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

Tierra quemada

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)
Tierra quemada
signed and dated 'Tamayo O-51' (lower left)
oil and sand on canvas
31 5/8 x 39 ½ in. (80.3 x 100.3 cm.)
Painted in 1951.
Clara Lefkovitz collection, Mexico City.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 3 June 1999, lot 38 (by descent from the above).
Acquired from the above by the present owners.
C. Palencia, "La voz mexicana en lo universal," México en la cultura, suplemento de novedades, Mexico City, no. 124, 24 June 1951, p. 5 (illustrated).
S. Rueda, "Rufino Tamayo el más grande pintor de México", Impacto, Mexico City, 30 June 1951, p. 49 (illustrated).
G. Valcárcel, "Homenaje a Rufino Tamayo," Idea, artes, y letras, Lima, Yr. III, no. II, February-March, 1952, p. 3 (illustrated).
J. J. Crespo de la Serna, "La gestación de nuestro México en los murales de Tamayo," México en la cultura, suplemento de novedades, Mexico City, no. 222, 21 June 1953, p. 6 (illustrated).
R. Anzures, "Voluntad de arte en tres pintores contemporáneos," Cuadernos Médicos, Mexico City, September 1955 (illustrated).
P. Westheim, Tamayo, Mexico City, Ediciones Arte de México, 1957 (illustrated).
J. Gracia Ponce, "Rufino Tamayo," Revista Humboldt, Mexico City, Yr. 8, no. 29, 1967 (illustrated in color on the cover).
"Rufino Tamayo,", Siempre, Mexico City, No. 756, 20 December 1977 (illustrated).
Mexico City, Salón de la Plástica Mexicana, Galería de Ventas Libres, Rufino Tamayo, 25 June-16 July 1951, no. 8.
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Tamayo, Recent Works, 19 November-15 December 1951, no. 16.
Mexico City, Galerías Excélsior, 30 años de pintura de Rufino Tamayo, 5 November-4 December 1954 (painting incorrectly dated 1950 in listing).
Mexico City, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Sala Nacional, Rufino Tamayo, 50 años de labor pictórica, December 1967, no. 13.

Lot Essay

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

The blinding colors in Tierra quemada describe an apocalyptic conflagration, which engulfs the central fractured figure while consuming the landscape. In this infernal sky, the sun shines less brightly but affords a glimmer of light through the ochre atmosphere. The Aztecs and all the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica revered a vast pantheon of complex and powerful gods associated with the continuum of life. These deities dwelled in twelve celestial realms and each was associated with a specific color.[1] Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli, created all that exists on earth after their older brothers, Tezcatlipoca and Xipe Totec instructed them. Tamayo has rendered the Aztec creation myth in a torrent of yellows and reds—zacatazcalli and cuezalli in the ancient Nahuatl language. The Sun was at the center of their religious beliefs and was associated with the color white. White was the color of transfiguration as the sun daily set in the west and vanished from the sky.[2] Hence the Aztec ruler and his warriors wore white. Moreover, white was associated with Quetzalcóatl.

As numerous scholars have noted, Tamayo’s art is about space and color. Intense and physical, his canvases erupt not only with vibrant color but the very energy of life as they render mankind’s place in the universe. Indeed, Tamayo insisted on this universality as his modernist aesthetic. A classic storyteller illustrating man’s infinite stories, Tamayo’s artistic language was inimitable. His dazzling color palette, applied generously and thickly, as in this work using sand; modernist compositions, and inventive technical experimentation, reinvigorated painting at the mid-mark of the twentieth century. Tierra quemada dates to a time of great international acclaim for Tamayo’s work. In 1950 he was invited to execute a pair of murals at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and had a one-man exhibition at the Venice Biennial. Other exhibitions followed in 1951 with another solo show at the Instituto de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires and later in the same year, the artist received the mural commission for El Hombre at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Margarita Aguilar, Doctoral Candidate, The Graduate Center, New York

1 E. Ferrer Rodríguez, “El color entre los pueblos nahuas,”Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl, v. 31 (2000), 203-219.
2 Ferrer Rodríguez, 220.

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