Children's Games

Artist: Rufino Tamayo (Mexican, Oaxaca 1899–1991 Mexico City)

Date: 1959

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 51 1/4 x 76 3/4 in. (130.2 x 194.9 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph F. Colin, 1983

Accession Number: 1983.208


This large abstract composition was painted in Paris by one of Mexico's best-known artists, Rufino Tamayo. As a young man, Tamayo studied the ethnographic treasures and Pre-Columbian art in Mexico City before moving to New York (1926-28, 1936-50) and Paris (1949-64). At odds with the politically motivated narrative paintings of the Mexican muralists-Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros-Tamayo sought to create a more universal art form based on modernist principles. While some of his subjects and his choice of colors were informed by Mexican art and culture, his flattened compositions and abstract forms derive from European modernism.

In this mid-career painting of 1959, three children (identifiable only by the painting's title) play in a circle, their bodies reduced to a jumble of irregular, flat shapes suggesting heads, legs, torsos, and arms. Our eye follows these disjointed elements around the brightly colored composition in a syncopated rhythm that is enhanced by the artist's agitated application of paint. While we may not be able to decipher the particulars of this scene, the artist has recreated the movements, sounds, light, and heat associated with it.