Women of Tehuantepec, 1939
Oil on canvas
33 7/8 x 57 1/8 inches (86 x 145.1 cm)
Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1941
Rufino Tamayo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico to a Zapotecan family. As a boy in school he spent most of his time drawing, which caused his aunt to withdraw him from classes and put him to work as a vendor at her fruit stand. Tamayo also spent a lot of time at the National Museum in Mexico City drawing archaeological treasures, which influenced his art for the rest of his life.
The rich color of Tamayo’s paintings is influenced by the people and art of his native land. Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and Nobel laureate, has said of him, “If I could express with a single word what it is that distinguishes Tamayo from other painters, I would say, without a moment’s hesitation: sun. For the sun is in all his pictures, whether we see it or not.”
The women in Tehuantepec, a town in southern Mexico, are called Tehuanas, and known for their beauty, sensuality, assertiveness, colorful dresses, and role as the traders of the region—characteristics reflected in this painting of a marketplace. It recalls memories of Tamayo’s aunt’s fruit stand, the bright colors and light of Mexico, and the influence of modern art styles from Europe.
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