de Arte Misrachi, 1974 (illustrated in color).
M. Kelken, "Nuevos aspectos de la plástica mexicana" in Artes de México, núm. 33 Año IX, Mexico City, 1961, p. 17, no 3 (illustrated).
A. García Formenti, "Le monde magique de Rufino Tamayo" in Ambassade du Mexique en France Services Culturels, January 24- March 1961, Paris, p. 16 (illustrated).
A. de Neuvillate Ortiz, "Rufino Tamayo" in Comercio núm. 161 vol. XV, Mexico City, 1964 (illustrated in color).
M. D. Arana, "Tamayo el iluminado" in Revista de América, no. 1149, Mexico City, 30 December 1967, p. 28 (illustrated).
M. D. Arana, "Tamayo" in Mujeres Expresión Femenina, no. 205, 20 December 1967, p.15 (illustrated).
"El paralelo mágico" in Hispano, 18 December, 1967, p. 68 (illustrated).
R. Tamayo, "Mi doctrina estética" in Suplemento Cultural de Novedades, Mexico City, 3 July 1966 (illustrated).

New York, Knoedler Galleries, Tamayo, 17 November- 12 December 1959, no. 1 (illustrated).
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Rufino Tamayo, September 1964, no. 20.
Mexico City, Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes, Homenaje a Rufino Tamayo, 50 años de labor artística, 1 December 1967, no. 21.
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Post lot text
1 Rufino Tamayo, quoted in Ingrid Suckaer, “Chronology,” in Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, ed. Diana C. Du Pont (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007), 421-22.
2 José Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo (New York: Rizzoli, 1987), 24.
3 Paul Westheim, Tamayo: A Study in Esthetics (Mexico City: Ediciones Artes de México, 1957), 11.
4 Tamayo, “A Commentary by the Artist,” in Tamayo (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1968), 4.
5 Ibid., 3-4.

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Lot Essay

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

“I want to plant the national flag very firmly and I believe there is every chance that I can do so,” Tamayo wrote in 1949, assuming the mantle of what he declared “a new phase of Mexican mural painting” over the following decade. He enjoyed immense international prestige by the end of the 1950s, serving as an emissary of modern Mexican painting abroad and assuming new prominence in the cultural life of Mexico City and his native Oaxaca. In 1959, Tamayo and his wife Olga bought an apartment in Paris, only to realize within the year that they would “forever” belong in Mexico, and their definitive return in 1961 would mark the artist’s triumphant homecoming and re-engagement with his Mexican roots.[1] In the wake of his critical triumph at the XXV Venice Biennale in 1950, Tamayo embarked on a number of prominent mural commissions across Europe and the Americas as well as major paintings, among them Personajes en la sombra, that manifest the increasingly humanist and universal dimensions of his work.
Tamayo’s paintings and murals from this period distill diverse transatlantic sources, drawing from postwar existentialism and indigenous aesthetics in their renderings of archetypal men and women, his most enduring subjects. “In Tamayo’s painting the monumentality of the human figure gives man greatness in his relationship with the cosmos,” critic José Corredor-Matheos observed. “An ambivalent relationship, for the disproportion, however conventional, must be evident, and man is appraised, tragically, in the face of the void and the whole.”[2] Tamayo explored myriad humanist themes throughout his career, giving extraordinary expression to the resilience and vulnerability of the human spirit. “His subject now is man,” Paul Westheim wrote in the late 1950s, “man, who, apart from his condition as a collective being, is discovering himself as an individual and intransferable being, whose essence cannot be transferred any more than his life can be lived by anyone but himself.”[3] That affirmative subjectivity defined Tamayo’s work of the 1950s, seen in men and women—like the couple in Personajes en la sombra—that face the cosmic abyss, their bodies laden with the dualities of life and death, past and future, myth and memory. “I am interested in Man,” Tamayo later declared. “Man is my subject, Man who is the creator of all scientific and technological wonders. To me that is the most important thing in existence.”[4]
Tamayo’s figures became increasingly simplified during the 1950s, their features effaced in ways that suggest their vaunted universalism and that further acknowledge precedents in pre-Hispanic art, which he had begun to collect. “Our great plastic traditions are peculiar to my country because they have a sense of proportion which is native to this country,” he explained. “Their coloring is peculiar to this country; so, they are for me the real roots of a Mexican School.” Mexico’s indigenous past materialized in resonances of form and color, Tamayo insisted, rather than in subject matter. “The plastic problem interests me more than anything else,” he continued. “I am trying more and more to express the essence of things, and to do so, I am limiting my palette as much as possible and simplifying and restricting shapes....What is important is the structure of the figure. And it is the same with the colors. I don’t try to use many colors because I consider it unnecessary. With two or three colors at the most you can express more than plenty.”[5]
In Personajes en la sombra, Tamayo plumbs warm tonalities of purple—from plum and magenta to dark licorice—in a dramatic portrait of a couple in the moonlight. They stand to either side of the moon, a spectral presence suggestively hovering between them; their inky figures are simplified, their faces featureless aside from their eyes. The schematized forms, integrated within a richly textured picture surface, resemble the figure in Mujer en gris (1959, Guggenheim Museum); the painting is compositionally similar to Dos amantes contemplando la luna (1950). Like these and other paintings from this signal decade, Personajes en la sombra imagines a universal humanity, projecting onto its brave protagonists a constant (and common) search for meaning and understanding in the world.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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