Artists & Designers

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)

Rufino Tamayo was a Mexican printmaker, painter, and muralist, known for his innovation in lithography, monumental paintings, and vivid use of color. Born on August 26, 1899 in Oaxaca, Mexico, Tamayo briefly trained at the Academia de San Carlos (San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts), before leaving only a year later to teach himself.

Tamayo resided regularly in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1930s Tamayo moved to New York, where he would become inspired by modern art, especially the work of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse. Tamayo was active in the movement toward large-scale Mexican painting and the Mexican muralist school. His work had a great impact, for in his style he managed to synthesize the Mexican, French, and New York avant-garde while searching for the expression of a Mexican national identity. His values were essentially oriented toward the defense of a Mexican aesthetic language—constant reference to figuration without being properly narrative or mimetic—and the need for universality in art. The nationalism open to foreign influences proposed by Tamayo was vigorously opposed to the theories of “The Big Three,” or Los Tres __Grandes: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, who were in favor of a single nationalist language that, in theory at least, would accept no influences from abroad. Throughout his career, Tamayo exhibited the aesthetic and iconography of the post-Revolutionary Mexican School, avoiding the controversial subject matter preferred by his contemporaries.

Tamayo lived in Paris from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s, working on perfecting his lithographic technique, eventually settling in Mexico. In 1974 he donated his large collection of pre-Columbian art to the city of Oaxaca, which served as the foundation for the Rufino Tamayo Museum of pre-Hispanic Art. A few years before his death in 1981, Tamayo and his wife donated their collection of international art to the Mexican state. This collection later became the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City (Museo Rufino Tamayo, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo). Tamayo died on June 24, 1991 in Mexico City.

Adapted from

  • Erin Piñon, DMA unpublished material, 2016.
  • México 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant Garde, Gallery text [Rufino Tamayo in New York], 2017.

Related Multimedia

Audio Files
Clip from The Lone Star Regionalist: The Legacy of Jerry Bywaters; DMA Collection 1953.22
Gallery talk by Carlos Donjuan, Artist and Adjunct Professor of Art, University of Texas, Arlington, about the artist Rufino Tamayo and the painting El Hombre (Man) [DMA collection 1953.22]
Audio files
Explore masterpieces of Mexican modern art with Dr. Agustín Arteaga, The Eugene McDermott Director of the DMA and the organizing curator for México 1900-1950. Dr. Arteaga discusses key themes in the exhibition, which documents an artistic renaissance in Mexico through painting, sculpture, film, photography, and printmaking. 
Presented in partnership with the Dallas Opera; Curator Heather MacDonald discusses six works in the Museum's collection that inspired the new musical composition, A Question of Light, inspired by objects in the DMA and dedicated to Margaret McDermott; Objects include Eccentric flint (1983.45.McD); Gerald Murphy, Watch (1963.75.FA); Magritte, The Light of Coincidences (1981.9); Mondrian, Place de la Concorde (1982.22.FA); Tamayo, El Hombre (1953.22); Caillebotte, Yellow Roses in a Vase (2010.13.McD)

Web Resources