Covarrubias, Miguel (1904–1957)

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Covarrubias, Miguel (1904–1957)

Miguel Covarrubias (b. 22 November 1904; d. 4 February 1957), Mexican artist. Miguel Covarrubias was extremely multifaceted, particularly in artistic and cultural endeavors. A native of Mexico City, he was a caricaturist, set designer, book illustrator, cartographer, painter, writer, art historian, ethnologist, and anthropologist. His work on the Olmec civilization made a major archaeological contribution, and his innovative museum installations forever changed the way exhibitions are designed. Toward the end of his life, as director of dance at the Instituto de Bellas Artes, he created a nationalist dance movement that initiated what has been termed the golden age of modern Mexican dance.

In everything that Covarrubias accomplished he remained an artist. He possessed a rare intuitive ability to capture and synthesize at a glance the essentials of character or situation, as demonstrated by his famous caricatures for Vanity Fair and his illustrations for his first books, The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans (1925) and Negro Drawings (1927).

Covarrubias married Rosemonde Cowan, a dancer and choreographer, in 1930. She became his collaborator as researcher and photographer for his next two books, The Island of Bali (1938) and Mexico South (1946). In the early 1940s, they returned to live permanently in Mexico, where they entertained many of the major intellectual and show-business figures of the time.

As he matured, Covarrubias immersed himself in studies of early historical happenings, peoples, folklore, and civilizations, principally on the American continent and in Polynesia. He wrote and illustrated The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent (1954) and Indian Art of Mexico and Central America (1957).

Terence Grieder has said, "In some ways, Covarrubias was a man out of his age. The typical thought of his day took mathematical or statistical form rather than the pictorial form, which was his, and incidentally the Renaissance way of expressing thought. But he typified the best of twentieth-century humanism: its fascination with the visual arts, its openness to other cultures, and its desperate and doomed struggle to preserve the humane virtues of the traditional societies against technocratic commercialism."

Miguel Covarrubias was the encyclopedic artist of Mexico's rebirth. When he died in Mexico City, he had won a lasting place as a distinguished artist, scholar, teacher, and advocate of Mexican cultural studies. His final gesture to the Mexican people was the gift of his extraordinary pre-Columbian collection to the National Museum.

See alsoArt: The Twentieth Century .


Terence Grieder, "The Divided World of Miguel Covarrubias," in Americas, 23 (May 1971): 19-24.

Adriana Williams, Covarrubias (1994).

Additional Bibliography

Poniatowska, Elena. Miguel Covarrubias: Vida y mundos. Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 2004.

                                                  Adriana Williams