Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
1 More
Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)

Paisaje árido

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Paisaje árido
signed and dated 'Tamayo O-73' (lower right) titled 'PAISAJE ARIDO' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
38 x 51 in. (96.5 x 129.5 cm.)
Painted in 1973.
Perls Galleries, New York.
Bernard Lewin Galleries, Los Angeles.
The Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art.
Gift from the above.
E. Genauer, Rufino Tamayo, New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1974, no. 129 (illustrated).
New York, Perls Galleries, Rufino Tamayo, Oil Paintings 1972-1973, 6 November - 8 December 1973, no. 15 (illustrated).
Mexic City, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexican Masterpieces from the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection, 1 April - 1 July 1998.
Further details
1 “Rufino Tamayo, pintor.” YouTube video, 28:27, “Canal 11,” February 20, 2011. “Hay un manejo de un lenguaje plástico que nunca deja la figuración, pero al mismo tiempo nunca se de plenamente a una abstracción pura.” My translation.
2 “Rufino Tamayo, pintor.” YouTube video, 28:27, “Canal 11,” February 20, 2011. “Representa una vena del arte mexicano que es a la vez vanguardista, mexicano, y Europea, las tres cosas a la vez.” My translation.
3 Barbara Braun, “Rufino Tamayo: Indigenous or Cosmopolitan Painter,” Art Criticism, 1.4 (1981): 52–67.
4 See Arturo Melgoza Paralizabal, “Jose María Velasco, pintor muy mediocre: Tamayo,” Excelsior, April 21, 1974.
5 See Una capilla de Oaxaca (1920), El Calvario de Oaxaca (1921) and Pátzcuaro (1921).
6 See Caballo viendo la luna (1934) and Hombre con caballo (1934) for example.
7 On Stridentism in Mexico and Tamayo’s participation see, Lynda Klich, The Noisemakers: Estridentismo, Vanguardism, and Social Action in Postrevolutionary Mexico (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018).
8 See chronology by Ingrid Suckaer in Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, Ed. Diana C. Du Pont (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007), 416-426.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.
“[In Tamayo] there is the practice of a plastic language that never stops being figurative, but at the same time never gives itself over fully to pure abstraction.”
—Karen Cordero Reiman, 20211
“[Tamayo] represents a line of Mexican art that is three things at once: avant-garde, Mexican, and European.”
—Teresa del Conde, 20212
Rufino Tamayo is known for having synthesized and interpreted in painting his close study of pre-Columbian sculpture, lessons from the School of Paris (Pablo Picasso in particular as art historian Barbara Braun has argued),3 and local color (from the bright palette used on the façade of Mexican houses, to the luscious hues of tropical fruits). Stylistically committed to the language of figurative abstraction by exploring geometric form, he rejected the social realism of the Mexican School to develop his version of arte puro (pure art), where he focused on formal, aesthetic concerns and a non-narrative, universal language. Often, he considered man and woman’s relationship to their surroundings, whether the cosmos, the land, or a man-made structure. That encompassing space primarily served as an opportunity to create sumptuous surfaces where he enjoyed, during his 8-hour work days, slowly building up texture and shifting hues on his canvases.
Barren Landscape (Paisaje árido) of 1973 presents a rare example in Tamayo’s long, productive career, where the uninhabited landscape is the sole focus of a painting. More typically, the figure—whether animal, human, or object—communes with its environment. Tamayo, along with Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo) and Joaquín Clausell, was one of the few Mexican modernists to reinvent the genre of landscape breaking away from the mimetic, naturalistic approach to painting nature taught in the Academia de San Carlos beginning in 1855 when the Italian Eugenio Landesio was contracted from Rome to develop a landscape program.
Teaching painting from direct observation, Landesio would take his promising students Luis Coto and José María Velasco on two-to-three-week nature-study excursions to local landmarks such as the caverns of Cacahuamilpa, the volcano Popocatépetl, or Cerro Tenayo with its vast view of the Valley of Mexico. A Romantic landscape painter, Landesio’s pastoral scenes stylistically followed the legacies of 17th Century painters Claude Lorrain of France and Dutch Jacob van Ruisdael. Landesio’s students would meticulously capture the local monuments, flora and fauna, recording in their paintings a clearly recognizable Mexican national identity. Maguey, nopal, candelabra cactus, ahuehuete (cypress), the baths of Nezahuacoyotl, pyramids, the Villa of Guadalupe, all spoke of a place: Mexico.
