Mujer de pie con rebozo y canasta

Essay by Juan Carlos Pereda, Art Historian and Deputy Director of the Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City

By 1940, the year this watercolor was made, Rufino Tamayo was beginning to be a spokesperson for Mexican art in New York. The painter lived a moment of recognition in his career, as an internationalist painter. The economic situation was conflictive, due to the war, so the artist met the demand of the North American market with a series of watercolors and gouaches on paper, in medium and small format with a Mexican theme, always of great aesthetic quality.

Aesthetically, many of these works on paper could be compared to the frescoes painted in Mexico, which had powerfully attracted the attention of cultured audiences and institutional collectors in the United States.

A decade earlier, Rufino Tamayo had made public his critical stance towards the so-called Mexican School of Painting. The artist considered that this painting was a reiteration of epidermal and descriptive themes of folkloric subjects, bordering on the decorative. Even so, the demand for his paintings with a Mexican theme was requested by important North American gallery owners and collectors, due to their high technical quality and conceptual novelties. Tamayo complied with this demand with works of unconventional compositional solutions, he approached the themes with his own aesthetic, which although he dialogued directly with that eminently nationalist current, was not at all complacent with a predictable theme within a folklorism of pleasant scenes.

Although Tamayo's painting deals with the Mexican scene, it develops rather symbolic ideas, it does not detail collective actions, but instead presents isolated and solitary characters.

Aesthetically, many of these works on paper could be compared to the frescoes painted in Mexico, which had powerfully attracted the attention of cultured audiences and institutional collectors in the United States. Many of these works had as their main virtue the use of a primitivization that provided them with character and a deliberate archaism, which in many of these pictorial pieces reached a very high degree of sophistication, in others there was an aesthetic intention associated with the so-called Mexican School of Painting, whose subjects were very much to the taste of North American collecting. Although Tamayo's painting deals with the Mexican scene, it develops rather symbolic ideas, it does not detail collective actions, but instead presents isolated and solitary characters. This is the case of this Woman with a Basket, which operates as a portrait of race and the conditions of a rural life with difficult days. Although Woman with a Basket has not been published and included in the author's samples, it has the qualities that define the artist's own style for those years. The timeless sense of the scene does not prevent the viewer from being able to glimpse the situation of penury in which part of the people of Mexico lived, however this argument is only one of the conclusions that can be drawn when analyzing this watercolor.

For generations this work has been preserved in a private collection, which we can now view in the splendor of its delicate color, since previously we only had limited references, which could be consulted in the archive formed by Olga Tamayo, wife and administrator of the work of the artist, which are preserved in the artist's museum in Mexico City.

Mujer de pie con rebozo y canasta

Ensayo de Juan Carlos Pereda Historiador del Arte y Subdirector del Museo Rufino Tamayo, Ciudad de México

Para 1940, año de la factura de esta acuarela, Rufino Tamayo comenzaba a ser un referente del arte mexicano en Nueva York. El pintor vivía un momento de reconocimiento en su trayectoria, como pintor internacionalista. La situación económica era conflictiva, debido a la guerra, por lo que el artista acometió la demanda del mercado norteamericano con una serie de acuarelas y gouaches sobre soportes de papel, en mediano y pequeño formato de temática mexicana, siempre de gran calidad estética. 

Estéticamente muchos de esos trabajos sobre papel podían equipararse con los frescos pintados en México y que había llamado poderosamente la atención de los públicos cultos y el coleccionismo institucional en los Estados Unidos.

Desde una década antes, Rufino Tamayo había hecho pública su postura crítica ante la llamada Escuela Mexicana de Pintura.  El artista consideraba que esa pintura era una reiteración de temas epidérmicos y descriptivos de asuntos folclóricos, que rayaban en lo decorativo. Aun así, la demanda de sus pinturas con tema mexicano era solicitada por importantes galeristas y coleccionistas norteamericanos, por su alta calidad técnica y novedades conceptuales. Tamayo dio cumplimiento a esa exigencia con obras de soluciones compositivas nada convencionales, abordó los temas con una estética propia, que si bien dialogaba directamente con esa corriente eminentemente nacionalista, no era para nada complacientes con una temática previsible dentro de un folclorismo de gratas escenas. 

