Diego Rivera

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Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera, 1910.jpg
Diego Rivera, 1910
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez

(1886-12-08)December 8, 1886
DiedNovember 24, 1957(1957-11-24) (aged 70)
Mexico City, Mexico
EducationSan Carlos Academy
Known for Painting, murals
Notable work
Man, Controller of the Universe , The History of Mexico , Detroit Industry Murals
Movement Mexican muralism
Spouse(s) Angelina Beloff (1911–1921)
Guadalupe Marín (1922–1929)
Frida Kahlo (1929–1939 and 1940–1954; her death)
Emma Hurtado (1955–1957; his death)

Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, known as Diego Rivera (Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈdjeɣo riˈβeɾa] ; December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957) was a prominent Mexican painter. His large frescoes helped establish the Mexican mural movement in Mexican art. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals in, among other places, Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. In 1931, a retrospective exhibition of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Rivera had a volatile marriage with fellow Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Fresco Mural painting upon freshly laid lime plaster

Fresco is a technique of mural painting executed upon freshly laid, or wet lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the dry-powder pigment to merge with the plaster, and with the setting of the plaster, the painting becomes an integral part of the wall. The word fresco is derived from the Italian adjective fresco meaning "fresh", and may thus be contrasted with fresco-secco or secco mural painting techniques, which are applied to dried plaster, to supplement painting in fresco. The fresco technique has been employed since antiquity and is closely associated with Italian Renaissance painting.

Mexican muralism

Mexican muralism was the promotion of mural painting starting in the 1920s, generally with social and political messages as part of efforts to reunify the country under the post Mexican Revolution government. It was headed by “the big three” painters, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. From the 1920s to about 1970s a large number of murals with nationalistic, social and political messages were created on public buildings, starting a tradition which continues to this day in Mexico and has had impact in other parts of the Americas, including the United States where it served as inspiration for the Chicano art movement.

Mexican art

Mexican art consists of various visual arts that developed over the geographical area now known as Mexico. The development of these arts roughly follows the history of Mexico, divided into the prehispanic Mesoamerican era, the colonial period, with the period after Mexican War of Independence further subdivide. Mexican art is usually filled most of the time with intricate patterns.


Personal life

Diego Rivera, Maternidad, Angelina y el nino Diego (Motherhood, Angelina and the Child Diego), c. August 1916, oil on canvas, 134.5 x 88.5 cm, Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil. This work forms part of Rivera's Crystal Cubist period. Diego Rivera, c.1916, Maternidad, Angelina y et nino Diego, oil on canvas, 134.5 x 88.5 cm, Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil.jpg
Diego Rivera, Maternidad, Angelina y el niño Diego (Motherhood, Angelina and the Child Diego), c. August 1916, oil on canvas, 134.5 x 88.5 cm, Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil. This work forms part of Rivera's Crystal Cubist period.

Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, to a well-to-do family, the son of María del Pilar Barrientos and Diego Rivera Acosta. [1] Diego had a twin brother named Carlos, who died two years after they were born. [2] Rivera was said to have Converso ancestry (having ancestors who were forced to convert from Judaism to Catholicism). [3] Rivera wrote in 1935: "My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life." [4] Rivera began drawing at the age of three, a year after his twin brother's death. He had been caught drawing on the walls. His parents, rather than punishing him, installed chalkboards and canvas on the walls. As an adult, he married Angelina Beloff in 1911, and she gave birth to a son, Diego (1916–1918). Maria Vorobieff-Stebelska gave birth to a daughter named Marika in 1918 or 1919 when Rivera was married to Angelina (according to House on the Bridge: Ten Turbulent Years with Diego Rivera and Angelina's memoirs called Memorias). He married his second wife, Guadalupe Marín, in June 1922, with whom he had two daughters: Ruth and Guadalupe. He was still married when he met art student Frida Kahlo. They married on August 21, 1929 when he was 42 and she was 22. Their mutual infidelities and his violent temper led to divorce in 1939, but they remarried December 8, 1940 in San Francisco. Rivera later married Emma Hurtado, his agent since 1946, on July 29, 1955, one year after Kahlo's death.

