Rufino Tamayo


Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, on August 26, 1899, Rufino Tamayo was a largely self-taught artist who was influenced by a number of international ideas that informed his representations of Mexican culture . He achieved acclaim in the country with paintings such as “Mujeres de Tehuantepec” and was also well known for his engravings and sculptures . He was a twentieth-century Mexican artist who focused on engraving, painting, and sculpture, manipulating influences outside of his home country. With two museums in his home country named after him, Tamayo died on June 24, 1991.


Personal information

  • When was he born:  08/25/1899
  • Where he was born:  Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico
  • When he died:  06/24/1991
  • Where he died:  Mexico City, Mexico

Who was Rufino Tamayo?

Internationally recognized Mexican painter whose style had a combination of popular and indigenous styles of his country mixed with the different art forms of the avant – garde of Europe such as Cubism.


Rufino Tamayo biography

Rufino Tamayo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico , and after a while he moved to Mexico City with an aunt after the death of his parents. In his early years, he worked in the family business , but developed a passion for art after his aunt enrolled him in art classes. Tamayo began studying art at the National School of Plastic Arts in San Carlos in 1917.


While he was studying in this place, he was strongly influenced by Impressionism , Cubism and Fauvism . Due to dissatisfaction with his studies, he decided to drop out of school and went to work with José Vasconcelos in the Ethnographic Drawings Department in 1921. Over time he was promoted to head of his department .

In 1935, Tamayo joined the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists , a place where artists could use their paintings and other works of art to express their feelings about the Mexican Revolutionary War and other issues related to the Mexican government . Along with four other artists, Tamayo was chosen to represent his art at the first Congress of American Artists in New York. 

Throughout his career, he also became known for painting murals and images of women. He created several paintings that portrayed images of his wife Olga, including the Rufino and Olga piece that he painted in 1934. He died in Mexico City on June 24, 1991 .


Rufino Tamayo’s artistic work was mainly characterized by wanting to integrate plastically, in his works, the autochthonous pre-Columbian heritage , experimentation and new plastic trends that produced a revolution in the artistic environments of Europe at the beginning of the century.

He is considered a muralist for his syncretic activity , the attention to the artistic movements and theories from the other side of the Atlantic that distinguish him, and for the concern to maintain an absolute aesthetic independence with respect to the parameters that existed in Europe .

In his works he moves away from the chronicle of power to focus on the ancient universe of indigenous myths and their representations to recover the living heritage of the past and tradition.

The density of color and the warmth of the texture are applied in different techniques: oil, tempera, engraving, drawing, mural, watercolor, stained glass , lithography, sculpture or mixography, which are an expressive vehicle of the human condition.

Rufino Tamayo Technique

Rufino Tamayo’s works of art frequently feature images that are closely related to the Zapotec legacy . One of his most important paintings is known as ” Children playing with fire ” which symbolized the people of Mexico being hurt by their own decisions. Between the years of 1925 and 1991, Tamayo managed to make different pieces of graphic art that consisted of etchings, lithographs, woodcuts and Mixography prints .

The mixografía was the name that had been given to a technique of art created by Tamayo and Mexican painter who combined prints with three – dimensional textures . He had a passion for painting the internal environments , the atmosphere , the urban or village landscapes, the nature of his local reality.


Rufino Tamayo was a very recognized painter who received a great series of recognitions both in his country of origin and in the world. Some of the most important are:

  • 2nd Prize from the Pittsburgh International They would exhibit
  • National Prize of Sciences and Arts in Fine Arts of Mexico
  • Denomination of Favorite Son by the government of Oaxaca
  • Doctor Honoris Causa from the universities of Manila, in 1974 and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in 197910
  • Florence Gold Cup (1975)
  • Albert Einstein Medal from the Technion Institute of Israel (1983)
  • Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts by King Juan Carlos I of Spain
  • Colouste Gulbenkian Award from the Paris Institute of Arts
  • Officer of the Order of the Legion of Honor of France
  • Belisario Domínguez Medal of the Senate of the Republic
  • Honorary member of the National College on May 21, 1991

Works by Rufino Tamayo

Among his works we can mention:

  • Man before infinity : work related to galaxies, planets and stars.
  • Three characters : considered one of his greatest specimens in his mature stage.
  • The great galaxy : places the human being as a tiny being with respect to the earth.
  • Portrait of Olga : she was his wife in 1934 and he used her image as inspiration, making her his muse . She helped Tamayo grow in the international field.
  • The universe : work he made to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Alpha Planetarium.


Some of the most recognized phrases of Rufino Tamayo are:

  • The life is beautiful. And it’s tough too, both. You have to handle that.
  • I am very Mexican , there is no remedy. Where I have been, what feeds me is Mexico.
  • That is my goal: to make, through my painting , Mexico known , esteemed.
  • The drawing must be understood as a linear expression . Fluency in drawing comes from drawing.
  • I am against all forms of academia . Technique is a personal matter. (…) Each artist must discover his own technique.

Leave a Comment