Lot 1048
  • 1048

Miguel Covarrubias

1,600,000 - 2,200,000 HKD
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  • Miguel Covarrubias
  • Every Night is Festival Night
  • Signed
  • Gouache and watercolor on paper
  • Executed CIRCA 1932
The painting was painted circa 1932


Christie’s Singapore, April 1, 2001, lot 47

Private Collection, Singapore


New York, Valentine Gallery, January 1932.

Mexico City, Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Miguel Covarrubias Homenaje 1987.


Life Magazine, September 27, Vol. 3-13, 1937, pg. 46-51, illustrated.

Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Miguel Covarrubias - Homenaje: 4 miradas 4 visions, Homenaje Nacional, 1987, pg. 116.

Art News, January 23, Vol. 30, 1993, pg. 30.

Adriana Williams, Covarrubias, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1994,
color plate.

Adriana Williams, Yu-Chee Chong, Covarrubias in
, Editions Didier Millet, Singapore, 2005, pg. 38 and 99, colour plate.


This work is in very good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of very light wear to the edges of the paper due to abrasions with the frame. There is a very small, diagonal fold mark to the upper left corner of the work. There are two pinhole sized media accretions at sky and banner, but this is due to the artist's working method. Framed, under Plexiglas.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

“The little island is still one of those amazing nations that we shall never know again in which the daily life, society, arts and religion form a united whole that cannot be separated into its component parts without disrupting it, where spiritual values dictate the mode of living.” 
- Miguel Covarrubias1

Covarrubias’ momentous painting Every Night is Festival Night epitomizes the synchronous coexistence of spirituality, craftsmanship, music and social order in Balinese circadian life. It is no surprise that Miguel Covarrubias, one of the painter-voyageurs who moved to the unadulterated island of Bali in the 1930s, was riveted by this mystical enclave he would later call home. Renowned as a charismatic individual who delighted in myriad disciplines, from performance art to anthropology, Covarrubias delved deep into the enrapturing culture of the indigenous people in the company of his wife, the vivacious dancer Rosa Rolanda. Though the influence of the pre-existing community of foreign painters in Bali such as Willem Gerard Hofker, Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet, was strong, it was primarily the magnum opus of Covarrubias himself that truly dominated the global view of Bali at the time.

Covarrubias was born in Mexico City in 1904 and began his career as a cartographer for the government’s geographical office. As his training in visual art was scant, it was merely by dint of his raw talent that he was granted a government scholarship which sent him to New York in 1923. With the provision of prominent New Yorkers Frank Crowninshield and Carl Van Vechten, the fledgling artist drew caricatures of celebrities and distinguished personalities that adorned the covers of publications such as Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker.

In 1930, Covarrubias and Rosa journeyed to Indonesia on their honeymoon and lived with a Balinese family. While reveling in the local lifestyle, Covarrubias sketched and took meticulous notes on the mysterious customs, social lives, ceremonies and festivals of the Balinese people. Rosa, armed with her camera, took photographs that would later serve to support Covarrubias’ anthropological records in his book ‘Island of Bali’, acclaimed as a classic till this very day. Upon returning home from their first trip to Bali, on an ocean liner, Covarrubias painted gouaches and oil works based on the drawings he produced live2. The present lot, arguably one of his most celebrated works from his sojourn in Bali, was probably also painted during his long voyage home.

In Every Night is Festival Night, Covarrubias optically lengthens the visual by including pagoda-like, tiered towers extending heavenwards on the left, a pair of Balinese vertical split gates on the right, and two white banners that gently sweep the clear skies at center. The cool, blue firmament deepens in color as the eye wanders upward, where faint, white clouds hover in space. When observing these elements, it is immediately evident that Covarrubias was adept at depicting texture and form with the fine use of his brush. While the banners appear light, airy, and contingent on the whims of the winds, the pagodas are erect and sturdy.

The structure of the work is akin to that of Celebrations and Ceremonies of the Totonaca Culture, a rigorously assembled fresco by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, one of Covarrubias’s dearest friends. Rivera juxtaposes tight-knit groupings of figures in the foreground with a more sprawling, horizontal landscape behind.  Similarly, Covarrubias also plays with tensions and releases when arranging his picture plane. The temple grouping forms a compositional triangle, providing the left side of the picture with a sense of solidity and strength directly in contrast with the relatively open-aired, uncluttered right side. This asymmetry cuts the work in a diagonal, delivering in the whole an element of balance.

