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

Pareja en rojo

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Pareja en rojo
signed and dated 'Tamayo, O-1962' (upper right)
oil on canvas
51 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. (130 x 97 cm.)
Painted in 1962.
Samuel and Florence Thiel collection, Los Angeles (acquired directly from the artist).
By descent from the above.
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 18 May 1988, lot 41.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. P. Ponce, Tamayo, New York, Tudor Publishing Co., 1967, (illustrated in color) n.n.
Venice, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internationale D'Arte, 1968.
Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Rufino Tamayo, March 1968, no. 78.
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We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.

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Lot Essay

“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 (quoted in I. Suckaer, “Chronology,” ed. D. Du Pont, Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, exh. cat., Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007, pp. 421-22). 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 Pareja en rojo, 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. His figures became increasingly simplified during the 1950s and 1960s, 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,” Tamayo 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” (“A Commentary by the Artist,” Tamayo, exh. cat., Phoenix Art Museum, 1968, pp. 3-4).

Three colors—red, pink, ocher—permeate Pareja en rojo, camouflaging the figures against a brilliantly speckled, ruddy ground. “Around 1960 the figures appear to have clouded over,” critic José Corredor-Mattheos has observed. “One can guess that they are carefully outlined, there in the background, but matter, in the form of stains of color, threatens to blur them. The human figure is reduced to a minimum. . . . More and more the characters are presented as dolls, which is how man frequently sees himself in ancient cultures. In the case of Tamayo this reveals many things. The figure is the support of the color.” Colors find felicitous form and structure in Pareja en rojo, defining the couple as they stand before us, gleaming and radiant in tones of red. Their expressions are simple and schematic, lending their appearance a timeless quality of joy and vitality. “Tamayo’s painting preserves the festive, gay, dramatic, sometimes even tragic character that marks every communal event in Mexico,” Corredor-Matheos concludes. “The ritual character and extraordinary equilibrium that we find in his pictures and in his whole oeuvre are closely bound up with the life of his people. . . . This is festive painting, because for Tamayo the world is a sacred feast. There is joy and drama, as I have said before, and also, on the artist’s part, an enjoyment of painting” (Tamayo, New York, 1987, pp. 18-19). Pareja en rojo conjures a universal humanity, projecting onto its earnest and endearing protagonists an eternal search for meaning and communion in their world.

“Painting is the sensible translation of the world,” wrote the Mexican poet laureate Octavio Paz. “To translate the world into painting is to perpetuate it, prolong it. This is the source of Tamayo’s rigor towards painting. His attitude is a profession of faith rather than an aesthetics. Painting is a way of touching reality” (“An Art of Transfigurations,” Rufino Tamayo: Myth and Magic, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1979, p. 22).

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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