A theme that Velasco returned to repeatedly was the panoramic perspective of the Valley of Mexico as seen from the surrounding mountains; his masterful landscapes won him international acclaim and awards at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia (1876), the Universal Exposition in Paris (1889) where he was bestowed the Legion of Honor, and the Chicago World’s Fair (1893). A professor at the Academia de San Carlos since 1877, Velasco died in 1912; Rufino Tamayo’s 1915 part-time enrollment in the school, meant that their paths did not directly coincide. Nonetheless, Velasco’s place as national treasure and the greatest Mexican landscape painter of the 19th Century was secure, his artistic influence unavoidable; surely Velasco’s Valle de México of 1877 and its many versions Tamayo knew well early on. And while Tamayo’s Barren Landscape (Paisaje árido) can be read as responding to Velasco with a synthetic view of the Valley of Mexico, the landscape could just as easily be inspired, for example, in the Bardenas Reales badlands of Spain. Tamayo found Velasco’s classical approach lacking and rebelled against it.4
Perhaps in the back of Tamayo’s mind was engraved the first photographic image of a landscape ever captured. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce is credited with achieving the first lasting photograph of nature, a view from his window at Le Gras; the “heliograph” (sun writing) as he named the result, was secured with a camera obscura through the lengthy exposure of the prepared plate to the sun. Tamayo may have taken in the image’s graininess, the pronounced central triangular shape, the clean horizon line, the strong geometrical composition, the mysterious atmosphere, all echoed in Barren Landscape (Paisaje árido). But Tamayo had little interest in reproducing either Niépce’s realism or Velasco’s scientific naturalism, but rather, he chased after that free expression, staccato rhythm, and open reading achieved in Barren Landscape (Paisaje árido).
At the beginning of his career, Tamayo, while a full-time student from 1917-1921 at the Academia de San Carlos (by then renamed the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, ENBA), was taken by his teacher Roberto Montenegro on field trips to Oaxaca and Michoacán; there in plein air Tamayo experimented with Fauvist color and divisionist brushstrokes to reinterpret pueblo scenes of colonial architecture and foliage.5 Then, as a teacher at ENBA in the late 1920s, Tamayo met and shared a studio with the young artist María Izquierdo; in dialogue with her art, he reduced the palette and the content of his landscapes to just a variety of hues of a single color and a few elements—rocks, tree trunk, horse, moon, land, and human figure.6 At other times Tamayo interrupted a landscape’s horizon in a metaphysical manner with receding walls to direct the viewer’s eye and strategically placed shapes to create a visual rhythm. Or, power lines and airplanes cut through the horizon in a Stridentist mode, as Tamayo acknowledged technology’s advance on nature.7 Like other members of Los contemporáneos (The Contemporaries), the vanguard group of writers, poets, and artists, Tamayo was not interested in narrow nationalisms; rather, fascinated by the expressive quality of paint and geometric form, he developed a universal plastic language.
In 1973, at the time he painted this view of a parched land and its sister canvas Tiera erosionada (Eroded Land) of 1972, Tamayo was in his early 70s. He could look back on a long, fruitful career, and would continue producing for another 18 years. Accolades were constant; for example, like Velasco before him, France awarded Tamayo the Legion of Honor in 1970, and he received the Command of the Order of Merit from the Italian Republic the following year. In 1974 alone, he presented solo exhibitions in modern art museums in Mexico City, Paris, and Florence; additionally, in his native Oaxaca he inaugurated the long-awaited Museo de Arte Prehispánico de México Rufino Tamayo with his 1,300-piece collection. In turn, his birth state awarded him the Juárez Medal.8 By then he was painting from his newly constructed, light-filled, verdant home at #12 Callejón del Santísimo in the San Ángel neighborhood of Mexico City, while travelling occasionally to far-away lands such as China and throughout Latin America. At his studio in San Ángel he likely painted Barren Landscape (Paisaje árido), which he exhibited at Perls Galleries in New York that same year. A mature artist, his professional life was far from barren, but one of abundant activity, recognition, and opportunity.
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