Yu-Chee Chong, a fine art aficionado and author, observed that “Certain drawings reveal the influence of the Balinese love of pattern-making, for example, Every Night is Festival Night where the brightly-colored procession is juxtaposed with the geometric pattern of tiled roofs and penjor (long decorated bamboo poles)”3. This vibrant procession comprises of an orderly line of poised Balinese maidens, whose tall, dignified stances mimic the lean structures of the temples above them.

In an obedient march, the pious women emerge from the split gate with pyramids of elaborate offerings perched on their heads. Their linear, tightly wrapped sarongs that conceal their feet, marshal the women to numinously float in midair, without the use of their legs to propel forward. These slow, gliding steps aptly suggest the languid ease of Balinese life and the patience so imbedded in its people. Placed in the context of this single file, the otherwise plainly designed sarongs create a stunning array of varying gradations of color. These shades of yellow, orange and green augment the work with an element of warmth.

Unlike the characters depicted in Covarrubias’ Hollywood’s Malibu Beach, each with identifiable physiognomies, the devoted villagers rendered in Every Night is Festival Night retain a somatic anonymity, their countenances bearing little emotion. Uniformed in their demeanor and affably coordinated in their cavalcade, these votaries almost belong to a collective consciousness. Together, they radiate with a simplicity and naivety so winsome to the artist, who expounded that “no people are more beautiful, no landscape more seductive, no race more lofty in spirit, than the Balinese"4.

Unlike Willem Gerard Hofker’s In the Puri Ubud, where the Balinese adolescent is rendered with precise verisimilitude, Covarrubias’ figures are illustrated in a deliberately primitive and bold style so prevalent in the Mexican murals of his day. Having once been a part of the coterie of progressive artists in Mexico who recreated the nation’s aesthetic identity after their revolution of 1910, Covarrubias had subsequently joined the likes of Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco and David Siqueros. The works of Covarrubias and Rivera reveal their adulation for native customs and cultural traditions, an appeal that incessantly stimulated them to create fresh imagery. These artists painted to educate the viewer and provide profound insight into the mysteries of foreign civilizations.

Upon returning to New York from Bali, Covarrubias included the present lot in his solo exhibition at the Valentine Gallery in January 1932. Diego Rivera stated in his forward to this exhibition: “Bali, of all lands perhaps the least mechanized and the most civilized, held [Miguel] for months in its marvelous web. Now he has returned, bringing with him admirable objects, the works of artists of earlier civilizations. They form a background for his own work, yet he sees them with the vision of America, transforming them into a new beauty of his own5. This show was particularly significant as it represented a shift in the artists’ oeuvre, which marked a budding interest in paint as a medium and Bali as a subject. 

A year later, a Guggenheim Fellowship provided him with the opportunity to return to the island and eventually publish his pioneering ethnographic treatise, ‘Island of Bali’ in 1937. The author Pearl Buck lauded: "there is scarcely a question about Bali which is not answered here... At times it seems a scholar's work rather than an artist's. And then the artist emerges to make us see a line, a color, a flash, which a scholar would never see”6. Covarrubias’ groundbreaking anthropological discoveries in Bali produced a rippling effect, becoming the cynosure of all eyes in the global arena. Eventually, Life magazine and Vanity Fair reported on Covarrubias's work on Bali, ultimately inspiring a "Balinese vogue" in the New York fashion industry.

An impressionable man with the ebullient and easygoing personality required to integrate seamlessly with distant communities, Covarrubias was a stranger to no one. Brimming with the artist’s reverie, the romanticized scene rendered in this iconic painting overtly reveals his sincerity and fascination for the esoteric mores of the Balinese people.

1 Adriana Williams, Yu-Chee Chong, Covarrubias in Bali, Editions Didier Millet, Singapore, 2005, pg. 41.

2 Adriana Williams, Covarrubias, University of Texas Press, Austin, pg. 69.

3 Refer to 1, pg. 59 - 61.

4 Refer to 2, pg. 77.

5 Refer to 2, pg. 69.

6 Refer to 2, pg. 85.