Diego Rivera was a Mexican painter and muralist, born in Guanajuato, Mexico. He went to Paris, France to live and work with the great gathering of artists in Montparnasse where his friend Amedeo Modigliani painted his portrait in 1914.
In his undisciplined and increasingly violent private life, Rivera fathered several children from brief affairs, abandoning all of them. In the early 1920s, he left France and returned to Mexico, where he became interested in left-wing politics. There, he painted his first mural, in which ethnic Mexican subjects were portrayed in a political context.
He would become known for his grand murals depicting the life and history (particularly the popular uprisings) of the Mexican people. Starting in 1921, he began a series of murals in public buildings depicting the Mexican history. Several marriages and love affairs later he was introduced to Frida Kahlo, a militant Communist. He later went to Moscow, Russia, but was expelled by the authorities because of his involvement in anti-Soviet politics. In 1929, he returned to Mexico, and at age 43 he married the 22-year-old Kahlo.
From 1930 to 1934, he completed a number of frescoes in the United States, mainly of industrial life. In 1933, His Man at the Crossroads mural for the Rockefeller Center in New York City was removed after a furor erupted in the press because it contained a portrait of Lenin. Because of the negative publicity, a further commission to paint a mural for an exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair was canceled. In December 1933, an angry and humiliated Diego Rivera returned to Mexico.
Having joined the International Communist League, he became friends with Soviet exile Leon Trotsky, who moved into his home in Mexico for a while. But they had a falling out and shortly after he left Rivera's home, Trotsky was assassinated. A few years after the 1954 suicide of his wife Kahlo, he contracted a rare form of cancer and died on November 24, 1957. He is buried in the Panteon de Dolores, Mexico City.
The greatest modern muralist!
Location:Alameda Park, Mexico City.
The Alameda is a large park in Mexico City that has a long history dating back to the era when it served as an Aztec marketplace. Diego Rivera saw this mural as the narration of a dreamlike walk on the Alameda, something he liked doing as a child. He synthesized Mexican history, street life and aspects of Mexican society. Diego himself makes an appearance. He looks youthful and happy surrounded by beautiful ladies. However, Death is not far away to his left.
Location:North Wall, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit.
In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Rivera arrived in Detroit, where, at the behest of Henry Ford, he began a mural dedicated to the American worker on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Completed in 1933, the piece depicted industrial life in the United States, concentrating on the car plant workers of Detroit. Rivera's radical politics and independent nature had begun to draw criticism during his early years in America. Though the mural was the focus of much controversy, Edsel Ford, Henry's son, defended the work and it remains today Rivera's most significant painting in America. Here is a detail from the North wall.
Location:San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
This is, arguably, Rivera's most famous painting. A campesino (labourer) dressed in white is kneeling on the earth bent under an enormous burden of flowers he carries on his back; behind him a woman reaches out and helps to steady his burden. The beauty of the rich colours, the rugged dark brown faces, the man's large hands, the woman's serene countenance, all call the viewer into a relationship with the story. The composition is breathtaking, the enormity of the basket, the radiance of the flowers, the definition of the strap all combine into an image of unforgettable beauty.
Location:North wall, Courtyard of the Fiestas, Mexico City.
In the 1920 Diego Rivera painted large-scale murals in Mexico City. 'Night of the Rich' is one of the panels at the Court of Fiestas, Corrido of the Proletarian Revolution. The work glorified workers and advocated revolution over the wealthy and ruling classes of Mexico.
Jacques and Natasha Gelman began their well known collection with this painting of Natasha commissioned from Diego Rivera in 1943. Frida Kahlo also painted portraits of Natasha Gelman. This soft and almost fragrant painting demonstrates Rivera's exquisite skill and sensitive touch. Note how the flower shape echoes in the way Gelman’s dress reveals her legs.
Learning art through great artists and their paintings is fun and exciting. Our friend and resident artist Stefan Mager has kindly given this introduction to the art world.