Lot 13
  • 13

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)

2,000,000 - 2,200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Rufino Tamayo
  • El Comedor de Sandías
  • signed and dated O-49 upper right
  • 39 by 31 5/8 in.
  • (99 by 80.4 cm)
oil on canvas


Acquired from the artist (1951)
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc. New York (1952)
Stanley Wolf, California
Sale: Sotheby's Parke Bernet, New York, 19th and 20th Century Mexican Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture and Prints, May 9, 1980, lot 68, illustrated in color
Private Collection, Monterrey


Paris, Galerie Beaux Arts; Brussels, Palais de Beaux Arts, Tamayo, November 8, 1950-January 7, 1951, no. 8
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Tamayo Recent Works, November 19-December 15, 1951, no. 3
Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago, Tamayo, 1952, no. 20
Houston, The Contemporary Arts Association of Houston, 1952, no. 15
Fort Worth, Forth Worth Art Museum, Tamayo, January 7-February 2, 1952, no. 15, illustrated on the cover
Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago, Tamayo, April 4, 1983, no. 20
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle; Vienna, Messepalast; Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Imagen de México, December 5, 1987-October 30, 1988, pp. 317-318, illustrated in color
Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Hechizo de Oaxaca, November, 1991-March, 1992, p. 188, illustrated in color
Nagoya, Nagoya City Art Museum; Kamakura, The Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art, Rufino Tamayo Retrospectiva, October 9, 1993-March 21, 1994, p. 56, no. 39, illustrated in color in the catalogue and on the invitation to the opening and exhibition poster for the Nagoya City Art Museum
Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Siglo XX Grandes Maestros Mexicanos: País de realidad y sueño, July, 2002-January, 2003, p. 232, no. 236, illustrated in color in the catalogue and on the invitation
Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Miami, Miami Art Museum; Mexico City, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, February 17, 2007-January 21, 2008, p. 288, no. 85, illustrated in color


Ceferino Palencia, "La voz mexicana en lo universal del arte de Rufino Tamayo en México en la cultura," Suplemento de Novedades, No. 125, June 24, 1949, p. 5, illustrated
Raimont Cogniat, "Rufino Tamayo, Collection Artist de ce temps," Paris, 1951, no. 2, illustrated
André Breton, Europa en Documents, No. 4, January, 4, 1951, illustrated
Paul Westheim, Tamayo: Una Investigación Estética, Mexico City, Artes de México, 1957, illustrated
Octavio Paz, "Tamayo en la Pintura Mexicana," Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Dirección General de Publicaciones, No. 6, 1959, p. 58, no. 46, illustrated
Octavio Paz, "Tamayo et la Peinture Mexicaine," Cahiers du Musée de Poche, No. 1, March, 1959, p. 88, illustrated
Katie Donovan, Watermelon Man, Great Britain, Blooxdale Books Ltd., 1993, illustrated in color on the cover
Teresa del Conde, Tamayo, Mexico, Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo, Américo Editores, 1998, p. 40, illustrated in color
Octavio Paz, Rufino Tamayo, tres ensayos: Edición conmemorativa del Centenario de Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, El Colegio Nacional, 1999, p. 47, illustrated in color
Claudia Burr Muro, Yo miro, miro todo el tiempo Rufino Tamayo: basado en pinturas y textos de Rufino Tamayo, Mexico, Ediciones Tecolote, 2000, p. 26, no. 12, illustrated in color
Octavio Paz, Rufino Tamayo, Mexico, Presidencia de la República, 2003, no. 32, illustrated in color
Marta Traba, Dos Décadas Vulnerables en las Artes Plásticas Latinoamericanas, 1950-1970, Argentina, Siglo XXI Editores, 2005, discussed pp. 82-83

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1949, Watermelon Eater has become a classic within the artist's repertoire of works and has been featured in Tamayo's numerous retrospectives. This highly emblematic work seems etched in our collective memory while its image in countless publications has further solidified its prestige. Its eloquent and emotive power coupled with its opulent color and scale has certainly defined it as a mandatory reference within the painter's mature phase.


The year 1949 was a significant one for Tamayo and for the evolution of his work as it was the year that the artist turned fifty and decided to move his home to Paris, after fifteen years of residence in New York. It was also during this period that the painter began to develop a visual language that would convey a sense of the modern man's unknown and complex existential condition as he stood at the crossroads of the post-War era with the political, social, economic, and above all, the spiritual circumstances of the world becoming increasingly more uncertain.


Watermelon Eater reveals many of these concerns vis à vis this crucial historical moment which Tamayo ably de-codified in his paintings in a manner that was exceedingly eloquent and moving.


A year earlier, in 1948, Tamayo had been lauded by Mexican critics and the public during his retrospective at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes which was installed in the galleries of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico's premier cultural space. This was the same institution that had previously bestowed similar honors and thus validated the work of José María Velasco, José Guadalupe Posada, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.


This exhibition acknowledged twenty-five years of Tamayo's career as a visual artist and inducted him within the pantheon of the most significant representatives of Mexican art. The exhibition included eighty-two works spanning the artist's career from 1928-1948. Tamayo's prestige as one of Mexico's leading artists would be further solidified in 1950 when along with Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros he represented Mexico in its National Pavilion at the XXV Venice Biennial. The selection of sixteen works produced from 1935-1950 was made by the art historian Fernando Gamboa.


The combination of physical attributes that distinguish the Watermelon Eater reveal much empathy and tenderness, yet they are also quite disconcerting. The colossal protagonist has a ferociously happy face and a Pantagruelian appearance, while simultaneously reminiscent of the popular characters that abounded Mexican cinema in the 1940s. Positioned in a half-stance and leaning forward while seated at a table rendered in a dramatic foreshortened angle reminiscent of Cézanne, our character laughs energetically as he observes the rotund and luminous watermelon slice before him. His robust hands are rough but expressive as he embraces himself. Dressed in a tight black shirt and overalls, his look is topped off with an extravagant hat that recalls the one worn by Cantinflas in the portrait Tamayo had painted of the beloved comedian just a year earlier.


In the construction of the physiognomy of the character, Tamayo evokes Picasso's influence, which he does not imitate, but rather prefers to engage with aspects of his expressionism and in a way transforms it ferociously with pre-Columbian art. The use of a fiery red in the base of the face is revealed in the fine expression lines and in the corners of the mouth imbuing the creature with a certain devilish quality. His small, but shiny eyes look out at the viewer with an intense and penetrating gaze which in contrast does not detract from the energy and candor of the grin that blossoms from his teeth. The simple still life that appears in the foreground is comprised of a beautiful slice of watermelon and a cherry which provides a counterpoint to the colorful composition. The watermelon appears to be illuminated from within and its brilliance is duplicated in the character's smile. Watermelon Eater combines two genres that occupied the artist's enthusiasm for quite some time—the still life and the creation of these singular characters that reveal the complexity of modern man. Reflecting a shared sentiment with other artists of his time, Tamayo sought to surrender to the sublime without admonishing elements associated with monstrosity and tenderness or the evocation of fear and loneliness, as is so eloquently and beautifully rendered in this painting.