Diego Rivera

Eyridiki Sellou | Oct 23, 2023

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Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez († November 24, 1957 in Mexico City) was a Mexican painter. He is considered, along with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, the most important modernist painters in Mexico. Together they were known as Los Tres Grandes (The Big Three).

From 1907 to 1921 Diego Rivera worked in Europe, and in the early and late 1930s in the United States. In his panel paintings, Rivera adapted many different styles in rapid succession and was involved with Cubism for a long time. During his time in Europe, he was in contact with leading exponents of Modern Art such as Picasso, Braque, and Gris. After returning to Mexico, Diego Rivera worked primarily on his large mural projects, which he painted in places such as the Palacio Nacional, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Secretaría de Educación Pública, and various institutions in the United States. These murales, which he saw as a contribution to popular education, contributed in large part to Rivera's fame and success. Behind them, the other facets of his oeuvre took a back seat.

The exact number of his panel paintings is not known; oil paintings by Rivera, previously unknown, are still being found. Many of them were portraits and self-portraits, a large number also showed Mexican motifs. The latter in particular, as well as variations on his mural motifs, were popular with American tourists. In addition, Rivera also made drawings and illustrations and designed costumes and sets for a theater production. These aspects of his oeuvre have not yet been addressed in detail in the literature on Rivera.

Rivera joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1922 and was a member of its executive committee for a time. He traveled to the Soviet Union in 1927 for the anniversary of the October Revolution, intending to contribute to artistic development there; however, because of his criticism of Stalinist policies, he was advised to return to Mexico. Because of his critical position on Joseph Stalin and the government orders Rivera accepted, the Mexican Communist Party expelled him in 1929, but accepted one of his requests for readmission in 1954.

In the 1930s Rivera turned to the ideas of Trotskyism. He campaigned for Leon Trotsky to be granted exile in Mexico and briefly hosted him in his home. After political and personal disputes with Trotsky, the Mexican artist severed ties in 1939. Diego Rivera's political convictions were also reflected in his works, in which he propagated communist ideas and repeatedly immortalized leading figures of socialism and communism. In connection with his political activities, Rivera also published articles and participated in the publication of leftist magazines. Rivera married the artist Frida Kahlo, who shared his political beliefs, in 1929.

Childhood and education

Diego Rivera and his twin brother José Carlos María were born in Guanajuato on December 8 or 13, 1886, the first sons of the teaching couple María del Pilar Barrientos and Diego Rivera. Diego Rivera's family background remains uncertain, as largely colocated by himself. His paternal grandfather, Don Anastasio de Rivera, was born there as the son of his Italian-born great-grandfather, who was in the Spanish diplomatic service in Russia, and his unknown Russian mother died in childbirth. Don Anastasio later emigrated to Mexico, acquired a silver mine, and married Ynez Acosta. He reportedly fought for Benito Juárez against the French intervention. His maternal grandmother, Nemesis Rodriguez Valpuesta, is said to have been of half-Indian descent. With his unverifiable statements, Rivera contributed to the creation of legends around his person and located himself in the history of Mexico, which is a central aspect of his oeuvre.

Diego Rivera's twin brother died in 1888; his mother gave birth to a daughter named María in 1891. The left-leaning articles of his father, author and co-editor of the liberal magazine El Demócrata, so outraged his colleagues and the conservative part of the readership that even his family was hostile. In 1892, after he had also speculated in the mining business, they moved to Mexico City, where Diego senior got a job in the civil service. However, his father took care of his son's education early on: Diego junior had already learned to read at the age of four. From 1894 he attended the Colegio Católico Carpantier. His talent for drawing was furthered by additional evening classes at the Academia de San Carlos from the third grade onward. In 1898 he enrolled there as a regular student, having obtained a scholarship.

Diego Rivera thus came into contact with highly diverse views of art. He names Félix Parra, José María Velasco and Santiago Rebull (in this order) as his essential teachers at the academy. Rebull, who recognized the boy's talent and may have favored him to the annoyance of his fellow students, was a student of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and a follower of the Nazarenes, while Parra was a naturalist with an interest in pre-Hispanic Mexico. His studies followed the European model with technical training, rational research and positivist ideals.

Rivera worked both in the studio and in the landscape, drawing heavily on Velasco, from whose teaching of perspective he benefited. He followed his teacher especially in the depiction of the special colorfulness of a typical Mexican landscape. Furthermore, Rivera met the landscape painter Gerardo Murillo at the academy, who had been in Europe shortly before. Murillo influenced the art student through his appreciation of Native American art and Mexican culture, which came to bear in Rivera's later work. In addition, Murillo taught Rivera about contemporary art in Europe, which made the latter want to travel to Europe himself.

Rivera expressed admiration for José Guadalupe Posada, whom he came to know and appreciate at this time, in his autobiography. In 1905 he left the academy. In 1906 he exhibited for the first time 26 of his works, mostly landscapes and portraits, at the annual art exhibition of the Academia de San Carlos organized by Murillo, and was also able to sell his first works.

First stay in Europe

In January 1907, thanks to a grant from Teodoro A. Dehesa, the governor of the state of Veracruz, and his reserves from sales, he was able to travel to Spain. On Murillo's recommendation, he joined the workshop of Eduardo Chicharro y Agüeras, one of Spain's leading realists. The painter also advised Rivera to travel throughout Spain in 1907 and 1908 to become acquainted with various influences and currents. In the following years, Rivera tried out different styles in his works. At the Museo del Prado he copied and studied paintings by El Greco, Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez, and Flemish painters. Rivera was introduced to the circles of the Spanish avant-garde in Madrid by the Dadaist writer and critic Ramón Gómez de la Serna. In 1908 Rivera also exhibited in the second exhibition of Chicharro students.

Inspired by his avant-garde friends, Rivera traveled on to France in 1909, visiting museums and exhibitions as well as attending lectures. He also worked in the schools of Montparnasse and on the banks of the Seine. In the summer of 1909, he traveled on to Brussels. Here he met the Russian painter Angelina Beloff, six years his senior. She became his first companion and accompanied him to London. There he studied the works of William Hogarth, William Blake and William Turner. At the end of the year, Rivera returned to Paris accompanied by Beloff and presented works for the first time in an exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1910. Since his grant expired, Rivera returned to Mexico via Madrid in the middle of the year, arriving in August 1910.

In November, he showed some of his works at the Academia de San Carlos as part of an art exhibition celebrating the centennial of Mexico's independence. During his stay, the Mexican Revolution broke out. No evidence can be found for the claim made by Rivera himself that he fought alongside Emiliano Zapata at the beginning of the revolution, so it is highly likely that this was a legend created later. Despite the political turmoil, the exhibition was an artistic and financial success for Rivera; seven of the paintings were purchased by the Mexican government. With the proceeds, he was able to begin his return trip to Europe in June 1911.

Second stay in Europe

In June 1911 Diego Rivera returned to Paris, where he moved into an apartment with Angelina Beloff. In the spring of 1912, the two went to Castile. During a stay in Toledo, Rivera met several Latin American artists living in Europe. He had particularly close contact with his compatriot Angel Zárraga. In Spain, Rivera experimented with pointillism. After returning to Paris in the fall of 1912, he and Angelina Beloff moved to Rue du Départ. The artists Piet Mondrian, Lodewijk Schelfhout, and the painter Conrad Kickert - at the time a correspondent for the Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer - lived in the neighborhood, and their work had been influenced by Paul Cézanne. In Rivera's painting, the first cubist influences were noticeable at this time. He arrived at his own understanding of Cubism, which was more colorful than that of other Cubists. After he became friends with Juan Gris in 1914, his works also showed influences from the work of the Spaniard.

In 1913 he exhibited his first Cubist paintings at the Salon d'Automne. He also participated in group exhibitions in Munich and Vienna that year, and in Prague, Amsterdam and Brussels in 1914. At this time Diego Rivera participated very actively in the theoretical discussions of the Cubists. One of his most important interlocutors was Pablo Picasso. In April 1914, the Berthe Weill Gallery organized Rivera's first solo exhibition, which featured 25 of his Cubist works. He was able to sell some of the works, so that his strained financial situation improved. Rivera and Beloff were thus able to travel with other artists to Mallorca in July, where Rivera learned of the outbreak of the First World War. Because of the war, their stay on the island lasted longer than planned. They traveled on to Madrid via Barcelona, where Rivera met various Spanish and Latin American intellectuals. There, in 1915, he participated in the exhibition Los pintores íntegris, organized by Gómez de la Serna, where Cubist works were exhibited for the first time in Spain, triggering heated discussions.

