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 Miguel Covarrubias  (1904 - 1957)

/ ko-vuh-ROO-bee-yus/
About: Miguel Covarrubias
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Mexico      Known for: book and magazine illustration, caricatures, and mural painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Miguel Covarrubias
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Birth
1904 (Mexico City, Mexico)
 
Death
1957 (Mexico City, Mexico)

Lived/Active
New York / Mexico

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book and magazine illustration, caricatures, and mural painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mexican born Miguel Covarrubias was known for his painted murals, caricatures, illustrations and scholarly writings.  He was born in the Bohemian section of Mexico City on November 22, 1904.  The son of a civil engineer, Covarrubias dropped out of high school at the age of fourteen.  He went to work for his father drawing maps and eventually became a self-taught artist.

He moved to New York City in 1923, and soon after he gained recognition as an illustrator, stage designer and caricature artist.  He illustrated issues of Vogue, the New Yorker and was known for his Art Deco covers of Vanity Fair.  During the 1920s he studied in Paris, France and later traveled to Bali with his wife Rose Rolanda.  He became a well-known name in the art circle and social scene in New York and was a good friend of Mexican painter Diego Rivera.

Covarrubias returned to Bali in 1933 on a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. He spent more than a year researching Bali and the Balinese culture in order to write his acclaimed book, Island of Bali (1937).  He created detailed drawings and aquarelles for the book in a soft pastels and bold pinks and reds.  He used curvaceous lines and was a master of color technique using gouache opaque watercolor.

He painted six murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939.  The murals were detailed maps of the Pacific and the people and culture associated with that region.  It is evident from their detail, the depictions of the inhabitants, flora and fauna of the Pacific countries, that much research went into the painting of the murals.  Over his career Covarrubias has made a great contribution to art through his drawings and writings, educating people about Mexican and Pacific Rim culture and art.

Biography from Tobin Reese Fine Art:
Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957) was one of the leading Mexican artists of the twentieth-century. He is likely best known for his sophisticated caricatures of political and public figures of the 1920s and 1930s, though his career was multifaceted. Covarrubias was also a dedicated humanist who made important contributions to the fields of history, ethnography, archaeology, theater, and dance. As a result, Covarrubias’s appreciation for cultural diversity is clearly evident throughout his work.

When he was nineteen years old Covarrubias moved to New York City. Not long after he began drawing for magazines such as Vogue, the New Yorker, Collier’s and Vanity Fair. Buoyed by his success, in 1925 he published a collection of his caricatures entitled The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans. Also in the 1920s, inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, he illustrated books for Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and W.C. Handy. Covarrubias’s depiction of Harlem jazz clubs were the first images of their kind to be published in Vanity Fair, and helped to bring black culture into the American consciousness. Covarrubias would also illustrate works such as Herman Melville’s Typee, John Huston’s Frankie and Johnny, Pearl Buck’s All Men are Brothers, and Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His work appeared in numerous magazine advertisements during the era, and in 1929, Covarrubias was awarded the National Art Directors Medal for his work on a Steinway and Sons Piano advertisement. Not only was his linear style of drawing highly influential, his caricatures can also provide a revealing glimpse into the society of the 20s and 30s.

Covarrubias also enjoyed success outside the sphere of his popular caricatures. A growing interest in cultural anthropology took him and his wife Rosa on travels to Cuba, China, Bali, and the Philippines, as well as throughout Europe and North Africa during the late 1920s. Afterwards, Covarrubias published The Island of Bali in 1937; a novel which described the Balinese way of life he had witnessed on the island. During this time, he also painted six mural maps that depicted the cultures of the Pacific for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco which were later published as Pageant of the Pacific in 1939. Covarrubias returned to Mexico City in the early 1940s, where he published Mexico South in 1946 and The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent in 1954. His advertisements, caricatures, illustrations, paintings and novels brought him international recognition, and over the span of his career he had gallery shows in Europe, Mexico, and the United States. Miguel Covarrubias died in Mexico City in 1957.

Source: Jeff Blackwell for Tobin Reese Fine Art

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