Born in 1899, Rufino Tamayo's brilliant career spanned seven decades. the celebrated Mexican painter, along with his notable contemporaries, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, embodied the spirit of his country's 2Oth-century art and was the focus of international attention. A native of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, Rufino Tamayo was born to descendants of Zapotec Indians on August 26, 1899. Orphaned at the age of 12, he was raised by an aunt who owned a wholesale fiuit business in Mexico City. His signature vivid palette may in part be based on the tropical fruits and images of his youth.
In 1917, he entered the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, yet soon left this institution in favor of independent study. Four years later, Tamayo was appointed the head designer of the department of ethnographic drawings at the National Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City. Here he was surrounded by pre-Colombian objects, an aesthetic force that would playa pivotal role in his life. Recognition and celebrity came swiftly. The first exhibitions of Tamayo's artwork were held in 1926 in Mexico City and New York, where a one-man show was held at the Weyhe Gallery. Rufino Tamayo married Olga Flores Rivas, an accomplished concert pianist, in 1934 at the same time, he began to exhibit his work internationally. Expanding his horizons, he spent long stretches in Paris and New York. Tamayo was exposed to the work of major European artists for the first time. From 1933 to 1980, Tamayo painted 21 murals for an array of universities, libraries, museums, civic and corporate clients, hotels and an ocean liner. He was also an influential printmaker, and, in the latter part of his life embarked on the creation of sculpture. Tamayo eschewed the highly politicized themes explored within the works of his peers, the three other Mexican titans, Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros. He favored lyrical imagery and incorporated elements of Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. Mexican folklore and his Indian origins provided a constant source of inspiration for Tamayo, producer of some of the finest murals and paintings in modern Mexico. Critics have extolled the artist's bold and saturated use of color as his most significant contribution to Modern art. the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City, celebrated Tamayo's twenty-fifth year as a painter with a retrospective exhibition in 1948 (and a fiftieth anniversary show in 1968). Two years later, in 1950, three rooms at the Venice Biennale were devoted to his works. Tamayo won the Grand Prix for painting at the Sao Paulo Biennale in Brazil in 1953. He was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur by the French Government in 1957 ( elevated to officiel in 1970 and a Knight Commander of the Order of Merit in 1974), and was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1961.
Some of the world's most prestigious museums, including the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo honored him with one-man shows. The largest Tamayo exhibition ever held was mounted in 1987. The Palace of Fine Arts and the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City brought together more than 700 paintings. Rufino and Olga Tamayo donated the Museum of Pre-Hispanic Mexican Art to their native State of Oaxaca in 1974. Their personal holdings of more than 1,000 pieces of ceramics and sculpture formed the cornerstone of the collection. The Rufino Tamayo Museum of International Contemporary Art opened in Mexico in 1981. It displays many of the artist's works, as well as paintings, sculpture and drawings from his private collection, by luminaries such as Picasso, Miro, Leger and Dali. At the time, it was the first major museum not run by the Government. Rufino Tamayo died in 1991 at the age of 92 in Mexico City.