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


Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
signed and dated 'Tamayo O-84' (lower right) titled and dated 'Gemelos 1984' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
37 ½ x 51 ½ in. (95.3 x 130.8 cm.)
Painted in 1984.
Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985.
J. Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo, Barcelona, Ediciones Polígrafa, 1987, p. 152 (illustrated in color).
J. Brody Esser and M. Nieto, "Conversation with a Mexican Master Rufino Tamayo", Latin American Art, Fall 1989, vol. 1, number 2, p. 43 (illustrated in color).
Tokyo, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Rufino Tamayo: Recent Works, 29 May - 13 July 1984, p. 30, no. 19 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

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

Born in Oaxaca in 1899, Tamayo built his career between Mexico and the United States as he began to define a maverick position within the Mexican avant-garde. He held teaching positions in Mexico City and New York in the 1920s and 1930s amid the ascension of the Mural movement, whose ideological arte social-político he countered with a defense of arte puro, a more autonomous, critical model of mexicanidad advocated by the Contemporáneos, a modernist group of artists and writers. Across a celebrated career that spanned the twentieth century, Tamayo dwelled on the motley complexion of humanity, imaged in men and women—mythical and Mexican—who brave the world with resilience and empathy. A brilliant colorist, he gained international renown in the postwar years following his triumph at the XXV Venice Biennale (1950) and undertook a series of high-profile mural projects, among them Nacimiento de nuestra nacionalidad (Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1952), two interpretations of Prometheus (Paris and Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, 1957 and 1958), and El hombre frente al infinito (Hotel Camino Real, Mexico City, 1971). He has been the subject of numerous retrospectives, notably at the Guggenheim Museum (1979), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (1988), and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (2007); Tamayo: The New York Years opens in November at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

“His subject now is man,” Paul Westheim observed of Tamayo 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.”[1] Tamayo confirmed his essential humanism, declaring, “I am interested in Man. 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.”[2] Archetypal figures, Tamayo’s men and women encode cosmic dualities: life and death, past and future, myth and memory. They are at once universal and distinctively local, engendered from their inscription within national and indigenous tradition and yet sensitized to the existential crises of modernity. “Tamayo’s man,” Westheim concluded, “is burdened with sadness, or is bursting with happiness; he laughs, and at times he cries…. The tragedies, the tensions, the conflicts that spring from human association do not make him suffer. His suffering springs from inside himself, from his questions that have no answer, from his anxiety in trying to understand the incomprehensible, from his own humanity.”[3]

“The figures that appear in Tamayo’s latest pictures are the isolated figures or couples that we know, though always viewed afresh,” observed José Corredor Matheos in 1987. “A man and a woman, or two men, united or simply beside each other, without any need to speak one to the other, are interpenetrated to such a degree that they form a single character.” This unspoken understanding between his figures is manifest in the present Gemelos, whose kindred subjects—twinned but not identical—appear in quiet contemplation. Their psychic reciprocity is echoed in their absorption within a mottled, roseate ground inflected with passages and shadings of grey. “It is a matter of interrelation between the several colors, which cease to be entire and solid, and become vaporous, gaseous,” Corredor Matheos continues. “It is as though the figures themselves, and the colors embodying them, were to some extent blended into the atmosphere…. The color is fragmented, broken up, sprinkled like gas. Everything here is nuanced, without any stridency, a strange flowering.”[4] The rich minerality of Tamayo’s color, here in companionable tones ranging from redwood to puce, with smatterings of turquoise and bright red, conveys the equanimity of the twins as they stand transfixed in stillness. As in Character in White (1983), their forms recall those of pre-Hispanic clay figurines, a nod to Mexico’s past and to Tamayo’s own collection, which he left to Oaxaca in the Museo de Arte Prehispánico de México Rufino Tamayo, inaugurated in 1974.

Tamayo’s late work is poignant and auspicious, an affirmation of his enduring belief in humanity and in the process of painting itself. “Painting is the name we give to the sensible translation of the world,” the poet Octavio Paz reflected. “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.”[5]

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

1 Paul Westheim, Tamayo: A Study in Esthetics (Mexico City: Ediciones Artes de México, 1957), 11.
2 Rufino Tamayo, “A Commentary by the Artist,” Tamayo (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1968), 4.
3 Westheim, Tamayo: A Study in Esthetics, 22, 25.
4 José Corredor Matheos, Tamayo (New York: Rizzoli, 1987), 13, 27.
5 Octavio Paz, “An Art of Transfigurations,” Rufino Tamayo: Myth and Magic (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1979), 22.

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