About the Artist
Miguel Covarrubias was a Mexican-born painter, illustrator, caricaturist, author and anthropologist. His work as an archeologist tore down previous theories about ancient civilizations.
Early Life and Education
Jose Miguel Covarrubias was born in Mexico City in 1904. His upper class family was a cultural combination of Mexican, French and Spanish.
At the age of 14, Covarrubias graduated from the Escuela Nacional Preparatory. Because of his family’s important political connections, Covarrubias was able to get work producing illustrations for training materials and texts published by the Mexican Ministry of Public Education.
At the age of 19 Covarrubias went to New York as an attache to the Mexican consulate. Even with a just a rudimentary grasp of the English language, Covarrubias quickly became part of New York’s cultural elite.
Career and Family
Through his connections in New York, Covarrubias was able to get work with Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Fortune and Vogue. His Impossible Interview covers, which portrayed famous people who could not, or would not, ever meet, were a great success. Besides his drawing and painting, Covarrubias designed stage sets and costumes, most notably for Josephine Baker and dancer Rosa Rolando.
Covarrubias married Rolando, who was a not just a dancer and choreographer, but a talented painter and photographer, as well. Rolando’s mother was a first generation Mexican-American, whose family lived in California, where Rolando was born.
The couple frequented the Harlem jazz clubs and became friends with such prominent and talented artists as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and W.C. Handy.
Covarrubias and Rosa honeymooned in Bali in 1930, a trip which led to Covarrubias receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship. They returned to Bali in 1933 and immersed themselves in the culture of island. Covarrubias published Island of Bali, which included many of his wife’s photos.
The couple returned to live in Mexico City. He taught ethnology at the National School of Anthropology and History. His studies of Olmec culture led to the belief that Covarrubias’ assertions that the Olmec culture preceded Mayan culture in the Mesoamerican timeline where correct.
The Covarrubias’ were active in the National Palace of Fine Art in Mexico City and entertained guests from around the world, like Nelson Rockefeller, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keefe, Diego Rivera and his wife, artist Frida Kahlo.
Covarrubias and Rose became estranged just two years before his death, in 1957, at age 53.
Miguel Covarrubias’ paintings and illustrations can be found at the Smithsonian and other major art venues. His books and research is still being used by anthropologists studying ancient cultures.
Covarrubias brought his singular brand of style and culture to both America and Mexico.
Miguel Covarrubias Self Portrait
Miguel Covarrubias Impossible Interviews Freud vs. Jean Harlow Vanity Fair, May 1935
Miguel Covarrubias George Gershwin, An American In Paris 1928
Miguel Covarrubias The Weary Blues Book Cover 1926