Tamayo, Rufino (1899–1991)

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Tamayo, Rufino (1899–1991)

Rufino Tamayo (b. 26 August 1899; d. 24 June 1991), Mexican painter. Tamayo was born in Oaxaca, with its strong pre-Hispanic cultural heritage and Indian population. In 1907 his mother died and the family moved to a different neighborhood, where he began a very intense Catholic and musical education. In 1910–1911, Tamayo lived in Mexico City with his aunt. There he discovered a profound interest in drawing. He earned his living selling fruit. In 1917 he entered the National School of Fine Arts, which he abandoned because of its mediocrity and his lack of interest. Tamayo received almost no formal artistic training, but he acquired a fundamental education from drawing the pre-Hispanic objects and folk art in the Ethnographic Section of the National Museum of Archaeology.

His first solo show took place in 1926 in Mexico City. The twenty paintings and watercolors in that show already displayed his personal use of color and the peculiar images and iconography that characterized his future work. Immediately after, he moved to New York City and became acquainted with and lived near Marcel Duchamp, Stuart Davis, and Reginald Marsh. In October 1926 he opened an exhibition that was well received. In fact, Tamayo was first recognized in the United States and Europe, and only later in his own country. In 1928 he returned to Mexico and began to participate in group shows with Mexican artists. He taught painting at the National School of Fine Arts (1928–1930). Tamayo painted a series of still lifes, although in 1938 his themes centered on portraits and the feminine figure.

The 1930s were important in Tamayo's life. He painted his first mural, The Music and the Song, for the National School of Music (1933). In 1936 he again moved to New York, where he lived until 1944. He participated in a New York City project for the Works Progress Administration, which he never completed. At the end of the 1930s his painting began to be acclaimed because of its universal and Mexican meanings. He taught at the Dalton School in New York City and showed his paintings in several galleries. In 1949 he made his first trip to Europe, where he visited France, Spain, Holland, England, and Italy. He lived in Paris for several months. In the later decades of his life, Tamayo worked on his paintings, exploring the richness of the texture of canvas and working with sand, marble powder, and other material.

See alsoArt: The Twentieth Century; Hispanics in the United States.


Rufino Tamayo: Myth and Magic (1979); Rufino Tamayo (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Paz, Octavio. Rufino Tamayo: Tres ensayos. México: Colegio Nacional, 1999.

Suckaer, Ingrid. Rufino Tamayo: Aproximaciones. México, D.F.: Editorial Praxis, 2000.

                                   BÉlgica RodrÍguez