Artists & Designers

Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957)

Mexican caricaturist, painter, ethnologist, and art historian Miguel Covarrubias was born on November 22, 1904 in Mexico City. He began his career as an illustrator and writer working in the Secretaría de Comunicaciones (Secretary of Communications, Mexico City). In 1919 he was a draughtsman for street plans and maps and created a series of caricatures for Policromías, a student magazine in 1920. From 1921 to 1923, he continued to publish in newspapers such as El Heraldo, El Mundo, and the Universal Ilustrado.

Covarrubias is well-known for his political and social caricatures. After receiving a grant from the Mexican government, he moved to New York in 1924 and began drawing and writing for the magazines Vanity Fair (1924–36) and The New Yorker (1925–50) and published his own book of caricatures The Prince of Wales and other Famous Americans, a witty look at his contemporaries. A man of many talents, he also designed costumes and sets for the theater, where he met his wife, dancer/choreographer Rosa Rolanda (b. Rosamonde Cowen). In the mid to late 1920s, the couple traveled to Mexico, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, and they later married in 1930.

His illustrations brought him international recognition including the 1929 National Art Directors' Medal for painting in color for his work on a Steinway & Sons piano advertisement. His work was featured in various galleries in Europe, Mexico, and the United States. He is famous for his map murals "Pageant of the Pacific" created for the Golden Gate International Exposition at San Francisco in 1939. Covarrubias also played a considerable role in the dissemination of Mexican art throughout the United States as the curator of the exhibition Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1940.

A multifaceted artist, Covarrubias was interested in both ethnology and sociology and published studies on the autochthonous populations of Mexico and other countries, most notably Bali and other islands belonging to the archipelago then known as the Dutch East Indies. In 1942, he and Rosa returned to Mexico City (suburb of Tizapán) where the artist continued to illustrate, paint, write, and participate in formal excavations of the ancient American site of Tlatilco and later created various murals in Mexico City that explored these ethnographic interests. He taught ethnology at the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National School of Anthropology and History) and was later appointed Director of the National Academy of Dance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (the National Palace of Fine Arts). During the last years of his career Covarrubias focused on archaeological work and collecting, publishing studies on ancient American art and making significant contributions to the study of the Olmec civilization. Covarrubias died on February 4, 1957 in Mexico City.

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Related Multimedia

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. 
Audio files

Web Resources

  • Animation Resource
    Read more about the caricatures of Miguel Covarrubias and view some of his work featured in Vanity Fair.
  • National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
    Watch a 2012 video with Warren Perry discussing Covarrubias and his work as a caricature artist in 1920s America.

  • Bond Latin Gallery
    Watch a 2016 video about the artist and his work produced in New York during the Harlem Renaissance.

  • San Antonio Museum of Art
    Watch a 2015 video with Nick Kenna, bartender at Blue Box Bar at the Pearl, as he creates a cocktail inspired by the artist.
  • Banco de Ideas
    Watch a 2004 video in Spanish about the life and work of Miguel Covarrubias.
  • NotimexTV
    Watch a 2016 video in Spanish and learn more about Covarrubias.