Rufino Tamayo (Mexican (active New York), 1899-1991)
Laughing Woman, 1950
Oil on canvas 39 1/2 in. x 32 in. (100.33 cm x 81.28 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase1965.27
Widely regarded as Mexico’s foremost colorist, Rufino Tamayo was born in Oaxaca and began his art study in Mexico City. He accepted a position as head of the art department at Mexico’s National Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City soon after beginning his studies and was inspired by the heritage he discovered there. He introduced into his own style designs, colors, and textures he found in historic pieces, which made his art dramatically different from that of the celebrated muralists who drew their subjects from the more recent revolutionary past. Significantly, Tamayo’s work revived an interest in easel painting, but in Mexico he remained overshadowed by Diego Rivera, José David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. In 1936, Tamayo moved to New York City, where he lived until 1949. He and his wife Olga then moved to Paris. In New York, his circle included luminaries such as Marcel Duchamp, Reginald Marsh, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Stuart Davis, and eventually collectors such as Samuel A. Lewisohn, vice-president of the Museum of Modern Art. Only when he returned to Mexico in 1961 did Tamayo receive the recognition at home that he readily garnered abroad. Tamayo did regard his work as progressive, and in cosmically themed paintings from the 1940s and ’50s he dealt with the arrival of the space age and his fears of annihilation. By the time he executed Laughing Woman, he was not alone in such anxiety, but he was at heart a humanist whose figures expressed dignity and joy more often than terror.