Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Madre Feliz
signed and dated 'Tamayo O-49' upper left
oil on canvas
49 x 39.5/8in. (126.3 x 100.6cm.)
Painted in 1949
E.F. Gual, Rufino Tamayo, Mexico, 1950, n.n. (illustrated in color) P. Westheim, Tamayo, Mexico, 1957, n.n. (illustrated)
T. Casasu, Arte de Ayer y Hoy, Mexico, 1971, p. 34 (illustrated in color)
Chicago, Tamayo, The Arts Club of Chicago, April 4-28, 1948, n. 4
Mexico City, Rufino Tamayo, Galera Central de Arte Moderno Misrachi, July 15-30, 1949, n. 4
New York, Recent works by Rufino Tamayo, M. Knoedler and Co., April 24-May 13 1950, n. 17
Buenos Aires, Rufino Tamayo, Pinturas y Litografas, Aug. 1951, p. 6, n. 19 (illustrated in color)

Lot Essay

When Rufino Tamayo lived in New York City during the 1940s, he continued to produce an art rooted in a Mexican context. In 1948 the painter affirmed: "having one's feet firmly planted on the earth, even sunken in it, but likewise having one's eyes, ears and mind wide open, scanning all horizons is-in my opinion-the correct posture of the artist." These words almost delineate the central theme of his painting, which adopted a definitive form at that time: the human figure, standing, in the more or less expanded space of the artist's perception. It was in that very decade that Tamayo began to paint figures in the midst of daily action, something that could be as simple and insignificant as the strumming of a guitar or dreaming of reaching the moon. He succeeded in conferring on each situation a poetic dimension that removed the human figure from the normal world in order to place it in circumstances wherein the internal entered into contact with the cosmic.

The canvas Madre Feliz reveals the attention that the painter paid to the theme of the relationship between mother and child. This painting immediately brings to mind the work Maternidad (1943) by Mara Izquierdo, who depicts a humble Mexican mother holding her child as though she were a Madonna, with a halo of sanctity perceivable around her head. In a sense, both works constitute a modern reworking of the medieval theme of the Virgin Mary. In any case, Madre Feliz represents one of the few examples were Tamayo takes up a theme related to Christian iconography. However worldly his treatment of the female figure may seem, the suggestion of a Christ emerging from between the hands of that very large dark woman is extremely powerful. During his adulthood, Rufino Tamayo professed no religion, but he respected the existence of a creating principle: "no doubt there is something that produced this marvelous thing that is life in all its dimensions: if we so desire we can call that force, that universe that different religions portray with a human and even animal figure, God. I respect people's belief and in my case I think one has to respect greatly that being who created life, whatever it may be."

Jaime Moreno Villarreal
Mexico City 1998
Translated by Dr. Wayne H. Finke

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