In the summer of 1915, Rivera returned to Paris, where his mother visited him. From her and the Mexican intellectuals in Spain he received information about the political and social situation in his homeland. Rivera followed the development of the revolution in his home country with sympathy and also addressed it in his work. In 1915 Rivera began an affair with the Russian artist Marevna Vorobev-Stebelska, which lasted until his return to Mexico. He achieved increasing success with his painting. In 1916 Diego Rivera participated in two group exhibitions of Post-Impressionist and Cubist art at Marius de Zayas' Modern Gallery in New York. In October of that year, he had the solo exhibition Exhibition of Paintings by Diego M. Rivera and Mexican Pre-Conquest Art there. In addition, this year his first son named Diego was born from his relationship with Angelina Beloff.

In 1917, the director of the gallery L'Effort moderne, Léonce Rosenberg, contracted Diego Rivera for two years. He was introduced by Angelina Beloff to a discussion group of artists and Russian émigrés organized by Henri Matisse and participated in the metaphysical discussions there. These had an impact on Rivera's work through a more unadorned style and simplified compositions. In the spring, Rivera came into conflict with the art critic Pierre Reverdy, who had risen to become one of the leading theorists of Cubism and had given Diego Rivera's works very bad reviews. A quarrel with fisticuffs ensued between the two. As a result, Diego Rivera turned away from Cubism and returned to figurative painting. He also broke with Rosenberg and Picasso, which led to Braque, Gris, Léger and his friends Jacques Lipchitz and Gino Severini turning away from him. In the winter of 1917, his first son died as a result of influenza.

Together with Angelina Beloff, Rivera moved into an apartment near the Champ de Mars in 1918. The influence of Cézanne was noticeable in his paintings, and that of Ingres in some still lifes and portraits. Rivera picked up Fauvist elements, as well as Renoir's style and color scheme. This return to figurative painting was supported by the art writer Élie Faure, in whose exhibition Les Constructeurs the Mexican painter had already participated in 1917. Faure had a great influence on Rivera's further development because he interested him in the art of the Italian Renaissance and discussed with him the social value of art. As a result, Diego Rivera considered mural painting as a form of representation.

In 1919 Diego Rivera met David Alfaro Siqueiros for the first time. Together they discussed necessary changes in Mexican art. They shared common views on the task of a Mexican art and what place it should have in society. On November 13, Rivera's mistress, Mariya Bronislavovna Vorobyova-Stebelskaya (called Marevna) gave birth to his daughter Marika. Rivera painted two portraits of the Mexican ambassador in Paris and his wife. The ambassador interceded on Diego Rivera's behalf with José Vasconcelos, the new university director in Mexico City, and asked that the painter be funded to study in Italy. This scholarship enabled Diego Rivera to travel to Italy in February 1920. During the following 17 months there he studied Etruscan, Byzantine and Renaissance works of art. He made sketches of the Italian landscape and architecture, as well as the masterpieces of Italian art. Most of them are lost.

Rivera studied Giotto's frescoes and Michelangelo's wall and ceiling paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Thus Rivera became acquainted with the fresco technique and the expressive possibilities of monumental painting. Attracted by the social and political developments in his homeland, Rivera traveled alone back to Mexico via Paris in March 1921.

Rivera as a political artist in Mexico

While Diego Rivera was in Italy, José Vasconcelos was appointed Minister of Education by President Alvaro Obregón in 1920. Vasconcelos introduced a comprehensive program of popular education that included educational and instructional murals on and in public buildings. With these, he sought to realize the ideals of a comprehensive cultural reform movement in the wake of the Revolution, which envisioned ethnic and social equality for the indigenous population and the establishment of a distinct Mexican national culture.

Shortly after Rivera's arrival in Paris in March 1921, he returned to Mexico because the political and social developments there seemed attractive to him. He distanced himself from his time in Europe by, instead of continuing to follow the stylistic developments of modernism, developing his very own style, leaving behind his partner, mistress, and daughter. Only his daughter Marika received alimony through friends, although Rivera never officially acknowledged paternity. Shortly after his return in June 1921, the Minister of Education included Rivera in the government's cultural program. In 1921 Vasconcelos invited Diego Rivera and other artists and intellectuals who had returned from Europe on a trip to Yucatán. They were to familiarize themselves with Mexico's cultural and national heritage in order to incorporate it into their future works. Rivera saw the archaeological sites of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá on this trip. Inspired by the impressions gathered there, Rivera developed his ideas of an art in the service of the people, which would convey history through murals.

Diego Rivera began painting his first mural in January 1922 at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. This project was the prelude and the acid test for the government's mural program. While several painters worked in the courtyard, Rivera completed the painting The Creation in the auditorium. The work, in which he largely followed the traditional methods of fresco technique, took a year to complete. His first mural still took up a traditionally Christian and European motif, although he contrasted this with a typically Mexican color scheme and just such types of figures. In the panel paintings after his return, on the other hand, the focus was on Mexican everyday life. Rivera married Guadelupe Marín in June 1922, who modeled for him for one of the figures in the mural, after he had had relationships with several models before. The two moved into a house on Mixcalco Street.

In the fall of 1922, Diego Rivera participated in the founding of the Sindicato Revolucionario de Trabajadores Técnicos, Pintores y Escultores, the revolutionary union of technical workers, painters and sculptors, where he became acquainted with communist ideas. In the union Rivera was associated with David Alfaro Siqueiros, Carlos Mérida, Xavier Guerrero, Amado de la Cueva, Fernando Leal, Ramón Alva Guadarrama, Fermín Revueltas, Germán Cueto and José Clemente Orozco. At the end of 1922, Diego Rivera joined the Mexican Communist Party. Together with Siqueiros and Xavier Guerrero, he formed its Executive Committee.

In March 1922 Rivera was commissioned to decorate the Secretaría de Educación Pública with frescoes. From September 1922 he worked on this project, which he directed at the same time. It was the largest commission in the first decade of muralismo. The work at the Ministry of Education dragged on for years. Earning only two dollars a day from these works, Diego Rivera sold paintings, drawings and watercolors to collectors, mostly from North America. In 1924 Rivera's daughter Guadelupe was born. That year there was considerable conflict over the mural project in the Ministry of Education. Conservative groups opposed the mural, Education Minister Vasconcelos resigned, and work on the project was halted. After the majority of the painters were dismissed, Rivera was able to convince the new Minister of Education, José María Puig Casaurac, of the importance of the murales and subsequently retained his employment to complete the paintings. At the end of 1924, in addition to his work at the Ministry of Education, he was commissioned to paint murals at the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura in Chapingo. There he created decorative murals for the entrance hall, staircase and reception hall on the second floor, and in 1926 the walls of the auditorium. Both his pregnant wife and Tina Modotti modeled for Rivera on this project. He entered into a relationship with Modotti, which led to his temporary separation from Guadalupe Marín. After the birth of his daughter Ruth, Diego Rivera left his wife in 1927.

Trip to the Soviet Union and successes in Mexico

In the fall of 1927, after completing the work in Chapingo, Diego Rivera traveled to the Soviet Union as a member of the official delegation of the Mexican Communist Party on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. Rivera had already wanted to visit the USSR during his Paris years; now he hoped to benefit from the development of art there and wanted to contribute to Soviet art with a mural of his own. The journey took him via Berlin, where he met intellectuals and artists, to Moscow, where he stayed for nine months. There he lectured and taught monumental painting at the School of Fine Arts. Rivera was in contact with the October group of artists, which advocated public art that followed popular traditions. During the May 1 celebrations in 1928, he made sketches for a mural planned at the Red Army Club, but it did not come to fruition because of intrigue and disagreements. Due to different political and artistic views, the Stalinist government suggested Diego Rivera return to Mexico.

In 1928 he returned from the Soviet Union and definitively separated from Guadelupe Marín. He finished the murals at the Ministry of Education and Chapingo that year. While he was finishing his work at the Ministry of Education, he received a visit from Frida Kahlo, who showed him her first attempts at painting and asked for his opinion. Because of Rivera's positive response, she decided to devote herself entirely to painting. On August 21, 1929, Diego Rivera married the painter, who was almost 21 years younger. Shortly before, Rivera had been elected director by the students of the art school of the Academia de San Carlos. However, his concepts came under heavy criticism from the media and conservative forces. He devised a new timetable and gave students a large say in the choice of teachers, staff and methods. Rivera's reforms were criticized primarily by teachers and students of the school of architecture housed in the same building; they were joined by conservative artists and also members of the Communist Party, from which Diego Rivera was expelled in September 1929. Finally, the administration of the Academy gave in to the protests and dismissed Diego Rivera in mid-1930. The expulsion from the Communist Party was the result of Rivera's critical position towards Joseph Stalin and his policies, as well as his acceptance of commissions from the government under President Plutarco Elías Calles.