Guanajuato State of Mexico

Guanajuato, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Guanajuato, is one of the 31 states which, with Mexico City, are the 32 federal entities of Mexico. It is divided into 46 municipalities and its capital city is Guanajuato. The largest city in the state is León.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the eleventh most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

<i>Converso</i> Jewish-descended community in Spain

A converso, "convert", was a Jew who converted to Roman Catholicism in Spain or Portugal, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries, or one of their descendants.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1932, photo by: Carl Van Vechten Frida Kahlo Diego Rivera 1932.jpg
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1932, photo by: Carl Van Vechten

Rivera was an atheist. His mural Dreams of a Sunday in the Alameda depicted Ignacio Ramírez holding a sign which read, "God does not exist". This work caused a furor, but Rivera refused to remove the inscription. The painting was not shown for nine years – until Rivera agreed to remove the inscription. He stated: "To affirm 'God does not exist', I do not have to hide behind Don Ignacio Ramírez; I am an atheist and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis." [5]

Ignacio Ramírez mexican writer of the 19th century

Juan Ignacio Paulino Ramírez Calzada, known as Ignacio Ramírez, was a Mexican writer, poet, journalist, lawyer, atheist, and political libertarian from San Miguel de Allende, then called San Miguel el Grande. His father had been a prominent federalist politician. In writings, Ramírez used the pen name, El Nigromante. He defended the rights of Indians. Ramírez worked with Guillermo Prieto to start the satirical periodical, Don Simplicio. Ramírez is considered a member of the "'romantic generation' of Mexican liberals" coinciding with the Liberal Reform; others were Ponciano Arriaga, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Melchor Ocampo, and Guillermo Prieto.

From the age of ten, Rivera studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. He was sponsored to continue study in Europe by Teodoro A. Dehesa Méndez, the governor of the State of Veracruz. After arrival in Europe in 1907, Rivera initially went to study with Eduardo Chicharro in Madrid, Spain, and from there went to Paris, France, to live and work with the great gathering of artists in Montparnasse, especially at La Ruche, where his friend Amedeo Modigliani painted his portrait in 1914. [6] His circle of close friends, which included Ilya Ehrenburg, Chaim Soutine, Amedeo Modigliani and Modigliani's wife Jeanne Hébuterne, Max Jacob, gallery owner Léopold Zborowski, and Moise Kisling, was captured for posterity by Marie Vorobieff-Stebelska (Marevna) in her painting "Homage to Friends from Montparnasse" (1962). [7]

Academy of San Carlos

The Academy of San Carlos is located at 22 Academia Street in just northeast of the main plaza of Mexico City. It was the first major art academy and the first art museum in the Americas. It was founded in 1781 as the School of Engraving and moved to the Academia Street location about 10 years later. It emphasized classical European training until the early 20th century, when it shifted to a more modern perspective. At this time, it also integrated with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, eventually becoming the Faculty of Arts and Design, which is based in Xochimilco. Currently, only graduate courses of the modern school are given in the original academy building.

Mexico City Capital in Mexico

Mexico City, or the City of Mexico, is the capital of Mexico and the most populous city in North America. Mexico City is one of the most important cultural and financial centres in the Americas. It is located in the Valley of Mexico, a large valley in the high plateaus in the center of Mexico, at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 ft). The city has 16 boroughs.

Teodoro A. Dehesa Méndez was the Governor of the state of Veracruz in Mexico for five terms from 1892 to 1911.

In those years, Paris was witnessing the beginning of Cubism in paintings by such eminent painters as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. From 1913 to 1917, Rivera enthusiastically embraced this new school of art. Around 1917, inspired by Paul Cézanne's paintings, Rivera shifted toward Post-Impressionism with simple forms and large patches of vivid colors. His paintings began to attract attention, and he was able to display them at several exhibitions.

Cubism Early-20th-century avant-garde art movement

Cubism is an early-20th-century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture. Cubism has been considered the most influential art movement of the 20th century. The term is broadly used in association with a wide variety of art produced in Paris during the 1910s and throughout the 1920s.

Pablo Picasso 20th-century Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright who spent most of his adult life in France. Regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a dramatic portrayal of the bombing of Guernica by the German and Italian airforces during the Spanish Civil War.

