Diego Rivera

by Claudia Herrera Hudson

Self-portrait Dedicated to Irene Rich
from: http://www.fbuch.com/diego.htm
Diego Rivera was a Mexican "social realist" muralist painter and is considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. He was best known for paintings that depicted Mexican life and society and the history of the Mexican people. For as much as he was famous for his artistic talent, though, he was also well-known for his revolutionary political beliefs along with his anti-church sentiments.

Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico on December 8th, 1886, to a family of modest means. They moved in 1892, when Rivera was 6 years old, to Mexico City. Rivera became interested in art and painting at a very early age, and at the age of ten, he began to take painting classes at night at the San Carlos Academy. He also studied in the carving workshop of José Guadalupe Posada, whose influence is evident in Rivera’s work. By the age of 12, in 1898, he enrolled there full-time. In 1906 he had his first exhibition at the school’s annual show, presenting 26 of his works and establishing himself as a painter at the young age of 20.

Diego’s father was a rather liberal and anti-clerical man, although his two aunts who also lived with him were very religious. These opposing viewpoints would have a direct effect on Rivera and his work throughout his entire life.

The Flower Seller
from: http://www.fbuch.com/diego.htm

In 1907, Rivera received a grant to travel and went to Europe, primarily spending time in Spain, but also in France, Belgium, England, and Brussels. In 1909, in Brussels, he met Angelina Belhoff, a Russian painter who would remain his partner for 12 years. The two traveled throughout Europe, spending much time in Paris where he participated in several exhibitions. In Paris he was greatly influenced by post-modernism and cubism.

Rivera had always had an interest in military issues as well as a fascination with the Russian army and the conflict in Russia between the Orthodox Church and the Marxists. During his time in Europe, WWI broke out there, and consequently in Mexico, Emiliano Zapata a revolutionary “folk hero” called for a need to return the land to the people. Rivera became a revolutionary as well and felt he was needed in his home country. Although he had been invited to go to Russia by its commissioner of fine arts, in 1921 he returned to Mexico instead.

He continued to create art, becoming involved in the 1920’s with the new Mexican muralist movement. He began to experiment with fresco painting on large walls with other Mexican artists such as Jose Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros. He developed his own classic style using large, simplified figures and bold colors. A good part of his murals and art capture significant moments in Mexican history through images of farmers and laborers, the earth, as well as through popular characters and costumes. He aimed to symbolically depict Mexican society and thought after the country's 1910 revolution.

During the same time period, Rivera participated in founding the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors in 1922. He also joined the Mexican Communist Party. Diego continued to be fascinated with the Russian Revolution, as is evident in his work. In 1927 he traveled to the Soviet Union as a member of an official delegation of Mexican Communist Party functionaries and various worker's representatives. He was greatly interested in the Worker’s Movement.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo demonstating in 1936.
from: http://www.fbuch.com/diego.htm

Lupe Marin became Rivera's second wife during this time period as well, from 1922-1927.

Frida Kahlo, also a famed Mexican artist, was an admirer of Rivera, sharing his revolutionary feelings. She became his third wife and partner from 1929 until 1954. She also became the subject of several of his paintings. The two participated in protests and worked closely with workers' groups.

In the 1930’s and 40’s Rivera visited the United States, where he painted several significant works. Perhaps most famous is his mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Also famous for its controversy, was his “Man at the Crossroads” mural in Radio City at the Rockefeller Center in New York, which he created in 1933. It caused controversy because it portrayed Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union. It was removed and destroyed in 1934. Diego was determined to complete the mural and created a new version, titled “Man, Controller of the Universe,” in Mexico City, where he included, alongside Lenin, Leon Trotsky, another leader in the Russian Revolution. Trotsky eventually moved to Mexico and became friends with Rivera. Rivera remained loyal to the revolutionary movement his entire life.

Man, Controller of the Universe
from: http://www.fbuch.com/diego.htm

Rivera sometimes portrayed himself in his murals, both through self portraits as well as through "appearances," such as in 1948’s “Alameda Park” where he is seen with many friends and beautiful ladies enjoying themselves at a party with death not far away. His introspective nature is evident in his work. Whether or not he, himself, was portrayed in the paintings, his causes and passions always were, and thus, he always remained true to his beliefs and his work proclaimed them loudly. As a muralist, he wanted to take art to the public at large, to streets and buildings, not just in museums, so that everyone, particularly the common, working man, could see them.

Rivera died in 1957. Currently, some of his best-known murals are in the National Palace in Mexico City and at the National Agricultural School in Chapingo, near Mexico City.

Written by Claudia Herrera Hudson
Last changed on: 7/25/2005 1:59:27 PM

The Virtual Diego Rivera Web Museum includes information on Rivera as well as images of his paintings and murals.

Artcyclopedia: Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera: includes photos, images, information on Rivera, and more.

Diego Rivera at the Museum of Modern Art One of the most important figures in the Mexican mural movement and won international acclaim for his vast public wall paintings

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