In 1929 Rivera was commissioned to paint the staircase of the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, and he also painted a mural for the Secretaría de Salud. While still working at the seat of government, which was to occupy Rivera for several years, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Dwight W. Morrow, commissioned Diego Rivera to execute a mural in the Palacio de Cortés of Cuernavaca. For this commission he received $12,000, his highest fee to date. After completing this commission in the fall of 1930, Rivera accepted an offer to do murals in the United States. This decision was sharply criticized by the Communist press in Mexico.

Stay in the USA

In the fall of 1930, Diego Rivera traveled to San Francisco together with Frida Kahlo. In the United States, the art of the Mexican muralist had already been known since the 1920s through newspaper articles and travel reports. Travelers had already brought Rivera's panel paintings to the United States, and now he was to execute murals there as well. The Californian sculptor Ralph Stackpole had known Rivera since his time in Paris and collected his paintings, one of which he gave to William Gerstle, the president of the San Francisco Art Commission. Gerstle wanted Rivera to paint a wall at the California School of Fine Arts, and the latter accepted the commission. In 1929, when Stackpole was commissioned with other artists to decorate the new San Francisco Pacific Stock Exchange building, he also managed to reserve a wall for Diego Rivera. Initially, Rivera was denied entry to the United States because of his communist leanings. Only after the intercession of Albert M. Bender, an influential insurance agent and art collector, was he granted a visa. This was criticized by both anti-Communist media and San Francisco artists who felt they were at a disadvantage in the commissioning process. Also met with criticism was the fact that 120 of Rivera's works were exhibited at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in late 1930. After the completion of the mural projects and as a result of the couple's personal appearance, the mood changed for the better.

In San Francisco, Diego Rivera painted the Allegory of California mural at the San Francisco Pacific Stock Exchange Luncheon Club from December 1930 to February 1931. Along with the stock exchange building, the mural was officially dedicated in March 1931. Diego Rivera then completed the mural The Realization of a Fresco at the California School of Fine Arts from April to June 1931. Immediately after completing the project, he returned to Mexico to finish the mural left unfinished in the Palacio Nacional at the request of the President. Shortly after, Diego Rivera received an invitation to exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was the second major solo exhibition at the museum, which opened in 1929, after a retrospective of Henri Matisse, and remained the most important exhibition of Rivera's work in the United States until 1986. Because of this invitation, Rivera again abandoned work at the Palacio Nacional after completing the main wall. He traveled by ship to New York with his wife and the art dealer Frances Flynn Paine, who had proposed the retrospective to him. He arrived in November 1931 and worked on eight transportable frescoes until the exhibition opened on December 23. In total, the retrospective showed 150 works by Rivera and was visited by 57,000 people. Critics also accompanied the exhibition positively.

Through the tennis world champion Helen Wills Moody, Diego Rivera met William R. Valentiner and Edgar P. Richardson, the two directors of the Detroit Institute of Arts. They invited him to exhibit in Detroit in February and March 1931, and made a proposal to the city's art commission in charge to hire Diego Rivera for a mural in the museum's Garden Court. With the support of Edsel B. Ford, chairman of the city's art committee, Diego Rivera was able to begin preparing his work for Detroit after his New York exhibition in early 1932. Ford provided $10,000 for the execution of the frescoes, so a fee of $100 per painted square foot was planned. However, when Rivera visited the location, he decided to paint the entire courtyard for the same fee instead of the planned two paintings. In the frescoes, Rivera depicted Detroit's industry. His industrial painting was criticized for showing pornographic, profane, and communist content, and the safety of the works appeared to be compromised at times. However, Edsel B. Ford stood behind the artist and his work, calming the situation.

Still working in Detroit, Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural in the lobby of Rockefeller Center, which was still under construction. During 1933, he worked on this painting, whose theme, Man at the Crossroads, Looking Hopefully to a Better Future, had been given by a commission. In this painting, Rivera depicted his negative view of capitalism and showed Lenin, who had not yet appeared in the approved preliminary drawing, as a representative of the new society. This led to fierce criticism from the conservative press, whereas progressive groups showed solidarity with the artist. The Rockefellers as patrons did not back the artist as Ford had done, but asked Rivera to paint over Lenin. When the artist refused, the painting was covered up in early May and Rivera was paid off and fired. As a result, Diego Rivera returned to Mexico. In February 1934, the mural at Rockefeller Center was finally destroyed.

Return to Mexico

Diego Rivera returned to Mexico in 1933 disappointed that he could not freely realize his political works in the United States. He had become one of the best-known artists in the United States, revered by other artists and leftist intellectuals, antagonized by industrialists and conservatives. After the fresco in Rockefeller Center was destroyed in February 1934, Diego Rivera was given the chance to realize his work in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City that same year. Subsequently, the state again increasingly awarded public commissions to the great representatives of Muralismo.

After his return, Rivera and Frida Kahlo moved into the studio-residence in San Angel that he had commissioned from Juan O'Gorman in 1931. Kahlo lived in the smaller, blue cube of the Bauhaus-style building, Rivera in the larger, pink cube. In November 1934 Diego Rivera resumed work on the Palacio Nacional, completing it in 1935. He completed the ensemble consisting of the paintings The Pre-Hispanic Mexico - The Ancient Indian World from 1929 and History of Mexico from the Conquest to 1930 from 1929 to 1931, Epic of the Mexican People with the painting Mexico Today and Tomorrow. In November 1935 Rivera finished this project. Since no further large mural projects were pending, he devoted himself increasingly to panel painting again in the following period; his motifs were often Indian children and mothers. The technical execution of these paintings in the second half of the 1930s was often not particularly good, as Rivera produced them in series and sold them to tourists, using the proceeds to finance his collection of pre-Columbian art.

A temporary marital crisis, which Rivera had in 1935, was caused by an affair with Frida Kahlo's younger sister Christina. But common political interests brought the couple back together. Rivera continued to be antagonized by the Mexican Communist Party, which accused him of supporting the government's conservative positions. Rivera repeatedly came into conflict with Siqueiros in particular, and the two even faced off armed at a political meeting. Diego Rivera also turned to the Trotskyists as a result of his contacts with the Communist League of America in New York in 1933 and became a member of the International Trotskyist-Communist League in 1936. Together with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera lobbied President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río to grant Leon Trotsky political asylum in Mexico. On the condition that the Russian would not engage in political activity, the president agreed to the request for asylum. In January 1937, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo received Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalya Sedova at Kahlo's blue house in Coyoacán. In 1938, Rivera also hosted Surrealist mastermind André Breton and his wife Jacqueline. The two artists signed a manifesto for revolutionary art written by Trotsky. The friendly couple traveled together through the Mexican provinces, and under Breton's influence Diego Rivera produced a few Surrealist paintings.

After personal and political disputes, Rivera broke with Trotsky in 1939. In the fall of the same year, Frida Kahlo divorced Rivera. In 1940 he exhibited in the International Surrealism Exhibition organized by André Breton, Wolfgang Paalen and César Moro at Inés Amor's Galería de Arte Mexicano. Rivera also returned that year to San Francisco, where he had received a mural commission again after a long time. After the Soviet Union made a pact with the German Reich, the artist softened his negative attitude towards the United States and accepted the invitation. He subsequently advocated solidarity among American countries against fascism. Under the title Pan-American Unity, he painted ten murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. There he and Frida Kahlo remarried on December 8, 1940, both having suffered from the separation.

After returning to Mexico, Diego Rivera moved in with Kahlo in the blue house in February 1941. He subsequently used the house in San Angel Inn only as a retreat and studio. In 1941 and 1942 Diego Rivera painted mainly at the easel. He was also commissioned to execute the frescoes on the upper floor of the courtyard of the Palacio Nacional. Furthermore, in 1942 he began the construction of the Anahuacalli, where he wanted to present his collection of pre-colonial objects. The building was initially also conceived as a residence, but ultimately housed only the 60,000-object collection to which Rivera devoted himself until the end of his life.

