University of Texas at Austin

Miguel Covarrubias:

An Inventory of the Adriana and Tom Williams Art Collection of Miguel Covarrubias at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Covarrubias, Miguel, 1904-1957
Title: Adriana and Tom Williams Art Collection of Miguel Covarrubias
Dates: 1917-2006, undated
Extent: 6 boxes, 12 flat file folders, 1 oversize print (184 items)
Abstract: The Ransom Center's Adriana and Tom Williams Art Collection of Miguel Covarrubias is part of a larger collection of research material compiled by Covarrubias' biographer, Adriana Williams, and her husband Tom and is comprised of 169 original works and 15 posters.
Call Number: Art Collection AR-00383
Language: English and Spanish
Access: Open for research. Please note that a minimum of 24 hours notice is required to pull Art Collection materials to the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room. Some materials may be restricted from viewing. To make an appointment or to reserve Art Collection materials, please contact the Center's staff at Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Centers' Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation Adriana and Tom Williams Art Collection of Miguel Covarrubias (AR-00383). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Acquisition: Purchases (R15445, R16503), 2006, 2007
Processed by: Helen Young, 2007

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Miguel Covarrubias was best known as an illustrator, writer, and anthropologist. He was born November 22, 1904, in Mexico City, into an upper-middle-class family. His father, José Covarrubias Acosta, was a civil engineer who held various prominent positions in the government, and his mother, Elena Duclaud, was from a family that included Spanish aristocracy.
Covarrubias left school at age fourteen and began work at the Secretaría de Comunicaciones as a draughtsman of maps and street plans. In his free time he would take his sketchbook to theaters and cafés and draw caricatures. His caricatures were first published in 1920 in a National University student magazine, Policromías. From 1921 to 1923 his illustrations appeared in large circulation newspapers such as El Heraldo, El Mundo, and the Universal Ilustrado.
Covarrubias' caricatures brought him notice among the artistic circle of Mexico City, and he became acquainted with its members, including the poet José Juan Tablada, who helped arrange for a travel grant from the Mexican government to pay for Covarrubias' move to New York in 1923. A friend of Tablada arranged for him to meet Carl Van Vechten, who in turn introduced Covarrubias to his celebrity acquaintances. Van Vechten also sent Covarrubias to Vanity Fair, and in January 1924 his drawings were first published in the magazine. The following year his drawings appeared in The New Yorker; his work would later appear in Vogue, Fortune, and other magazines. His first book, The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans, was published in 1925 by Alfred A. Knopf.
In 1930 Covarrubias married Rosa Rolanda (born Rosamonde Cowen), a stage dancer, and the two traveled to Bali for a lengthy honeymoon. Covarrubias returned to Bali in 1933 with a Guggenheim Fellowship to research the culture, resulting in his book Island of Bali (1937).
After his father's death in 1936, Covarrubias bought his parents' house -- the house in which he had grown up -- in Tizapán, outside of Mexico City. Here he and Rosa entertained a wide assortment of international celebrity guests, such as Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe, Orson Welles, Merce Cunningham, Luis Buñuel, John Huston, Amelia Earhart, Nelson Rockefeller, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
During the 1930s, when there was less magazine illustration work to be had (Vanity Fair ceased publication in 1937), Covarrubias devoted more time to the research of indigenous cultures, particularly those of Mexico. In 1937 he began working on a book for Knopf, Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a project that would take years of research before it was finally published in 1946.
In 1938 Covarrubias was invited to paint a series of pictorial maps for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. He provided Pageant of the Pacific, six murals mapping the countries of the Pacific Rim. With pictorial elements Covarrubias considered most "characteristic and representative, " each panel presents a different theme: peoples, fauna and flora, art forms, economy, dwellings, and means of transportation.
In the 1940s and 1950s Covarrubias' activities branched out to include museum work and dance production, among other things. He participated in the organization of several museum exhibitions in the United States and Mexico. He received the first museology teaching appointment in Mexico and taught anthropology and art history courses at the Museo Nacional de Antropología and the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Composer Carlos Chávez, director of the new Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, appointed Covarrubias as director of the Institute's dance academy in 1950. Covarrubias mounted thirty-four ballets with the INBA and provided sets for many of the productions. He also continued providing book illustrations, mainly for works on anthropological subjects.
Covarrubias died February 4, 1957, in Mexico City.


Acevedo, Esther. "Covarrubias, Miguel."Grove Art Online, (accessed 8 November 2006).
Williams, Adriana. Covarrubias. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Scope and Contents

The Adriana and Tom Williams Art Collection of Miguel Covarrubias is part of a larger collection of research material compiled by Covarrubias' biographer, Adriana Williams, and her husband Tom. The art collection is comprised of 184 items, including 169 original works and 15 posters. These are organized into three series: I. Works by Miguel Covarrubias, II. Works by Other Artists, and III. Posters. Titles of works are transcribed either from the works themselves, or from the published works in which they appeared. Cataloger's titles appear in brackets.
Series I. encompasses 158 works. These are divided into two subseries: A. Published Illustrations, and B. Other Works. Subseries A. includes illustrations for his Island of Bali (1937), Marc Chadourne's China (1931), Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men (1935), and a 1950s brochure about Indonesia. The works in Subseries B. are divided into seven subject groups: Africa, Bali, China, France, Mexico, Polynesia, and Miscellaneous. The bulk of these are of Balinese subjects and include many rough sketches on small scraps of paper or hotel note paper. Several of the Bali works were used as illustrations in Adriana Williams' Covarrubias in Bali (2005). The China group is comprised of drawings used in Rosa Covarrubias' The China I Knew (edited by Adriana Williams, 2005).
The final subseries, Miscellaneous, includes a portrait of Covarrubias' wife, Rosa.
Series II., Works by Other Artists, includes four drawings by Eduardo García Benito for Vanity Fair, a lithographic portrait of Vicente Escudero by Kees van Dongen, a carved leather work by Winfred Rembert based on two Covarrubias designs, an etching by Juan Manuel Salazar based on Covarrubias' mural Una tarde en Xochimilco, and three drawings (two on beer coasters) by Saul Steinberg.
Series III., Posters, includes fifteen works. Among these are Covarrubias' 1933 poster depicting the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and several event posters with Covarrubias illustrations.

Related Material

The Ransom Center's Art Collection has a large group of works by Covarrubias in its Nickolas Muray Collection of Mexican Art (AR-00190). Other collections with Covarrubias art include the Thomas Mabry Cranfill Art Collection (AR-00051), Walter Willard "Spud" Johnson Art Collection (AR-00134), Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Art Collection (AR-00004), George Macy Companies, Inc. Art Collection (AR-00313), and the Edward Larocque Tinker Art Collection (AR-00276).
The Ransom Center also has related manuscript materials in the Adriana and Tom Williams Collection of Miguel Covarrubias (MS-05084), including a scrapbook of material related to Covarrubias' Pageant of the Pacific murals created for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, comprising correspondence, notes, photographs, clippings, outline maps with Covarrubias' annotations, as well as twenty-six original sketches of costumed figures, abodes, art work, symbols, and patterns.
A print of a drawing by Covarrubias of musician and composer W.C. Handy, inscribed by Handy, can be found in the Miguel Covarrubias Art Collection (AR-00349).

Item List