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Nickolas Muray:

An Inventory of His Collection of Mexican Art at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Muray, Nickolas, 1892-1965
Title: Nickolas Muray Collection of Mexican Art
Dates: 1925-1954
Extent: 9 boxes, 12 framed paintings, 1 framed drawing, 2 flat-file folders (103 items)
Abstract: The collection contains 103 pieces of artwork assembled by Nickolas Muray. Ninety of the works are by Miguel Covarrubias, including his works as an artist, caricaturist, book illustrator, and ballet set designer. The rest of the collection is composed of works by Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo, and several other Mexican artists.
Access:

Open for research. A minimum of twenty-four hours is required to pull art materials to the Reading Room.




Acquisition:

Purchase (R2738), 1965

Processed by:

Helen Young, 2002

Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin


Nickolas Muray was born February 15, 1892, in Szeged, Hungary. He attended a graphic arts school in Budapest, where he studied lithography, photoengraving, and photography. After earning an International Engraver's Certificate, Muray took a three-year course in color photoengraving in Berlin, where, among other things, he learned to make color filters. At the end of his course, he went to work for the publishing company Ullstein.

In 1913, with the threat of war in Europe, Muray sailed to New York City, and was able to find work immediately in Brooklyn as a color printer. He was soon working for Condé Nast as a photoengraver working with color separations and half-tone negatives.

By 1920, Muray had opened a portrait studio at his home in Greenwich Village, while still working at his union job as an engraver. In 1921, he received a commission from Harper's Bazaar to do a portrait of the Broadway actor Florence Reed; soon after he was having photographs published each month in Harper's Bazaar, and was able to give up his engraving job. Muray quickly became recognized as an important portrait photographer, and his subjects included most of the celebrities of New York City. In 1926, Vanity Fair sent Muray to London, Paris, and Berlin to photograph celebrities, and in 1929 hired him to photograph movie stars in Hollywood. He also did fashion and advertising work. Muray's images were published in many other publications, including Vogue, Ladies' Home Journal, and The New York Times .

When Muray signed a contract with Ladies' Home Journal in 1930 to produce color fashion photographs, he traveled to Germany to purchase the equipment to convert his studio into one of the first color labs in the United States. He became known as a master in the carbro color process.

In the early 1920s, Muray was introduced by Carl Van Vechten to Miguel Covarrubias, who had come to New York in 1923 on a scholarship from the Mexican government. Covarrubias drew caricatures for Vanity Fair (1924-1936) and The New Yorker (1925-1950), and was also a writer, and illustrated his own books and many books by other authors. Covarrubias studied and wrote about non-Western cultures, and also developed an interest in dance and museology. Muray and Covarrubias became friends and for a time shared lodgings on MacDougall Street, where they hosted parties on Wednesday nights. Among their guests were Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, Sinclair Lewis, Paul Robeson, and Carl Van Vechten.

Muray also became friends with some of the other Mexican artists who had found their way to New York City. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and her husband Diego Rivera (1886-1957) were close friends with Muray; indeed Kahlo and Muray were having an affair when Rivera filed for divorce in 1939. Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) and his wife, Olga, were in Muray's circle in the 1940s and 1950s. Tamayo, an internationally-known painter, sculptor, and printmaker, was born in Oaxaca, and studied in Mexico City. After 1936 he lived part of the time in New York City, usually staying there in the winters, and then in Mexico City in the summers.

Muray also contributed reviews for Dance magazine. In 1927 he won the National Sabre Championship, and in 1928 and 1932 he was on the United States Olympic Fencing Team. During World War II, Muray was a flight lieutenant in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol. He died in 1965.


Muray, N. Muray's Celebrity Portraits of the Twenties and Thirties. New York: Dover, 1978.

Deschin, J. "Nickolas Muray."   Popular Photography 57 (October 1965): 40, 113-116.


The Nickolas Muray Collection of Mexican Art comprises 103 pieces of artwork assembled by "Nickolas Muray." Ninety of the works are by Muray's close friend Miguel Covarrubias; the remainder of the collection is made up of important works by Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo, and several other Mexican artists. The collection is organized into two series: I. Works by Miguel Covarrubias, and II. Works by Other Artists.

Covarrubias' works in the Muray Collection reflect his output as an artist, caricaturist, book illustrator, and ballet set designer. Series I. Works by Miguel Covarrubias is subdivided into three subseries: A. Book Illustrations, B. Magazine Illustrations, and C. Other Works. In the following list, titles of Covarrubias' works appearing in quotation marks were taken from the published works.

Subseries A. includes numerous drawings and paintings created to illustrate the following books: Bernal Dîaz del Castillo's The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico (1942), René Maran's Batouala (1932), Herman Melville's Typee (1935), W. H. Prescott's The Conquest of Mexico (1949), and John Riddell's In the Worst Possible Taste (1932), as well as Covarrubias' own book, Island of Bali (1937). The Island of Bali illustrations include several unpublished drawings of Balinese subjects. Works in this subseries are arranged by book author, and subsequently by accession number.

The magazine illustrations in Subseries B., which include many celebrity caricatures done for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, are listed chronologically under the title of the publication. The Other Works subseries includes miscellaneous paintings, drawings, caricatures, and one set design by Covarrubias.

Series II., Works by Other Artists, includes two oil paintings and one drawing by Muray's friend and lover, Frida Kahlo: [Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird]; Still Life (with Parrot and Fruit); and Diego y Yo. Also present are four works by Muray's friend, Rufino Tamayo, including an oil painting, a portrait drawing of Nickolas Muray, and two woodcuts. The remainder of the series is made up of paintings by Fernando Castillo, Guillermo Meza, Roberto Montenegro, Rafael Navarro, and Juan Soriano. Works in this series are listed by artist, and subsequently by accession number.


The Ransom Center's Art Collection has a number of other works by Miguel Covarrubias:

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Collection: three caricatures of Alfred Knopf, Blanche Knopf, and Joseph Hergesheimer, and one set of reproductions of Covarrubias' Pacific House mural maps at the Golden Gate International Exposition;

Thomas Mabry Cranfill Collection: one drawing of a Tehuantepec Indian;

George Macy Companies, Inc. Collection: thirty-three drawings, a group of preliminary design materials for the 1948 Limited Editions Club edition of All Men are Brothers ;

Spud Johnson Collection: one caricature of Carl Van Vechten;

Edward Larocque Tinker Collection: one portfolio with a set of reproductions of the Pacific House mural maps, with other materials laid in, including Covarrubias' Pageant of the Pacific (1940), one poster for the Pacific House exhibition of the Golden Gate International Exhibition, and one reproduction of Covarrubias' caricature, The United Nations, for War and for Peace .

Adriana and Tom Williams Collection of Miguel Covarrubias: 157 drawings and lithographs.

The Art Collection also has works by Frida Kahlo's husband, Diego Rivera, in the Diego Rivera Collection (a group of eight works), and the Carlton Lake Art Collection (a portrait drawing by Rivera).

Elsewhere in the Ransom Center, the Manuscripts Collection has three collections with Diego Rivera related items: Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantaganet Hastings [Jack Hastings] Collection; Kenneth and Emma-Stina Prescott Collection of Ben Shahn; Nicola Sacco Collection. The Photography Collection holds a small group of photographs by Muray.