From the early 1940s, Rivera received increasing national recognition. The Colegio Nacional was founded in 1943, and Rivera was among the first 15 members appointed by President Manuel Ávila Camacho. That same year, the La Esmeralda Academy of Art, founded the year before, appointed him professor with the goal of reforming art education. He sent his students to the countryside and the streets to paint according to Mexican reality. Rivera also made drawings, watercolors and paintings in this context. In 1947, after recovering from pneumonia, Rivera painted a large mural in the newly built Hotel del Prado at Almeda Park. Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Almeda Park depicts a representation of Mexican history through a string of historical figures. In 1943 he was elected as an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Last years of life and death

Together with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera formed the Mural Painting Commission of the Instituto de Bellas Artes from 1947. In 1949, the Institute organized a major exhibition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rivera's work at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

In 1950, when Frida Kahlo had to stay in the hospital for nine months because of several operations on her spine, Rivera also took a room in the hospital to be with his wife. That year, Diego Rivera illustrated the limited edition of Pablo Neruda's Canto General together with David Alfaro Siqueiros and also designed the book cover. Furthermore, he designed the set for El cuadrante de la soledad by José Revueltas and continued his work at the Palacio Nacional. Diego Rivera, together with Orozco, Siqueiros and Tamayo, had the honor of representing Mexico at the 1950 Venice Biennale. He was also awarded the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas. In 1951 Rivera realized an underwater mural in the water shaft of the Cárcamo del río Lerma in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City and designed a fountain at the entrance to the building. For the paintings in the basin where the water is pumped, he experimented with polystyrene in a rubber solution to allow the painting under the surface of the water. In 1951 and 1952, Rivera also worked on the stadium of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where he was to depict the history of sports in Mexico in a mosaic. Of this work of art, however, he only completed the centerpiece of the front image, as there was insufficient funding.

Rivera painted a portable mural in 1952 for the exhibition Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art, planned for Europe. His portraits of Stalin and Mao in this work led to the exclusion of his work. Overall, Rivera opposed the policies increasingly oriented toward Western capitalism that had begun under the Alemans presidency. Beginning in 1946, Rivera repeatedly applied for readmission to the Communist Party to no avail, while Frida Kahlo was readmitted in 1949. In 1954, the two participated in a rally of support for the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. It was the last public appearance of Frida Kahlo, who died on July 13, 1954. Rivera agreed to allow the Communist flag to be placed over her coffin at her wake at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and in return the Mexican Communist Party readmitted him as a member. Rivera then painted Glorious Victory, showing the fall of Arbenz. The painting was sent through various communist countries and then was considered lost for a long time. In 2000, it was located in the basement of the Pushkin Museum and has since been back on display at exhibitions.

Rivera's age and state of health made it difficult to work on monumental murals, so that in the last years of his life the panel painting became his preferred medium. On July 29, 1955, he married the publisher Emma Hurtado, who had already been his gallerist since 1946. He bequeathed Frida Kahlo's blue house and the Anahuacalli, with its collection of pre-Columbian art, to the Mexican people. Suffering from cancer, Rivera went to the Soviet Union in 1955 for medical treatment. His return journey took him through Czechoslovakia and Poland to the GDR, where he became a corresponding member of the Academy of Arts in East Berlin. Back in Mexico, he moved into the house of his friend Dolores Olmedo in Acapulco, where he recuperated and produced a series of seascapes.

On November 24, 1957, Diego Rivera died of a heart attack in his studio in San Angel Inn. Hundreds of Mexicans paid their last respects. Instead of uniting his ashes with those of Frida Kahlo in her blue house, he was buried in the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres in the Panteón Civil de Dolores.

Diego Rivera's body of work includes panels, murals, mosaics, and drawings. The murales, in particular, are key to understanding his work and shaped his reception as the most important and influential contemporary Mexican artist. Rivera's works were often associated with Socialist Realism, as they frequently expressed his political point of view. In fact, however, there were few stylistic points of contact. Rivera's style and aesthetic, expressed primarily in his large murals, were based on Italian Renaissance frescoes, the Cubist conception of space, classical proportions, Futurism's depiction of movement, and pre-Columbian art. His subjects were not limited to the observation of social realities; he also devoted himself to complex historical and allegorical narratives. In doing so, he developed his own unique modes of expression.

Blackboard images

The exact number of Diego Rivera's panel paintings is not known. New, previously unknown works appear again and again. They often take a back seat to the murals, but are of great importance for tracing Rivera's artistic development and as a reference point for his further works. In the works of the training period in Mexico from 1897 to 1907 and the time in Europe from 1907 to 1921, the development of an artist can be traced, who in a short time adapted and further developed the most diverse artistic currents and schools in his works. Rivera continued this learning process throughout his life.

In his first paintings, Diego Rivera strove to meet the tastes of the Mexican bourgeoisie at the beginning of the 20th century and thus become Mexico's most successful painter. For this reason, he painted mainly social themes, following the style of his Madrid teacher Eduardo Chicharro as well as Ignacio Zulaogas. He also used expansive symbolism with decadentist motifs from the Flanders landscapes he traveled.

In Paris, during his first stay in Europe, Rivera had come into contact with Post-Impressionism, which had become a reference for modern painting, which is why he returned to this city in 1911 after a brief stay in Mexico. During his second stay in Paris he created about 200 cubist works and for a time belonged to the group of cubists, until he broke with this style in a dispute. Diego Rivera came to Cubism through the study of Mannerist painting and the landscape paintings of El Greco. In addition, Ángel Zárraga showed him the compositional and optical distortions of modernism. Subsequently, Rivera created some precubist works before actually painting in a cubist manner from 1913 to 1918, not only adapting the geometric form of appearance, but aware of the revolutionary content of cubism for the design of time and space. Rivera did not merely follow the theories of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, but developed his own point of view. One of the works typical of Rivera's Cubism is Sailors at Breakfast from 1914, a painting in which Diego Rivera applied a kind of compositional grid in an attempt to create simultaneity. The painting shows a man whose blue and white striped shirt and pompom cap with the word Patrie identify him as a French sailor. He sits behind a table and is included in the composition grid. In using this compositional method, Diego Rivera followed Juan Gris, who designed a different object in each field in a consistently maintained perspective, as Rivera did here with the glass and the fish.

Another outstanding work of Rivera's Cubist phase is Zapatista Landscape - The Guerrillero, in which the artist expressed his sympathy for the revolutionary developments in his homeland and his admiration for Emiliano Zapata. This iconographic portrait of the revolutionary leader, with its symbols referring to the Mexican Revolution, such as the Zapatista hat, sarape, rifle and cartridge belt, were considered too permissive by some orthodox representatives of Cubism. The resulting controversy led to Rivera's departure from Cubism. He turned to landscape painting inspired by Paul Cézanne, and in 1918 produced the paintings The Mathematician and Still Life with Flowers, which echoed academic painting.

The vast majority of Rivera's panel paintings are portraits. In these, he went beyond the simple depiction of the person and expanded this classical genre by adding psychological and symbolic references to the person depicted. One of the works that exemplifies this genre in Rivera's oeuvre is the 1938 portrait of Lupe Marín, which depicts Guadalupe Marín, whom Rivera had previously immortalized in paintings and murals. The painting shows the model sitting on a chair centrally in the composition. Her back is reflected in a mirror. In terms of color, brown tones and the white of her dress dominate. Rivera refers to various artistic models in his depiction. The exaggerated proportions and pose are borrowed from El Greco, the reflection refers to Velázquez, Manet and Ingres. The complex structure of the composition, on the other hand, with its overlapping and interconnected planes and axes, shows parallels to Paul Cézanne. In this portrait, however, Diego Rivera also made direct reference to his fresco in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where he depicted the model as Tlazolteotl, the goddess of purification. In his portrait of Marín, Rivera refers to the most famous depiction of this goddess, located in Washington, D.C., in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, which shows her giving birth to a human being. Marín's facial expression is clearly borrowed from this statue.

Rivera also used the mirror motif in the portrait Ruth Rivera from 1949, which shows his daughter in a back view with her face turned towards the viewer. She is holding a mirror that shows her face in profile, framed in sunny yellow, wearing strappy sandals and a white tunic, reminiscent of a figure from classical antiquity. This depiction of family members and caregivers, as in the case of his daughter Ruth or Lupe Marín, was nevertheless the exception in Diego Rivera's oeuvre. Most of the portraits were commissioned works, such as the portrait Natasha Zakólkowa Gelman from 1946, which shows the wife of film producer Jacques Gelman in a white evening dress on a couch. Behind her upper body and head and parallel to her lower body are draped white calla. The sitter's body position refers to the shape of the flower, while conversely the flower is meant to refer to the essence of the distinguished woman. In other portraits, Rivera used clothing that alluded to Mexico in its colorfulness. In addition to these commissioned works, he also produced numerous portraits of Indian children, such as The Sons of My Father (Portrait of Modesto and Jesús Sánchez) from 1930. These paintings were especially popular with tourists as souvenirs.