La pintura de Tamayo si bien aborda el escenario mexicano, desarrolla ideas más bien simbólicas, no detalla acciones colectivas, sino que presenta personajes aislados y solitarios.

Estéticamente muchos de esos trabajos sobre papel podían equipararse con los frescos pintados en México y que había llamado poderosamente la atención de los públicos cultos y el coleccionismo institucional en los Estados Unidos. Muchas de esas obras tenían como virtud principal el uso de una primitivización que las proveía de carácter y un arcaísmo deliberado, que en muchas de esas piezas pictóricas alcanzó un grado de sofisticación muy alto, en otras había una intención estetizante asociada a la llamada Escuela Mexicana de Pintura, cuyos temas eran muy del gusto del coleccionismo norteamericano. La pintura de Tamayo si bien aborda el escenario mexicano, desarrolla ideas más bien simbólicas, no detalla acciones colectivas, sino que presenta personajes aislados y solitarios. Es el caso de esta Mujer con canasta, que opera como un retrato de raza y de las condiciones de una vida rural con jornadas difíciles. Aunque Mujer con canasta no ha sido difundida en publicación e incluida en muestras del autor, posee las cualidades que definen el estilo propio del artista para aquellos años. El sentido atemporal de la escena no impide al espectador poder vislumbrar la situación de penuria en que vivía parte del pueblo de México, sin embargo este argumento, es sólo una de las conclusiones que se pueden sacar al analizar esta acuarela. 

Desde hace generaciones esta obra se conserva en una colección privada, que ahora podemos visualizar en el esplendor de su delicado colorido, pues anteriormente sólo contábamos con referencias limitadas, que se podían consultar en el archivo formado por Olga Tamayo, esposa y administradora de la obra del artista, que se conservan en el museo del artista en la ciudad de México. 

Fotografía en el Archivo de Olga Tamayo / Photograph in the Olga Tamayo Archive

Art is a means of expression that must be understood by everybody, everywhere. It grows out of the earth, the textures of our lives, and our experience.

Rufino Tamayo

Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy

Artist and Patron

The present lot comes from the collection of the artist and art patron, Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy. Leonore was born in 1904 in Highland Park, Illinois to Leonore Annette Law and Robert Edward Smith, head of the J.P. Smith Shoe Company. From 1920-1923, Leonore attended the Mary C. Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island where she was encouraged to create art. She returned to Chicago upon graduation and continued her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1927, Leonore married Arthur Jerrems. The couple bought property and built a home outside of Chicago in Barrington, Illinois where she would frequently entertain other artists and friends from the city. Leonore won the Chicago Woman’s Aid Society prize for painting in 1928 and was connected with the National Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago. 

Article published in the Chicago Tribune March 5th, 1928.

Over the following decade artworks by Leonore were included in the annual Exhibitions of Artists of Chicago and Vicinity held at the Art Institute of Chicago. Here her work was shown alongside Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, Frances Badger, George Buehr, Julio De Diego, Rowena Fry, Norman Macleish, and Rifka Angel to name a few. Leonore maintained active in the local artistic community and was a member of the Arts Club of Chicago. Through these organizations she became friendly with many artists and acquired works by her contemporaries for her own collection.   

Watercolor by Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy included in the International Watercolor Show at the Art Institute of Chicago.

By 1951, Leonore had married a second time. She and her husband Edward Molloy purchased an apartment in Chicago in 880 Lake Shore Drive, the new high rise recently completed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Leonore would outfit their home with an eclectic mix of mid-century and antique furnishings complemented by the artworks she collected. Her family remembers her Noguchi sculpture displayed on a table before windows overlooking the lake while the painting, Lobster Salad, by Ivan Albright was prominently hung on the opposite wall.

Leonore would continue to take classes in painting and woodblock printing, and exhibit on occasion. In 1960, her work was included in the Artist Members Exhibition at The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago and her block prints were regularly included in the Block Print Calendar from the Chicago Society of Artists, landing on the cover in 1966, and then again in 1978. 

Cover, by Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy, of the 1978 Block Print Calendar from the Chicago Society of Artists

Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy died in 1976. The works offered here have remained in the family until now. 

Works from the Collection of Leonore Grace Smith Jerrems Molloy