Lot 14
  • 14

Rufino Tamayo(1899-1991)

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
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  • Rufino Tamayo
  • Sandías y naranja
  • signed and dated O-57 upper right
  • oil and sand on canvas
  • 39 3/4 by 31 1/2 in.
  • 101 by 81 cm


Acquired from the artist 
Estate of Mrs. Audrey Hepburn
Sale: Christie's, Important Latin American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture, November 24, 1997, lot 40, illustrated in color 
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Mexico City, Museo Tamayo de Arte Contemporáneo, Tamayo/Trayectos, August 24, 2012-April 16, 2013, no. 180, p. 120, illustrated in color 
Mexico City, Museo Tamayo de Arte Contemporáneo, Rufino Tamayo Primeras Décadas: 1920 – 1959, July 30-October 31, 2016, no. 8


Teresa del Conde, et.al., Tamayo, Mexico City, 1998, p. 44, illustrated in color 
Claudia Burr Muro, Rufino Tamayo: Yo miro, miro todo el tiempo, Mexico City, 2000, no. 2, p. 6, illustrated in color


This work is stretched on an old if not original stretcher. The paint layer is unvarnished and in lovely condition. There is a small vertical drip in the top of the piece of melon in the upper center. A similar color is evident about 1 inch from the top edge in the center. There is one other spot in the lower right and another in the lower left. These may not be original. A faint stretcher bar mark is present along the center of the canvas--this is apparent under raking light. This work overall is in very good condition and is ready to hang.
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 colors Rufino Tamayo uses seem to have been extracted from the rind or the pulp of the most characteristic Mexican fruits. In his hands they have a magical power and effect." 
Xavier Villarrutia, 1948

Mexico’s foremost colorist Rufino Tamayo defined his approach to painting in remarkably unassuming terms: “I am a realist,” he often declared. (1) As a vocal advocate for a “new realism,” at once contemporary and in allegiance to the 19th century French tradition established by Gustave Courbet, Tamayo perceived “no incompatibility between figurative art and modern art.” (2) A painter's painter, Tamayo’s realism belongs to the realm of the non-descriptive; an anti-political practice diametrically opposed to the muralists’ ethos. While he acknowledged the natural world as the source of all creative endeavors, Tamayo rejected objective mimesis. At a time of intense rhetoric surrounding the didactic purpose and indelible qualities of Mexican art, he conceived modern-day painting through strictly formalist and aesthetic terms. 

Previously in the collection of American film legend and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn, Sandías y naranja evokes a fascinating—and somewhat forgotten—period in film history: a time of unprecedented exchange between Mexico's cultural milieu and the Golden Age of Hollywood. Beloved by audiences worldwide, Hepburn traveled often to Mexico where she found refuge from professional demands and personal tragedies. While the exact manner in which the actress met Tamayo is not documented, it is possible that she was introduced to his art through her first husband Mel Ferrer, the son of a Cuban immigrant, on one of those trips. 

Sandías y naranja was executed in 1957, the same year Tamayo was decorated Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government. 1957 initiated the Tamayos seven year sojourn in Paris; a prosperous time filled with critical and commercial success. Coincidentally, this was also the year Hepburn debuted in a musical film, Funny Face wherein Fred Astaire, a fashion photographer, discovers a bookstore clerk (Hepburn) who, lured by a free trip to Paris, becomes a beautiful model. Filmed partly in Paris, Hepburn acquired Sandías y naranja directly from the artist possibly around this time. During her marriage to Ferrer, Hapburn established a Swiss villa in Tolochenaz, Switzerland near Lac Leman, one she candidly referred to as her real home. Here in the company of simple pleasures, she placed Tamayo's painting in the library where it hung as the room's focal point. Featured in a 1971 British Vogue article, Sandías y naranja appears to have dictated the modern decor of its surroundings. (Fig.1) The painting would remain in Hepburn's personal collection until purchased by the current owner in 1997. 

Reduced to its ultimate and most basic geometric forms, these three watermelon slices—now consecrated symbols of Mexican national identity—seamlessly float on a sea of inescapable engulfing color. Painted in lavish tones of seductive pinks, deep crimson and scarlet reds, it reveals a delectable saturation of color. Such radiance attained by Tamayo’s accomplished manipulation of the medium, places his formalist philosophy at the forefront of Mexican modernism. Ultimately, Tamayo’s commitment to the plastic elements of painting, his constant thirst for technical experimentation and contemporaneity with both the European and North American avant-garde converge here in a truly iconic painting.  

(1) Diana C. Du Pont, “Realistic, Never Descriptive: Tamayo and the Art of Abstract Figuration,” Tamayo, A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, 2007, p. 32, 35.

(2) Ibid., p. 35.