Throughout his work, Diego Rivera painted numerous self-portraits. These usually showed him as a chest piece, shoulder piece or head picture. His main interest was his face, while the background was usually executed simply. In contrast to the commissioned portraits, in which he idealized the sitters, Rivera portrayed himself extremely realistically in his self-portraits. He was aware that he did not conform to the ideal of beauty, especially as he grew older. In the painting The Tooth of Time from 1949, Rivera presented himself as a gray-haired man with a face furrowed by wrinkles. In the background of the painting he showed various scenes from his life. In caricatures Diego Rivera presented himself several times as a frog or toad. He also used them as an attribute in some of his portraits.

Another central theme of Rivera's paintings was Mexico. Inspired by his teacher José María Velasco during his training, Diego Rivera painted, for example, the landscape The Tenne from 1904, which shows a farmer and a plow pulled by horses in the central foreground. On the right edge of the picture is a barn, to the left and in the background the picture opens through a gate into the landscape, which ends in the background at the volcano Popocatépetl. Following Velasco, Rivera strove to represent the typical colorfulness of the Mexican landscape in the painting. The use of light also goes back to the teacher.

A motif that appeared several times in Rivera's work are flower sellers, which he painted from 1925 and which were successful with the public. The flowers were not decorative elements, but had an emblematic meaning. Diego Rivera knew flower symbolism from before the Spanish conquests. With a painting depicting sellers of calla, Rivera achieved an acquisition prize at a Pan-American exhibition in Los Angeles in 1925; the painting was acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It depicted a religious celebration at the Santa Anita Canal, which was part of the vanished canal network in and around Mexico City. In addition, Rivera depicted customs in his panels as in the Christmas Customs series of 1953 and 1954. The second panel is titled The Children Ask for Shelter (Los niños pidiendo posada). It shows Indian children and their parents with candles in a nighttime procession. In the background is an expanse of water reflecting the moon, with Mary and Joseph with the donkey on their journey to Bethlehem at the front border. Thus Diego Rivera dedicated himself to the theme of popular piety.

In 1956, Diego Rivera produced a series of small-format seascapes under the title Dusk in Acapulco during a recreational stay on the coast. Rivera painted the sunsets in bright, emotionally charged colors. These color experiments represented an exception in Rivera's body of work. The sea in these seascapes is peaceful. The paintings represent Diego Rivera's need for harmony and peace at the end of his life.


Mexican muralismo between 1921 and 1974 was the first independent American contribution to 20th century art. Diego Rivera was not the first painter of murales, nor was he an undisputed leading figure or the most important theoretician of the muralists, but he was undeniably one of the most important representatives of this group, along with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco. His murals also occupy a prominent position in Diego Rivera's work and attracted more attention than his panel paintings, drawings and illustrations. After returning from France in 1921, Diego Rivera, still under the impression of the frescoes he had previously seen in Italy, turned to mural painting, which was understood by the Minister of Education, José Vasconcelos, as a means of spreading the ideals of the Revolution and educating the people. He made his first mural starting in January 1922 in the Bolívar Amphitheater of the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria; it was the touchstone and prelude to his career as a muralist and of muralismo in general. For Rivera followed large and prestigious commissions in the Secretaría de Educación Pública, the Palacio Nacional and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. He also made several murales in the United States.

One of the main motifs that runs through the mural projects throughout Rivera's career is creation. In addition, he often thematized his political point of view, immortalizing communist ideas and personalities, in some cases expressing the idea of Pan-Americanism. In a large number of representations he thematized Mexican history, especially with regard to its pre-Columbian period. At the beginning of his activity as a muralist, Diego Rivera was still strongly influenced by European art. Over time, however, he increasingly developed his own style, in which he incorporated Mexican elements.

Diego Rivera made his first mural at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. There, in the Simón Bolívar Auditorium, is the painting The Creation. The work remained unfinished from the artist's point of view. Instead of painting a single wall, Rivera had originally planned to decorate the entire auditorium with the work The Fundamental History of Mankind. Initial ideas for this work of art emerged early on. After the opening of the new ballroom in September 1910, the idea for a mural emerged, which Rivera was also considered to execute, but whose plans were not pursued due to the course of the Mexican Revolution. Rivera probably visited the room at the end of 1910, during his second stay in Europe he had blueprints of the assembly hall.

The first sketch for this mural project was made during Rivera's stay in Italy. On it there is a reference to Perugia. There, in the church of San Severo, he could see a two-part fresco, the upper part of which had been painted by Raphael and the lower part by Perugino. The paintings, each divided vertically into three parts, influenced Rivera's murals in form and composition. In the First Segment, Raphael showed the Holy Spirit as the energy of creation, while Rivera depicted a cosmic force. In the middle segment, Raphael showed Christ as Ecce homo, while Rivera showed the first man. In the last segment, the Mexican artist refers to Perugino in the design of the figures. Both the Perugino fresco and Rivera's mural have an opening in the center. The former was used to place a figure of a saint, while in the assembly hall an organ was placed in it. Rivera's design was based on basic geometric shapes and followed the golden section.

In November 1921, Diego Rivera began sketches for the 109.64 square meter mural, which he completed in 1923. He combined Mexican and European elements in it in accordance with his ambition to transfer Mexican tradition into 20th century modern art. For example, he depicted a typical Mexican forest with a heron and an ocelot, while giving the figures the physique and skin color of mestizos. The niche is dominated by a large male figure with outstretched arms. On the pictorial axis above him is a blue semicircle surrounded by a rainbow and three pairs of hands that create man and distribute the primordial energy. In the figures, apart from the two figures of the primordial couple at the lower left and right edges of the picture, the human virtues and abilities are represented. The semicircle in the upper center of the picture is divided into four equilateral triangles, in which numbers are indicated by stars: In the first triangle it is three, in the second four, in the third ten and in the fourth two. This refers to the number symbolism of the Pythagoreans, whose special significance of the number ten emphasizes the third triangle in its meaning. The first and fourth triangles refer to the primordial couple, embodied by the naked woman on the left and the naked man on the right side of the wall. The number of stars of both triangles corresponds to five, which was also part of Pythagorean numerical mysticism. The four stars of the second triangle refer to the four mathemata, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and musicology. The four is also repeated in the pairs of hands, three of which surround the circle and one of which belongs to the great figure representing humanity as a whole. This symbolism, used by Rivera, refers to the education and the pursuit of virtue that should be propagated in this image.

For his fresco Rivera used the technique of encaustic. He drew on the dry plaster and applied the color pigments dissolved in wax. These were then burned in with a welding torch.

In March 1922, Diego Rivera was commissioned by José Vasconcelos, together with a group of young painters, to paint the three arcaded floors of the two courtyards in the Secretaría de Educación Pública, while other artists were to decorate the interiors of the Ministry. The two courtyards are referred to as the Courtyard of Labor and the Courtyard of Celebrations after the thematic decoration by Rivera's mural cycles, and together they form the work Political Dream Image of the Mexican People. Rivera's work continued from 1923 to 1928, the project temporarily stalled when Vasconcelos resigned as Minister of Education as a result of political disputes. The work was a political work of art. During the years the paintings were being created, both the politics of Mexico and the artist's political position changed greatly. At the beginning of the work, Rivera was a leading member of the Mexican Communist Party; by the end of the work, he was critical of Joseph Stalin and encountered increasing criticism even within the party. A year after its completion, Rivera was even expelled from it. Politically, the victorious revolutionary forces at the beginning of the 1920s could hold on to power only with difficulty and were attacked by conservative forces; the government was allied with the Communist Party. Over time, the government managed to stabilize, by the end of the 1920s the Communists were almost driven underground. The murals are a work of art in which these developments are expressed. They combine a wide variety of elements that can be described as realistic, revolutionary, classical, socialist and nationalist. Rivera turned to Mexico as a theme and developed his own style, incorporating Mexican elements.

For the decoration of the courtyards of the Ministry of Education Diego Rivera made more than 100 murals. In them he depicted many ideas, some of them contradictory. They cannot be summarized under any overarching metaphysical theme; Rivera negotiated incompatibilities, resistances, and differences in them. He took a back seat to the work itself, abstracting instead of immortalizing himself in the images, eclectically drawing on European painting, film, politics, and anthropology. In doing so, he used a very direct form of rendering his subjects, showing the people in their actual places, with emblems that corresponded to the meaning of the symbols shown. In the Courtyard of Labor, Diego Rivera developed an allegory on the understanding of the elite; in the Courtyard of Celebrations, he showed the crowds.