Georges Braque French painter and sculptor

Georges Braque was a major 20th-century French painter, collagist, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor. His most important contributions to the history of art were in his alliance with Fauvism from 1906, and the role he played in the development of Cubism. Braque’s work between 1908 and 1912 is closely associated with that of his colleague Pablo Picasso. Their respective Cubist works were indistinguishable for many years, yet the quiet nature of Braque was partially eclipsed by the fame and notoriety of Picasso.

Rivera died on November 24, 1957. [8]

Career in Mexico

Diego Rivera's mural The History of Mexico at the National Palace in Mexico City RiveraMuralNationalPalace.jpg
Diego Rivera's mural The History of Mexico at the National Palace in Mexico City
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Diego Rivera, 1914 Amedeo Modigliani 038.jpg
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Diego Rivera, 1914

In 1920, urged by Alberto J. Pani, the Mexican ambassador to France, Rivera left France and traveled through Italy studying its art, including Renaissance frescoes. After José Vasconcelos became Minister of Education, Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921 to become involved in the government sponsored Mexican mural program planned by Vasconcelos. [9] See also Mexican muralism. The program included such Mexican artists as José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, and the French artist Jean Charlot. In January 1922, [10] he painted – experimentally in encaustic – his first significant mural Creation [11] in the Bolívar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City while guarding himself with a pistol against right-wing students.

Renaissance European cultural period, 14th to 17th century

The Renaissance is a period in European history, covering the span between the 14th and 17th centuries and marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. The traditional view focuses more on the early modern aspects of the Renaissance and argues that it was a break from the past, but many historians today focus more on its medieval aspects and argue that it was an extension of the middle ages.

José Vasconcelos Mexican Secretary of Education

José Vasconcelos Calderón has been called the "cultural caudillo" of the Mexican Revolution. He was an important Mexican writer, philosopher and politician. He is one of the most influential and controversial personalities in the development of modern Mexico. His philosophy of the "cosmic race" affected all aspects of Mexican sociocultural, political, and economic policies.

Mural piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a large permanent surface

A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other permanent surfaces. A distinguishing characteristic of mural painting is that the architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture.

En el Arsenal detail, 1928 Rivera-the-arsenal.jpg
En el Arsenal detail, 1928

In the autumn of 1922, Rivera participated in the founding of the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, and later that year he joined the Mexican Communist Party [12] (including its Central Committee). His murals, subsequently painted in fresco only, dealt with Mexican society and reflected the country's 1910 Revolution. Rivera developed his own native style based on large, simplified figures and bold colors with an Aztec influence clearly present in murals at the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico City [13] begun in September 1922, intended to consist of one hundred and twenty-four frescoes, and finished in 1928. [10]

Recreation of Man at the Crossroads (renamed Man, Controller of the Universe), originally created in 1934 (detail) Palacio de Bellas Artes - Mural El Hombre in cruce de caminos Rivera 3.jpg
Recreation of Man at the Crossroads (renamed Man, Controller of the Universe ), originally created in 1934 (detail)

His art, in a fashion similar to the steles of the Maya, tells stories. The mural En el Arsenal (In the Arsenal) [14] shows on the right-hand side Tina Modotti holding an ammunition belt and facing Julio Antonio Mella, in a light hat, and Vittorio Vidali behind in a black hat. However, the En el Arsenal detail shown does not include the right-hand side described nor any of the three individuals mentioned; instead it shows the left-hand side with Frida Kahlo handing out munitions. Leon Trotsky lived with Rivera and Kahlo for several months while exiled in Mexico. [15] Some of Rivera's most famous murals are featured at the National School of Agriculture (Chapingo Autonomous University of Agriculture) at Chapingo near Texcoco (1925–27), in the Cortés Palace in Cuernavaca (1929–30), and the National Palace in Mexico City (1929–30, 1935). [16] [17] [18]

Rivera painted murals in the main hall and corridor at the Chapingo Autonomous University of Agriculture (UACh). He also painted a fresco mural titled Tierra Fecundada ( Fertile Land in English) in the university's chapel between 1923 and 1927. Fertile Land depicts the revolutionary struggles of Mexico's peasant (farmers) and working classes (industry) in part through the depiction of hammer and sickle joined by a star in the soffit of the chapel. In the mural, a "propagandist" points to another hammer and sickle. The mural features a woman with an ear of corn in each hand, which art critic Antonio Rodriguez describes as evocative of the Aztec goddess of maize in his book Canto a la Tierra: Los murales de Diego Rivera en la Capilla de Chapingo.

