"The Bird Charmer" by Rufino Tamayo was sold for $4.3 million on Thursday at Sotheby's Latin American art auction in New York.
The 60 1/4 by 50 1/4 inch (153 x 128 cm) oil on canvas was sold a day after another impressive work by the Mexican artist, "Músicos," didn't find a buyer at Christie's.
The piece shows the reddish figure of a man against a blue wall, playing a wind instrument while birds fly about.
"It's a magnificent painting from Tamayo's most important period," Axel Stein, head of Sotheby's Latin American Art department, told The Associated Press. "Although the majestic work was painted during the dark times of 1945, the Pre-Colombian imagery and lyrical, optimistic composition speak to the artist's hope for the future."
The record for a Tamayo sold at auction is $7.2 million, reached in 2008 with "Trovador."
Also on Thursday, Diego Rivera's "Portrait of Senorita Matilde Palou" sold for $2.4 million, within the estimate. Sotheby's had hailed the 1951 painting as one of the most important pieces by the Mexican muralist to go to auction in recent years.
The 80 x 48 1/8 inch (203 x 122.3 cm) oil on canvas depicts Matilde Palou, a Chilean actress and singer who gained fame in Mexican cinema, reclining against what looks like a fireplace. She wears a resplendent dress covered in Mexican imagery, including flags, a coat of arms and Mexican jewelry.
Last March, Sotheby's showed it to the public at its Los Angeles galleries for the first time since 1988, when it sold it for $203,000.
"The painting is a wonderful example of the artist at the height of his powers and a glorious symbol of Mexican national pride," Stein told the AP in March. "It is undoubtedly one of the most important works by the artist to appear at auction in recent memory."
The auction record for Rivera is $3,082,500, set in 1995 with the painting "Baile en Tehuantepec" (1928), also at Sotheby's.