The murales in the courtyard of the work form a coherent cycle. The central image of this cycle is located in the central mural field of the second floor. It is the fresco The Brotherhood (La fraternidad), 3.93 meters high and 6.48 meters wide, which shows the alliance of peasants and workers under the care of a sun god. The deity, who is Apollo, spreads his arms in the shape of a cross over the two men in a cave. These two represent the workers and peasants as the bearers of the revolution. This union is the Bolshevik ideal, although in Mexico it was under different signs, since the main bearers of the revolution were not the workers, but it started from the peasants. But it also symbolizes the union of man and woman, which is also expressed in the attributes hammer and sickle, which refer to Demeter and Hephaestus. Next to Apollo, on the right, are the three apotheoses The Preserver, The Herald and The Distributor, which are repeated on the opposite wall. This is an allegorical representation of the Eucharist. Rivera thus integrated religious symbolism into the symbolic canon of a secular state. It also echoes Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Rivera's idealism is expressed in the figure of Apollo, for instead of martyrdom or passion, redemption lies in the rational, pure, and radiant male figure. Other motifs in the Courtyard of Labor include The Liberation of the Unfree Worker (La liberación del péon) and The Teacher in the Countryside (La maestra rural), topped by the supraporte Landscape (Paisaje), or various representations of activities such as The Foundry (La fundición), The Mine (La minería), Potters (Alfareros), Entrance to the Mine (Entrada a la mina) and The Sugar Cane Factory (La zafara). In addition, there are some grisaille, made mainly in the mezzanine, which have esoteric meanings.

The Courtyard of Festivals thematizes the project of establishing a new calendar. On the first floor, on the south, north and west walls, there are the central murals The Allocation of Common Pastures, The Street Market and Assembly, which show secular celebrations. They are large door-spanning compositions, while the side wall panels show religious celebrations. The paintings show the mass of people and refer to reality, while The Courtyard of Work also has a metaphysical reference. The granting of communal pastures refers to one of the central demands of the Mexican Revolution. Rivera imaged the transfer of expropriated land to the community as a new social contract. At the center of the mural, an official leads the assembly with an expansive gesture. While the men stand in the streets, the women are on the roofs of the houses. In addition, deceased people are also depicted, such as Emiliano Zapata, who sits on a horse at the right edge of the picture. In the way they are depicted, Diego Rivera's murales are reminiscent of Renaissance depictions of choirs of angels, such as in paintings by Fra Angelico. This strictly ordered composition reflects the strong ritualization of village politics. With Assembly, Rivera produced a doctrinaire fresco in which he deliberately worked with left and right as principles of order. On the left, in Bolshevism the side of the progressive and revolutionary class, the painter showed the workers in the form of two injured figures teaching children. The workers' leader with raised fist speaks to the workers on the left half of the wall. On the right side, the people are shown shadowed, while on the left side they are in the light. Through this lighting, Rivera demonstrated the difference between left and right. On the right edge of the painting in the foreground are Zapta and Felipe Carillo Puerto, the governor of Yucatán, two of the slain heroes of the revolution. The street market sets the scene for the government's attempt to strengthen agriculture and revive popular commerce from the pre-capitalist era. Rivera did not strive for compositional order in this mural as much as he allowed the multitude of people to appear in waves, deliberately showing the confusion in the marketplace. This large mural, in contrast to the former two, continues old traditions rather than breaking with them. In addition, other festivals and events related to the course of the year were depicted in the courtyard, such as Day of the Dead, The Corn Festival, and The Harvest. On the second floor, Rivera painted the coats of arms of the states, and on the second floor, the Ballad of the Peasant Revolution. In one of the central frescoes of this cycle, In the Arsenal (en el arsenal), Rivera depicted the young Frida Kahlo, whom he had met shortly before, handing out rifles to the revolting workers.

The murales in the Ministry of Education were intended to represent the new reality after the Revolution. As a result of the upheavals, an extensive interdisciplinary study was produced under the direction of Manuel Gamio and published in 1921 as The Population of the Teotihuacán Valley. It echoed older racial theories about the mestizos, understanding evolution as a progression toward the complex, while promoting the mestizo as the ideal. Diego Rivera drew on photographs from the publication to depict dark-skinned, stocky peasants and workers with pointed and blunt noses dressed in white. In this way, he gave social legitimacy to the investigations and theories that were disseminated in The People of the Teotihuacán Valley.

Diego Rivera's main work of muralism are the murals in the Palacio Nacional, Mexico's parliament building and seat of government. Between 1929 and 1935 he painted the Epic of the Mexican People in the main stairwell, followed by Precolonial and Colonial Mexico in a hallway on the second floor between 1941 and 1952.

The epic of the Mexican people covers a total of 277 square meters of wall space in the central staircase. The north wall shows the mural The Old Mexico, on the west wall Rivera painted the fresco From the Conquest to 1930 and on the south wall he completed the cycle with Mexico Today and Tomorrow. They form a circular homogeneous whole. The first stage of the work in the Palacio Nacional was begun by Diego Rivera in May 1929 and lasted 18 months, finishing on October 15, 1930, with the painting of the signature on the fresco The Old Mexico. While this work was still in progress, Rivera sketched the other murals. In November of that year, he traveled to the United States, leaving the mural unfinished. In June 1931 Diego Rivera returned to Mexico City to paint the main mural. He worked on it for the five months from June 9 to November 10, 1931, before traveling again to paint in the United States. Rivera completed his fresco cycle in the stairwell of the Palacio Nacional with Mexico Today and Tomorrow, painted between November 1934 and November 20, 1935. The signature of this fresco celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.

At the center of the composition of the fresco Ancient Mexico is Quetzalcoatl in front of the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon of Teotihuacán, thus integrating the lord of Mesoamerican cultures and the largest pre-Columbian metropolis into the image. The volcanoes refer to the Anáhuac Valley, from which the Toltecs established their rule. From the volcano in the upper left corner of the picture rises the feathered serpent as the animal embodiment of Quetzalcoatl. It is repeated in the upper right half of the picture, where it bears its human counterpart. In the right half of the painting Diego Rivera depicted craft and agricultural activities, in the left half he showed a warrior on a pyramid to whom tribute is offered. In the lower left corner is a warlike confrontation between Aztec warriors and the peoples they ruled.

From the conquest to 1930 traces the history after the conquest in episodes that merge into each other. The fresco is divided into three horizontal zones. The lower one shows the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the middle episodes of colonization, and the upper one, in the arched panels, shows the interventions of the 19th century and various actors in the politics and history of Mexico in the late 19th century and the Mexican Revolution. In the lower center of the fresco, Rivera painted a battle scene between Spaniards and Aztecs, with the central figure Hernán Cortés seated on a horse. From the right side, Spanish soldiers fire muskets and a cannon, highlighting Rivera's technological superiority. In the middle zone of the painting, the colonial period is depicted, showing, for example, the destruction of Indian culture and Christianization through the depiction of clergymen and Cortéz with his Indian wife Malinche. In the center of this zone, Mexican independence is pictured. In the upper zone, the American intervention from 1846 to 1848 and the French intervention in Mexico from 1861 to 1867 are shown on the right. In the three central arches, numerous historical figures of the reign of Porfirio Díaz and the Mexican Revolution are depicted. In the center of the fresco, the heraldic animal of Mexico, the eagle, is depicted on the opuntia, here holding Indian field signs in its talons instead of the cactus.

The cycle in the staircase of the seat of government was completed by Diego Rivera with the fresco Mexico Today and Tomorrow. In it he devoted himself to the post-revolutionary situation and gave a utopian outlook. On the right edge of the picture is depicted the struggle of workers with conservative forces, Rivera also showed a hanged worker and peasant. In the upper right corner of the picture, a worker agitates and calls for struggle. Set centrally in the fresco are box-like spatial structures showing, for example, capitalists around a stock ticker, President Plutarco Elías Calles with evil advisors, and the church in a state of debauchery. In the foreground of the picture Rivera painted his wife Frida Kahlo and her sister Cristina as village teachers and towards the left edge of the picture workers. The central figure at the top center edge of the painting is Karl Marx, holding a leaf with an excerpt from the Communist Manifesto and pointing with his right arm to the upper left corner of the painting, where Rivera painted the utopia of a socialist future.

