We are grateful to art historian Juan Carlos Pereda for his assistance cataloguing this work.
Rufino Tamayo’s enduring preoccupation with the human condition was amply manifested throughout his life in a dazzling production of extraordinary works such as his earliest explorations of diverse forms of modernism reflected in his oeuvre dating from the 1920s and 30s; his masterful compositions in abstract figuration of the 1940s and 50s that gained him international acclaim; and his mature works, such as the exquisite Tres personajes, a semi-abstract composition in which exuberant colors explode in sheer virtuosity. Unlike his Mexican compatriots Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, Tamayo rejected a social realist art but was unwavering in his pursuit of a universal medium that did not succumb to a political ethos. Instead, he was a modernist not compromised with or dictated by state patronage that promulgated a quaint depiction of Mexico’s past mythologized for mass consumption. Tamayo’s aesthetic, although influenced by the School of Paris, was deeply rooted in his ancient Mexican culture and history. “Humor, irony, drama--are constants in Tamayo’s work,” scholar and art critic Jorge Alberto Manrique notably expressed.1 Indeed, Tamayo’s decades-long artistic journey engaged with the epic humanistic themes that are movingly transcendental, ultimately universal, and always constant.
Tamayo’s lush palette of reds, purples and glints of bright and soft yellows creates a harmonious space for the figures to inhabit. They occupy a magical terrain swathed in a red aura that heightens their presence while allowing them to become part of the visual tapestry the artist has rendered with unabashed delight. These are the vibrant colors of his childhood when as a young boy he worked in his aunt’s fruit stall in Mexico City. He summons the luscious reds of the plump and juicy sandías, the royal purples of the prickly pears and figs, and always the vibrant yellows of the delectable guava and the sweet mangoes. “I have been conquered by color. I do not need to seek it out. It has a hold on me forever, I know it well…Color and I, are one,” Tamayo exclaimed early on about his emotional affair with color.2 Color for Tamayo had transformative power and was the instrument that evoked the eternal and through which contemplation could transpire.
His paintings from the 1970s onward are poignant expressions of his most intimate beliefs, especially after witnessing the century’s most devastating war. Dialogue, (sold at Christie’s in May 2014), and the present Tres personajes, are clear affirmations of life, and the triumph of the human spirit. Like his contemporary Mark Rothko, Tamayo had embarked on a persistent exploration of light and abstraction, not as a mere exercise in developing a new pictorial art but as a way with which to transfigure his forms. Through color, his forms could gain a voice and transmit feeling. In 1949 Rothko prophetically wrote that his purpose as an artist was to move toward "clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between painter and idea."3 Like Rothko whose compositions beginning from the late 1940s to the end of his life, such as Untitled, (1947), wherein he dissolves his forms or figures through color to create an immediate emotional experience, Tamayo’s brilliant application of color in Tres personajes, imbues his work with such ineffable intensity. For Rothko painting was a “means of philosophic thought;” the artist, he firmly believed, was a seer and philosopher like the ancient Greeks “assaying and foretelling the fate of humanity.”4 Both artists bestowed concrete shape to feeling through their exceptional use of color. However, Tamayo never disowned his figures or forms, preferring them to look back at us. Through them, our past could be explained, future revealed, and our collective existence shared.
Margarita J. Aguilar, Doctoral Candidate, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
1 Rufino Tamayo: 70 años de creación, exhibition catalogue, (Mexico City: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional and Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, 1987-1988), 40. Author’s translation from Spanish.
2 Rufino Tamayo, quoted in Rufino Tamayo: 70 años de creación, 123. Author’s translation from Spanish.
3 Cited in S. Polcari, “Mark Rothko: Heritage, Environment, and Tradition,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring, 1988), Chicago: The University of Chicago Press Smithsonian American Art Museum, 58.
4 S. Polcari, 33, 59.
Oil and sand on canvas
Property from an Important American Collection
Signed and dated 'Tamayo O-70’ (upper right) and inscribed ‘TRES PERSONAJES’ (on the reverse)
El Salvador, Galería Nacional de Arte/Ministerio de Educación, Tamayo expone en El Salvador, 19 November-3 December 1970, no. 17.
Mexico City, Galería Misrachi, Pintura Reciente de Rufino Tamayo, February, 1971, no. 8.
New York, Perls Galleries, Rufino Tamayo Oil Paintings 1970-1971, 9 November-11 December 1971, no 2.
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Cent oeuvres de Tamayo: Peintures 1960-1974, 27 November 1974-2 February 1975, no. 49.
Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, Rufino Tamayo, 1 March-30 April 1975.
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo and Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Rufino Tamayo: 70 años de creación, December 1987 - March 1988.
38 ¼ x 51 ¼ in. (97.2 x 130.2 cm.)
E. Genauer, Rufino Tamayo, New York, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1974, no. 112, illustrated (also illustrated on the cover).
O. Paz and J. Lassaigne, Rufino Tamayo, New York, Rizzoli, 1982, p. 169, no. 131, (illustrated).
J. Corredor-Matheos, Tamayo, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1987, no. 82, (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Rufino Tamayo 70 años de creación, Mexico City, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo and Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, 1987-1988, n.p., (illustrated).
D. Bayón, Hacia Tamayo, Mexico D.F., Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo, 1995, p. 78, n.n., (illustrated).
O. Paz and J. Lassaigne, Rufino Tamayo, Barcelona, Ediciones Polígrafa, S.A., 1995, p. 171, no. 131, (illustrated).
Galería Misrachi, Mexico City.
Perls Galleries, New York (1970).
Steven Jacobsen, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 11 May 1977, lot 92, illustrated in color.
Hooker collection, Houston (reported missing late 1980s and then recovered in 2007).
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 20 November 2007, lot 21, illustrated in color.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.