We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.
In 1926, a young Rufino Tamayo left Mexico a struggling, barely known artist. More than three decades later, he returned permanently, a changed man of international acclaim. In the intervening years, Tamayo had made his way into the rarefied New York and Parisian art worlds, finding representation with esteemed galleries like Weyhe, Julien Levy, Valentine and Galerie Maeght and exhibiting his work at such prestigious institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. Tamayo’s success was hard won; a painter dedicated to the exploration of color, line and form, he was out of step with what was expected of a Mexican artist in the 1930s and 1940s. At the time, Mexican art was synonymous with the overtly political work of men like Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Tamayo’s deliberately apolitical enigmatic images that blurred the line between the figurative and the abstract were therefore not immediately embraced. Eventually, however, the sheer beauty of his sumptuously colored canvases seduced New York audiences.
While Tamayo’s work from his New York period is characterized by richly-hued, monumental figures that often obliquely allude to the artist’s Mexican heritage (see for example Peasant Woman, lot 2), the paintings he produced after his move to Paris in 1949 express an entirely different aesthetic. In the 1950s, those formidable sculptural men and women found in his earlier canvases began dissolving into barely discernable fragmented human forms. Slowly, his figures coalesced into eccentric configurations of circles, ovoids and amorphous patches of color as illustrated in Hombre de la flor, lot 28. Tamayo said of this new stylistic direction in 1951, “I’m pursuing greater simplicity. My figures must be transformed into a mere nucleus. I shall eliminate more and more…who knows, the figures in my next paintings may have neither mouth nor eyes.” (1)
Painted in 1961, Man in a Landscape exemplifies this later period in Tamayo’s career. Distilled to its “mere nucleus”, the work eschews any reference to its title and instead presents an indecipherable mélange of both bulbous and angular shapes floating in an open expanse of indefinable gray. With its lavish display of fiery scarlet, crimson, magenta and ochre juxtaposed with cool cerulean, lavender and turquoise, the painting flaunts Tamayo’s skill as a colorist. In Man in a Landscape it is indeed “color that wins us over” as one reviewer said of Tamayo’s work, “color that is unembarrassed to be beautiful.” (2)
Held in a private collection for more than fifty years, Man in a Landscape is a true discovery in Tamayo’s oeuvre. Bought by the family of the present owner at Galleri Haaken in Oslo in the early 1960s, the work is a testament to Tamayo’s international reach at the time. After establishing himself in Paris in the 1950s, Tamayo soon found his success radiating out through Europe. In Norway alone, the Kunstnernes Hus, one of Oslo’s most important venues for exhibiting international contemporary art, held a solo exhibition of Tamayo’s work in 1959 and the country’s national gallery acquired two of his paintings by that year as well. With such significant institutional support in Norway, it is no surprise that Galleri Haaken, with its strong ties to Parisian dealers and an emphasis on exhibiting international artists, was selling Tamayo’s work by the early 1960s. Now after more than a half century in Norway, Man in a Landscape makes its New York debut.
(1) Hilton Kramer, “Art: A Nevelson Made to Last,” New York Times, December 9, 1977, p. C17.
(2) Rufino Tamayo quoted in I. Suckaer, 'Chronology,' in exhibition catalogue Tamayo: Modern Icon Reinterpreted Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2007 p. 422.