Between 1941 and 1952, Diego Rivera painted the cycle Precolonial and Colonial Mexico in a corridor on the second floor of the Government Palace. The frescoes cover a total of 198.92 square meters. Originally, 31 transportable frescoes were planned to be placed on the four sides of the courtyard. In the end, Rivera produced only eleven frescoes and interrupted the project several times. Their theme is a synthetic representation of Mexico's history from pre-Columbian times to the 1917 Constitution, and the reference to Mexico's indigenous cultures, their customs, activities, art, and products aimed to consolidate national identity. Rivera chose colorful and grisaille frescoes as the form of representation. The large fresco The Great Tenochtitlan (View from the Market of Tlatelolco) shows Diego Rivera's vision of the ancient capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan. In front of the panorama of the urban architecture around the Templo Mayor, market activities such as animal trade, trade in food and handicraft products, as well as representatives of the different social classes such as merchants, officials, medicine men, warriors and courtesans are depicted. In other wall panels, for example, agriculture with crops unknown to Europeans and individual craft activities are depicted. Another large fresco shows festivals and ceremonies of the Totonaks and the culture of El Tajín, such as the worship of the goddess Chicomecoatl. In the foreground, visitors can be seen making offerings to the site. In the last fresco of this cycle, Rivera devoted himself to the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the colonial period. He wanted above all to show the subjugation and exploitation of the Indians and depicted Hernán Cortés in a grotesque manner. In this last fresco of the ultimately unfinished project, it becomes clear that Diego Rivera wanted to contrast the idealized splendor of the pre-Columbian period with his negative judgment of the conquista and conquistadors.

Diego Rivera's most outstanding work from his time in the United States are his murales at the Detroit Institute of Arts. They are considered the best work of Mexican muralists in the United States. The subject of these frescoes was the industry of Detroit. The frescoes cover 433.68 square feet and have been given various titles such as Detroit Industry, Dynamic Detroit and Man and Machine. Rivera visited the Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, a factory facility where all automobile manufacturing took place. He arrived in Detroit when Michigan's auto industry was in crisis, but did not depict it in his works, instead narrating an evolution of the industry and glorifying technological progress. During his explorations of the Ford plant, which lasted about a month, he made numerous sketches. In addition, he and Frida Kahlo were accompanied by William J. Stettler, who took photographs that Rivera used in his work, as well as film footage. In addition to these impressions of industrial work, however, Rivera also drew on earlier works in his oeuvre. In addition, industry held such a fascination for him that he wanted to paint the entire courtyard instead of the two wall surfaces he had ordered. For this he received the approval of the relevant commission on June 10, 1932. On July 25 of that year Rivera then began the painting work.

In the courtyard of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Rivera made a closed cycle depicting the entire process of automobile production. He showed the various steps of processing raw materials and the different activities of workers throughout the day. The cycle begins on the east wall of the courtyard with a depiction of the origin of life. This is symbolized by a human fetus. To the left and right below him are plowshares as symbols of human industrial activity. On the wall are also depicted women with grain and fruit. On the west wall, air, water and energy are symbolized by the aviation industry, shipping and electricity production. Rivera painted civil aviation in contrast to its military use. This juxtaposition was echoed in the symbols of the dove and the eagle for peace and war. In addition, the painter also referenced a branch of Ford's business with this depiction. The north wall and south wall are each topped by two guardian figures that represented the four races represented in the American workforce, holding coal, iron, lime, and sand as mineral resources in their hands. These elements were the basic materials of automobile production. In the two main panels of the north and south walls, Rivera painted the production of the Ford V-8. Some of the workers are portraits of Ford employees and Rivera's assistants.

The murales that Diego Rivera painted for the Detroit Institute of Arts were subject to criticism for several reasons. On the one hand, American painters, who were not given commissions in the times of the Great Depression, criticized the fact that with Rivera a Mexican received a lucrative commission; on the other hand, the content of the frescoes was criticized as being intended to advertise Ford. It was mainly in relation to the latter accusation that Diego Rivera was defended by the director of the museum. Edsel B. Ford knew what Rivera would paint when he pledged his support for the project. His support and Rivera's visits to the Ford plant were also based on the fact that Ford was the only auto industrialist with an interest in modern art. Another critic was Paul Cret, architect of the Detroit Institute of Arts, who saw the painting of the walls as an affront to his architecture. In addition, some of Rivera's motifs met with criticism from church and religious circles, being called pornographic, for example. The press criticized the murales, while other artists and art experts such as museum directors, to whom the director had appealed, defended the paintings. In the end, Ford backed the artist and the work, the reception of the frescoes by the workers was positive, and the tenor of national coverage also changed for the better.

Diego Rivera's Murales Man at the Crossroads

Originally, this fresco was to be painted in the newly built Rockefeller Center, where it was to be titled Man at the Crossroads, Looking Uncertain but Hopeful, with a Great Vision of a New and Better Future. Rivera had been invited to compete alongside Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, but turned it down. In the end, he received the commission anyway, because Picasso did not respond to the invitation at all and Matisse did not see an appropriate place for his art in the busy entrance hall. Rockefeller's advisor, Hartley Burr Alexander, suggested an explicitly political motif for the envisaged mural. Rockefeller did pursue a sociopolitical line that included works councils and a balance between industrialists and workers, yet the appointment of a famously communist artist like Rivera was surprising. One role in this may have been the support of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who had previously collected artworks by Diego Rivera. Added to this was his high international reputation and notoriety for murals in Mexico and the United States.

Diego Rivera arrived in New York at the end of March 1933 to begin the fresco. At that time, the political situation had been aggravated by the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies and Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor. This prompted Rivera to change his design. He now placed the individual worker at the center of his composition, and he chose drastic imagery to contrast the situation in the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition, he added the portrait of Lenin. The Rockefellers felt increasingly provoked by this ideological development of the painting. In December 1933, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. thought about transferring the still unfinished fresco to the Museum of Modern Art. However, this idea was rejected. Finally, it was destroyed on February 9, 1934. After the destruction of the fresco in New York, Rivera asked the Mexican government for an area where he could paint this image again. He was eventually commissioned to do so at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Rivera still completed the fresco in 1934.

Along with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera is considered the most important modernist painter in Mexico. Together they were known as Los Tres Grandes (The Big Three). Rivera participated in the development of an independent Mexican art after the Revolution and in the establishment of Muralismo, the first non-European contribution to modern art. Rivera's murals occupy a prominent position in the art of Mexico. They attracted more attention than his panel paintings, drawings, and illustrations, and to some extent have supplanted and eclipsed the appreciation for his other multifaceted work. While controversial outside Mexico, Rivera nonetheless became the most widely cited Hispanic American artist.

Rivera's oeuvre as a whole defies classification into a single style. Rivera received a classical education on the European model in Mexico, although he was already sensitized to typically Mexican elements by some of his professors. In Europe, his panel painting passed through various styles in a short time. At times he belonged to the group of Cubists, in which he was not only a follower, but developed his own theoretical positions and represented them without shying away from conflict. In later times, Diego Rivera also anticipated various styles in his panel painting; for example, he took up Surrealism in two paintings in the mid-1930s. Rivera eventually developed his own unique style in his murals, which he also adopted in his paintings. He combined the fresco technique he had studied in Italy with Native American elements, communist and socialist statements, and the depiction of history. In this way he had a formative effect and achieved fame and notoriety. The Mexican Nobel Prize winner for literature Octavio Paz described Rivera as a materialist. He stated, "Rivera worships and paints matter above all. And he conceives of it as a mother: as a great womb, great mouth, and great tomb. As mother, as magna mater that devours and gives birth to everything, Matter is an ever-dormant female figure, drowsy and secretly active, constantly giving life like all the great fertility goddesses." The image of the fertility goddess and creation directly echoed Diego Rivera in many of his works. Paz went on to describe the richness of Rivera's imagery and its "dynamic, made up of opposites and reconciliations, of a dialectical conception of history. This is why Rivera slides into illustration when he tries to come to terms with history." According to Paz, this representation of history corresponds to an allegory influenced by Marxism, which in all works shows either the forces of progress or reaction, or both in opposition to each other.

Even during his lifetime, numerous myths were formed around Rivera, based on his active participation in contemporary events, his friendships and confrontations with outstanding personalities from culture and politics, and not least on his relationships with women and, above all, his marriage to Frida Kahlo. Diego Rivera himself played an active role in this myth-making. In his memoirs, he portrayed himself as precocious, of exotic origin, a rebel and a visionary. This self-portrayal was further disseminated through various biographies. Rivera himself found it difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality, but his reality was much more unspectacular. His biographer Gladys March wrote: "Rivera, whose later work was to make Mexican history one of the great myths of our century, was unable to restrain his tremendous imagination while describing his own life to me. Certain events, especially from his early years, he had turned into legends." Rivera was always aware of his success and talent and was sure to occupy a significant position in the history of art.


