RUFINO TAMAYO (1899-1991), widely acknowledged as one of modern art’s major international masters, was born in the Mexican state of Oaxaca to a seamstress mother and a shoemaker father. Throughout his career, he pursued painting in what he called “the Mexican tradition,” resisting the trend of politically based nationalistic-themed works that dominated Mexican art after the Mexican revolution. Tamayo’s commitment to painting as a spiritual activity separated him from many of his peers such as Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco.
Orphaned at 12, Tamayo went to live with his grandmother in Mexico City and developed his skills sketching archeological treasures, particularly pre-Columbian objects, at the National Museum. He studied briefly at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts and eventually, in addition to teaching art in the public school system, was appointed head designer of the department ofethnographic drawings at the National Museum of Archeology in Mexico City.
In 1926, Tamayo headed for New York. His initial shows with the Weyhe Gallery and the Valentine Gallery were successful and the artist was praised for his ‘authentic’ status as a Mexican of indigenous heritage as well as his appealing Modernist aesthetic. During this period Tamayo continued teaching, at the Dalton school, and after several returns to Mexico finally settled in New York in 1937.
During this period, Tamayo began to exhibit internationally. He painted his first mural in the United States at the Hillyer Art Library at Smith College. In 1946, Vogue magazine referred to him as “the best of young painters” and Look magazine named him a “fixed star in he New York art world.”