Rufino Tamayo Biography


Birthday: August 25, 1899 (Virgo)

Born In: Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico

Rufino Tamayo was a Mexican painter, sculptor and a printmaker, who combined the European painting styles with Mexican native themes, with a hint of surrealism. Born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico, Rufino moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt, when he was 12 years old. There he enrolled into an art school and learned the basics of painting. But somehow, he did not relate to their very mainstream way of teaching and began working at a museum, eventually moving to the New York City, where his art flourished. He developed a new way of making graphic prints, called Mixografia. Overtime, his paintings gained fame in Mexico, but somehow, his political ideology of not favouring the Mexican Revolution did not set well with the local artistic community. He opened painting exhibitions in New York City and Mexico, and became popular among the media, thus amassing a large fan following among the art lovers as well. Some of his most popular paintings are ‘Still Life’, ‘Two Bathers’ and ‘Children Playing with Fire’. In the late 1950s, after living in Paris and New York, Rufino moved to Mexico permanently and stayed there until his death in 1991.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Rufino del Carmen Arellanes Tamayo

Died At Age: 91


Spouse/Ex-: Olga Tamayo

father: Ignacio Arellanes

mother: Florentina Tamayo

Born Country: Mexico

Sculptors Mexican Men

Died on: June 24, 1991

place of death: Mexico City, Mexico

More Facts

education: National School of Plastic Arts, Academy of San Carlos

awards: National Prize for Arts and Sciences

Childhood & Early Life

Rufino Tamayo was born Rufino del Carmen Arellanes Tamayo, on August 25, 1899, in Oaxaca, Mexico, to Florentina Tamayo and Manuel Arellanes. He was raised into a middle-class family with his father working as a shoemaker and his mother as a seamstress. He hailed from a Zapotec family, which turned out to be one of the major influences on his artistic style later on.

When he was 12 years old, he lost his mother to tuberculosis, and hence, he moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt, who owned a small business in the city. There, he worked with his aunt in the fruit market, also resuming his academics side by side.

In 1917, his aunt got him enrolled into a school for commercial art, named Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas, located in San Carlos. For some time, Rufino studied art dedicatedly and understood various forms of art, such as Cubism, Impressionism and Fauvism. These were the popular artistic movements in that time. He also learned more mainstream art-styles, and infused them with a distinct Mexican touch.

But soon, in 1921, Rufino Tamayo became dissatisfied with the way in which he was learning and decided to self-study. Living in Mexico City benefitted him greatly, as he ended up learning a lot, and working side by side.

He got a job at the National Museum of Archaeology, as the head of department of the ethnographic drawings. While working there, he was introduced to the pre-Columbian art and he began his learning. He worked there for more than five years and moved to the New York City in 1926.

Continue Reading Below
Recommended Lists:

While Rufino Tamayo was working in the National Museum in New Mexico, he was exposed to the artefacts and the objects from the pre-Columbian era, which somehow shaped up his artistic instincts. He became heavily influenced by them and used them as an inspiration for his art.

He had also opened a small exhibition of his art, which was praised by many for being unique. However, he also invited a lot of criticism for the political undertones he used in his art.

He began his career as a muralist painter. Along with other muralists of the era, he represented the Mexican culture through his art. However, he differed from most of the Mexican artists in a way that he considered the Mexican Revolution to be a bad thing for Mexico in the long run. While many Mexican artists from the era considered the Revolution to be a necessary force in order to establish a new and better society.

Most of his art was also political in nature, with surrealist twists. His 1947 painting titled ‘Children Playing with Fire’ showed two individuals getting burnt by the fire that they had started. It indicated that Mexican people will bring the doom upon themselves through the choices that they would make. His conservative ideas did not set well with most artists, as they considered change to be an essential element towards the uplifting of the Mexican society.

For these reasons, he was considered a ‘traitor’ by the artistic community, because he did not adhere to the majority. He also felt the same in the early 1920s, while he was working in the museum, and also painting alongside. He felt that it was very difficult for him to express himself freely through his art in Mexico City, and hence he decided to move to the New York City.

Rufino Tamayo returned back to Mexico briefly in 1929 and had a solo-exhibition. By this time, he had grown a reputation back home and his works were appreciated. His works were also covered by the media extensively, which led him to become popular in his home country.

One of his main contributions towards the artistic community is related to his body of work in the graphic prints. He used many different techniques to give his art a distinct form and shape and took help from an engineer and printer named Luis Remba, to further expand the aesthetic and technical areas of graphic arts that he wanted to explore.

Thus, he developed a technique that allowed him to develop prints with three dimensional texture, which was named as Mixografia. It also gave Rufino enough freedom to experiment to his heart’s content with different combinations of solid materials.

He had struck gold with the discovery of this new way of graphic printing and throughout his career he created about 80 original Mixografs. One of the most famous of his Mixograph is known as ‘Two Characters Attacked by Dogs’.

Continue Reading Below

Rufino Tamayo was also quite interested in female body and in the early part of his painting career, he painted portraits of many women, many of them nudes. However, after the initial few years of beginning his career as a professional painter, he stopped painting nudes. Despite that, he painted his wife Olga on many canvases and used bold strokes and colours to bring out her state of mind.

One of the most well known paintings of his wife is titled ‘Rufino and Olga’, which was made in 1934. The painting showed them both being broken due to the difficult circumstances that they were facing at that time.

He became a part of an organization called LEAR, Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios, a collective of Mexican painters and writers to exhibit their opinions on the revolutionary wars and the government policies of that time.

In 1948, Rufino’s first big retrospective was held in his home-country, in the Mexico City. Despite the fact that most of his work was considered heavily controversial, he was already a highly popular figure among the Mexicans owing to major media coverage.

The period between 1937 and 1948 was the one when Rufino painted his most celebrated artworks. Some of his most popular artworks during this era are ‘Animals’, ‘Lion and Horse’ and ‘Two Bathers’. He lived in the New York City and had his first major painting exhibition at the Valentine Gallery. He also attended many art exhibitions during his stay in the USA, which further influenced his art in a positive way.

Throughout his career, he painted many celebrated paintings, such as ‘Naturaleza muerta’, ‘Mexico de Hoy’ and ‘America’. In 1990, at the age of 90, he painted his final painting called ‘Moon and Sun’.

In the late 1950s, Rufino Tamayo moved back to Mexico permanently with his wife and built a museum called the Museo Rufino Tamayo, in his hometown of Oaxaca.

Personal Life & Death

In 1934, Rufino Tamayo married Olga Flores and the couple together lived in Mexico, New York City and briefly in Paris.

Rufino was admitted to a hospital in June 1991, due to heart and respiratory failure and passed away on June 24, 1991.

Several exhibitions portraying his artworks were held after his death.

Rufino Tamayo has been honoured by several awards during his lifetime, such as National Prize for Arts and Sciences in Fine Arts in Mexico, Gold Medal in the Fine Arts of Spain and was made the honorary member of the National College of Mexico among other universities.

See the events in life of Rufino Tamayo in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Rufino Tamayo Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Don Gummer Biography
Don Gummer
Auguste Rodin Biography
Auguste Rodin
Niki de Saint Phalle Biography
Niki de Saint Phalle
(American, French)
El Greco Biography
El Greco
(Greek, Spanish)
Andy Goldsworthy Biography
Andy Goldsworthy
Einar Jónsson Biography
Einar Jónsson
Max Ernst Biography
Max Ernst