Diego Rivera exhibited several times during his first career phase in Europe in group exhibitions together with other important and famous artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne and Juan Gris, for example in 1915 in Madrid and 1916 in New York. From September 2 to October 21, 1916, Rivera also had his first solo exhibition with Exhibition of Paintings by Diego Rivera and Mexican Pre-conquest Art. In 1923, Rivera's works were part of the annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. In 1928, the first monograph dealing with Diego Rivera's murales was published in Berlin. On January 18 of that year, the Arts Center gallery in New York, organized by Francis Flynn Paine, presented a collective exhibition of Diego Rivera's paintings. The patronage for this exhibition was provided by the Rockefeller family and the Mexican state.

In 1929 followed the first monograph on Rivera's frescoes in the United States. The book, entitled The frescos of Diego Rivera, was written by Ernestine Evans. In addition, at the instigation of William Spratling, he was awarded the Fine Arts Medal by the American Institute of Architects for his artistic contribution to architecture. The following year, a transportable mural by Rivera was featured in the exhibition Mexican Arts, curated by Rene d'Harnoncourt, which was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October and then at 13 other venues throughout the United States. It was the first fresco by Rivera to be exhibited in the United States. On November 13, 1930, the artist traveled to the United States for the first time, where a retrospective opened in San Francisco on November 15 at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. At the end of that year, the second exhibition at the new Museum of Modern Art was the large retrospective designed by Rivera himself, for which he had specially created eight transportable frescoes. In the U.S., Rivera also created frescos in various buildings such as the San Francisco Stock Exchange and the Detroit Institute of Arts, and for private clients. Unlike the public commissions Rivera executed for the government in Mexico, many of these works in the U.S. were available only to select circles and were supported by individuals such as Ford and Rockefeller who were actually opposed to his communist ideology. Rivera became the subject of fierce controversy in the United States, which was played out in the press and art criticism. Conservatives criticized and condemned his art, while leftists and artists defended and praised it. In his project in Detroit, Ford defended him against this criticism; in New York, Rockefeller himself took a critical position and in the end had the unfinished work destroyed because of the communist attitude it expressed.

Rivera's drawings and watercolors were exhibited in a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1939. He also participated in the exhibition Mexique, organized by André Breton, at the Renou et Colle Gallery in Paris with the gouache painting Communicating Vessels. In addition, some of Rivera's works were shown by Inés Amor in a collective exhibition of Mexican art at the Golden Gate International Exposition. The following year, more of his works were included in the Contemporary Mexican painting and Graphic Arts exhibition at the Museum of Treasure Islands as part of this exposition. In addition, in 1940 the Museum of Modern Art organized the exhibition Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art, which featured paintings by Rivera. In 1941, MacKinley Helm selected Rivera's works for his exhibition Modern Mexican Painters at the Institute of Modern Arts in Boston. It was subsequently also shown at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In 1943, the Philadelphia Museum of Art showed two of the transportable frescoes Rivera had painted for the Museum of Modern Art in the exhibition Mexican Art Today.

On August 1, 1949, the great retrospective 50 años de la obra pictória de Diego Rivera was opened in the Palacio de Bellas Artes by President Miguel Alemán Valdés. Rivera himself had selected 1196 works for it. A large monograph was also prepared for the occasion, which was then published on August 25, 1951. Another important retrospective of Rivera's work was held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from February 11 to March 11, 1951. For the exhibition Art mexicain. Du précolombien à nous jours in 1952 in Paris, the Mexican government commissioned a transportable fresco from Diego Rivera that was first censored and then confiscated because of its depiction of Mao and Stalin as peacemakers. Although it was returned to Rivera, it was not part of the exhibition, which nevertheless featured 24 important works by him. In addition, the cover of the catalog featured a Rivera owned by the Mexican president. The painter showed the rejected fresco at the meeting of the Revolutionary Painters' Front on March 30, 1952, and then sent it on a traveling exhibition to the People's Republic of China. There, in the course of the Cultural Revolution, the trace of the painting is lost. In Europe, the following year also saw the exhibition Mexican Art from Pre-Colombian Times to the Present Day at Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm and the Tate Gallery in London, where Diego Rivera was the best and most extensively presented painter.

Even after Rivera's death, exhibition activity around his work hardly diminished, because as one of the best-known Latin American artists he had an attractive name. He was either placed in context with the other great names of Mexican modernism, Orozco and Siquerios, as in the 1982 exhibition Wall - Image - Mexico at the National Gallery in Berlin, or his work was placed in a larger context, as in Diego Rivera: A Retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts in 1985. The Philadelphia exhibition was the largest and most important of Rivera's works in the U.S. since his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1931. More recently, Rivera's panel painting in particular has come into focus, as in the exhibition Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits, 1913-1917, on view at the Meadows Museum in Dallas in 2009. This aspect of his work was also the subject of an increasing number of publications.


In Mexico City there are several museums that are particularly dedicated to the work of Diego Rivera. The Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli was originally planned by Diego Rivera as a residence and a place to house his pre-Columbian collection. In 1942 he acquired land in San Pablo Tepetla, which at that time was still outside the city. There he first had the foundation of the house built without a building permit, then on March 30, 1944, he received permission to build the Museo Anahuacalli. The building recapitulates the pre-Columbian pyramid architecture. The museum was not completed until 1963 and opened in 1964. It includes the 50,000 object collection that Rivera had amassed throughout his life. In August 1955, Diego Rivera entrusted the Banco Nacional de México with the trusteeship of his work and that of Frida Kahlo; in addition, the trustee also took over the administration of the Museo Anahuacalli and the Museo Frida Kahlo.

The Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo was founded on April 21, 1981, and opened on December 16, 1986, in the artist couple's double house in San Angel, Mexico City. In it, only a relatively small number of his artworks are presented, but many everyday objects as well as Rivera's studio have been preserved in their original state. The Museo Mural Diego Rivera was founded in 1985 after the strong earthquake in Michoacán, which also caused great destruction in Mexico City. Rivera had painted a mural in the Hotel del Prado in 1948 that contained the controversial phrase Dios no existe (God does not exist.) and was therefore controversial and ultimately covered up for years. After the hotel was badly damaged, the artwork, 4.75 meters high by 15.67 meters wide and weighing 35 tons, was transferred to the museum, which also displays other paintings by Rivera.

The Museo Dolores Olmedo houses the world's largest private collection of works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In addition, works by Angelina Beloff, Rivera's partner from Paris, are also shown there.


  1. Diego Rivera
  2. Diego Rivera
  3. Leslie Bethel (Hrsg.): A cultural history of Latin America - Literature, Music and the Visual Arts in the 19th and 20th century. Cambridge University Press, New York 1998, ISBN 0-521-62626-9, S. 397.
  4. a b c Andrea Kettenmann: Rivera. Taschen, Köln 2001, S. 7.
  5. a b c Andrea Kettenmann: Rivera, S. 8.
  6. Luis-Martín Lozano, Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera (Hrsg.): Diego Rivera. Sämtliche Wandgemälde. Taschen, Köln 2008, S. 646: 20 pesos monatlich, gestiftet von Staatspräsident Porfirio Díaz.
  7. Andrea Kettenmann, S. 9.
  8. ^ a b c d Marnham, Patrick (1998). "Dreaming With His Eyes Open, A Life of Diego Rivera". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  9. «Esposas, novias y amantes del pintor: Amores y aventuras ocasionales de Diego Rivera». Chilango. 6 de diciembre de 2013.
  10. a b Museo Anahuacalli. «Diego Rivera». Archivado desde el original el 31 de diciembre de 2011. Consultado el 29 de febrero de 2012.
  11. bicentenario.gob.mx. «La epopeya revolucionaria en los murales de Diego Rivera». Archivado desde el original el 26 de noviembre de 2011. Consultado el 29 de febrero de 2012.
  12. «Biografía de Diego Rivera en riveramural.com». Archivado desde el original el 3 de noviembre de 2005. Consultado el 21 de diciembre de 2007.
  13. (en)« Frida and Diego », sur Nytimes.com.
  14. « María Blanchard profesora de dibujo en Salamanca »
  15. « Blanchard María », sur www.culture.gouv.fr (consulté le 22 décembre 2022)

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