The corpses of revolutionary heroes Emiliano Zapata and Otilio Montano are shown in graves, their bodies fertilizing the maize field above. A sunflower in the center of the scene "glorifies those who died for an ideal and are reborn, transfigured, into the fertile cornfield of the nation," writes Rodrigues. The mural also depicts Rivera's wife Guadalupe Marin as a fertile nude goddess and their daughter Guadalupe Rivera y Marin as a cherub. [19]

The mural was slightly damaged in an earthquake, but has since been repaired and touched up, remaining in pristine form. [20]

Later years

Portrait of Diego Rivera, March 19, 1932. Photo by Carl Van Vechten Diego Rivera 1932.jpg
Portrait of Diego Rivera, March 19, 1932. Photo by Carl Van Vechten
Detroit Industry, North Wall, 1932-33. Detroit Institute of Arts Rivera detroit industry north.jpg
Detroit Industry , North Wall, 1932–33. Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit Industry, South Wall, 1932-33. Detroit Institute of Arts Rivera detroit industry south.jpg
Detroit Industry, South Wall, 1932–33. Detroit Institute of Arts
The Tomb of Diego Rivera in The Rotunda of Illustrious Persons inside the Panteon de Dolores DiegoRiveraTombFrontDoloresDF.JPG
The Tomb of Diego Rivera in The Rotunda of Illustrious Persons inside the Panteón de Dolores

In the autumn of 1927, Rivera arrived in Moscow, accepting an invitation to take part in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution. The following year, while still in Russia, he met the visiting Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who would soon become Rivera's friend and patron, as well as the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art. [21] Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural for the Red Army Club in Moscow, but in 1928 he was ordered out by the authorities because of involvement in anti-Soviet politics, and he returned to Mexico. In 1929, Rivera was expelled from the Mexican Communist Party. His 1928 mural In the Arsenal was interpreted by some as evidence of Rivera's prior knowledge of the murder of Julio Antonio Mella allegedly by Stalinist assassin Vittorio Vidali. After divorcing Guadalupe (Lupe) Marin, Rivera married Frida Kahlo in August 1929. Also in 1929, the first English-language book on Rivera, American journalist Ernestine Evans's The Frescoes of Diego Rivera, was published in New York City. In December, Rivera accepted a commission to paint murals in the Palace of Cortés in Cuernavaca from the American Ambassador to Mexico. [22]

In September 1930, Rivera accepted an invitation from architect Timothy L. Pflueger to paint for him in San Francisco. After arriving in November accompanied by Kahlo, Rivera painted a mural for the City Club of the San Francisco Stock Exchange for US$2,500 [23] and a fresco for the California School of Fine Art, later relocated to what is now the Diego Rivera Gallery at the San Francisco Art Institute. [22] Kahlo and Rivera worked and lived at the studio of Ralph Stackpole, who had suggested Rivera to Pflueger. Rivera met Helen Wills Moody, a famous tennis player, who modeled for his City Club mural. [23] In November 1931, Rivera had a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; Kahlo was present. [24] Between 1932 and 1933, he completed a famous series of twenty-seven fresco panels entitled Detroit Industry on the walls of an inner court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. During the McCarthyism of the 1950s, a large sign was placed in the courtyard defending the artistic merit of the murals while attacking his politics as "detestable." [21]

His mural Man at the Crossroads , begun in 1933 for the Rockefeller Center in New York City, was removed after a furor erupted in the press over a portrait of Vladimir Lenin it contained. When Diego refused to remove Lenin from the painting, Diego was ordered to leave. One of Diego's assistants managed to take a few pictures of the work so Diego was able to later recreate it. The American poet Archibald MacLeish wrote six "irony-laden" poems about the mural. [25] The New Yorker magazine published E. B. White's poem "I paint what I see: A ballad of artistic integrity". [26] As a result of the negative publicity, a further commission was canceled to paint a mural for an exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair. Rivera issued a statement that with the money left over from the commission of the mural at Rockefeller Center, he would repaint the same mural over and over wherever he was asked until the money ran out. He was paid in full though the mural was supposedly destroyed. Rumors have floated that the mural was actually covered over rather than brought down and destroyed.

