A painting in red and purple tones of an abstract female figure holding a candle aloft in a bedroom.

Mujer temblorosa

This work is registered with the Tamayo Museum under the number: 949-O-9. We wish to thank Juan Carlos Pereda for his kind assistance in the cataloguing of this work.

Tamayo is often described as the father of modernism and abstraction in Mexican Art. Developing his career on the heels of the Mexican Mural movement, Tamayo set out to create art “with roots in Mexican traditions and psychology, but with attention to the problems of universal painting.”1 Tamayo’s vibrant use of color served to express this ‘Mexican essence,’ but it was the adoption of abstraction that led the artist to devise his dynamic and individual style. Mujer Temblorosa, painted in 1949, is one of the most mysterious and imposing paintings from Tamayo’s post-war period, when he turned his attention to themes of humanity and our universal experience. Tamayo refined his style by reducing representation to its essential elements, and his figures became universal and atemporal symbols that transcended their reality.

Mujer Temblorosa is often written about in the context of Tamayo’s paintings of women. Juan Carlos Pereda, the Director of the Tamayo Museum, notes that while Tamayo may not have consciously participated in the feminist movement, his work exalts the female experience in a way that is completely exceptional within 20th Century Mexican art. Tamayo’s female bodies, unconventionally depicted, are neither objectified beauties, nor idealistic symbols of motherhood or nation. They enjoy life, they dance and love. They unabashedly show their bodies, display emotion, and express desire. Pereda contends that Tamayo explored the female condition with empathy and curiosity, recognizing its value and complexity, as well as its impact on a woman’s state of mind. For Pereda, Mujer Temblorosa exemplifies this interest on Tamayo’s part.2

Though the theme of Mujer Temblorosa is at first easy to recognize – a female figure holding a lamp in a darkened bedroom – the painting proves to be quite mysterious. Is the figure startled or surprised? Excited or reactive? Scared or apprehensive? It is clear that she is facing a bed, but what is she looking at? For some, Mujer Temblorosa is a depiction of one facet of female sexuality: a woman exhibiting deep yearning.3 The personification of desire is thus painted red, a color that for Tamayo represented “a great fire which consumes all.”4 Others see in the painting a preoccupation with mental health, and read it as a depiction of a woman in an altered state.5 Though themes of lunacy and melancholia recur in his work, Tamayo did have personal experience with how this condition affected a woman: Olga, his wife, suffered from insomnia and panic attacks for which she was sometimes hospitalized.

Regardless of how the iconography is read, Mujer Temblorosa is exquisitely painted with an impeccable technique. Included in many of Tamayo’s exhibitions in Europe and New York in the years just after it was made, critics and writers often commented on it. Originally in the collection of the well-known Dr. Alvar Carrillo Gil, by the 1960’s it was acquired by a prestigious collector in San Salvador, where it has remained until now, and in perfect condition.

1 “Rufino Tamayo Contesta desde Nueva York a David Alfaro Siqueiros,” El Nacional, Mex. Oct. 21, 1947 2 Juan Carlos Pereda, Museo Tamayo archives, from an unpublished essay about this painting.
3 Raquel Tibol, Sotheby’s Latin American Art, Nov. 1992
4 Rufino Tamayo, Poema El Arco Iris,” 1983
5 Teresa del Conde, Rufino Tamayo, Mexico: Smurfit Kappa Carton, 2012

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