In December 1933, Rivera returned to Mexico, and he repainted Man at the Crossroads in 1934 in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. This surviving version was called Man, Controller of the Universe . On June 5, 1940, invited again by Pflueger, Rivera returned for the last time to the United States to paint a ten-panel mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Pan American Unity was completed November 29, 1940. As he was painting, Rivera was on display in front of Exposition attendees. He received US$1,000 per month and US$1,000 for travel expenses. [23]

House of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (built by Juan O'Gorman in 1930) San-Angel-Casa-Rivera-Kahlo.jpg
House of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (built by Juan O'Gorman in 1930)

The mural includes representations of two of Pflueger's architectural works as well as portraits of Kahlo, woodcarver Dudley C. Carter, and actress Paulette Goddard, who is depicted holding Rivera's hand as they plant a white tree together. [23] Rivera's assistants on the mural included the pioneer African-American artist, dancer, and textile designer Thelma Johnson Streat. The mural and its archives reside at City College of San Francisco. [27] [28]

Membership in AMORC

In 1926, Rivera became a member of AMORC, the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, an occult organization founded by American occultist Harvey Spencer Lewis. In 1926, Rivera was among the founders of AMORC's Mexico City lodge, called Quetzalcoatl, and painted an image of Quetzalcoatl for the local temple. [29] In 1954, when he tried to be readmitted into the Mexican Communist Party from which he had previously been excluded because of his support of Trotsky, Rivera had to justify his AMORC activities. The Mexican Communist Party at that time excluded from its ranks members of Freemasonry, and regarded AMORC as suspiciously similar to Freemasonry. [30] Rivera answered that, by joining AMORC, he wanted to infiltrate a typical “Yankee” organization on behalf of Communism. However, he also claimed that AMORC was “essentially materialist, insofar as it only admits different states of energy and matter, and is based on ancient Egyptian occult knowledge from Amenhotep IV and Nefertiti.” [31]

Cinematic portrayals

Diego Rivera was portrayed by Rubén Blades in Cradle Will Rock (1999), by Alfred Molina in Frida (2002), and (in a brief appearance) by José Montini in Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015).

Literary portrayals

Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky are principal characters in Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Lacuna .



Sculptures and lithographs

See also

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Museo Mural Diego Rivera

Museo Mural Diego Rivera is a museum in Mexico City where Diego Rivera's mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central is located. It is the goal of the museum to diffuse and preserve Diego Rivera's artistic work, as well as organizing temporary exhibits and conferences and events about the work of other artists.

José Luis Romo Martín was a Mexican painter, sculptor and graphic artist of Otomi -Hñäñhü- heritage.

Mardonio Magaña Mexican educator and sculptor known for his folk art.

Mardonio Magaña-Camacho (c.1865–1947) also known as Magañita, was a Mexican educator and sculptor known for his folk art stone direct carvings, he was also known to work with wood and mud. He was a self-taught artist inspired by nature, that was "discovered" by artist Diego Rivera. It's said that Diego Rivera was quoted as saying Magaña was, "the greatest contemporary Mexican sculptor".


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  20. eyewitness, journalist Julie Mollins, 2015.
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  25. "Archibald MacLeish Criticism". Enotes.com. Retrieved December 8, 2011.
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  28. "Pan American Unity Mural". City College of San Francisco. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  29. Raquel Tibol, “Apareció la serpiente: Diego Rivera y los rosacruces,” Proceso 701 (April 9, 1990), pp. 50–53.
  30. Tibol, “Apareció la serpiente,” p.53.
  31. Diego Rivera, Arte y política, México: Grijalbo, 1979, p. 354. ISBN   968-419-083-2.

Further reading