Mexican Painter and Muralist
Mexico City, Mexico
Summary of Diego Rivera
Widely regarded as the most influential Mexican artist of the 20th century, Diego Rivera was truly a larger-than-life figure who spent significant periods of his career in Europe and the U.S., in addition to his native Mexico. Together with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, Rivera was among the leading members and founders of the Mexican Muralist movement. Deploying a style informed by disparate sources such as European modern masters and Mexico's pre-Columbian heritage, and executed in the technique of Italian fresco painting, Rivera handled major themes appropriate to the scale of his chosen art form: social inequality; the relationship of nature, industry, and technology; and the history and fate of Mexico. More than half a century after his death, Rivera is still among the most revered figures in Mexico, celebrated for both his role in the country's artistic renaissance and re-invigoration of the mural genre as well as for his outsized persona.
- Rivera made the painting of murals his primary method, appreciating the large scale and public accessibility—the opposite of what he regarded as the elitist character of paintings in galleries and museums. Rivera used the walls of universities and other public buildings throughout Mexico and the United States as his canvas, creating an extraordinary body of work that revived interest in the mural as an art form and helped reinvent the concept of public art in the U.S. by paving the way for the Federal Art Program of the 1930s.
- Mexican culture and history constituted the major themes and influence on Rivera's art. Rivera, who amassed an enormous collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, created panoramic portrayals of Mexican history and daily life, from its Mayan beginnings up to the Mexican Revolution and post-Revolutionary present, in a style largely indebted to pre-Columbian culture.
- A lifelong Marxist who belonged to the Mexican Communist Party and had important ties to the Soviet Union, Rivera is an exemplar of the socially committed artist. His art expressed his outspoken commitment to left-wing political causes, depicting such subjects as the Mexican peasantry, American workers, and revolutionary figures like Emiliano Zapata and Lenin. At times, his outspoken, uncompromising leftist politics collided with the wishes of wealthy patrons and aroused significant controversy that emanated inside and outside the art world.
Biography of Diego Rivera
When Diego Rivera first returned home to Mexico from his artistic studies in France, he was so overcome with joy that he fainted. Later, he said, "Great art is like a tree, which grows in a particular place and has a trunk, leaves, blossoms, boughs, fruit, and roots of its own .. The secret of my best work is that it is Mexican."
Important Art by Diego Rivera
A stunning tribute to two of Rivera's favorite masters—El Greco and Paul Cézanne— View of Toledo exemplifies Rivera's tendency to unite traditional and more modern approaches in his work. The landscape is a reworking of the famous 1597 landscape painting by El Greco, whose work Rivera studied during his time in Spain; Rivera's version even deploys the same viewpoint as the Spanish Old Master. At the same time, the subdued palette, flattened forms, and unconventional use of perspective suggest the artist's reverence for Cézanne, his L'Estaque landscapes. This artwork also documents the beginning of Rivera's Cubist phase.
In this work, painted during Rivera's sojourn in Paris, the artist deployed Cubism—a style he once characterized as a "revolutionary movement"—to depict the Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, here seen with attributes such as a rifle, bandolier, hat, and sarape. The work's collage-like approach is suggestive of the Synthetic rather than Analytic phase of Cubism. Executed at the height of the Mexican Revolution, the painting—later described by its creator as "probably the most faithful expression of the Mexican mood that I have ever achieved"—manifests the increasing politicization of Rivera's work.
Motherhood is a modernizing, Cubist treatment on a perennial art historical theme: the Madonna and Child. In this painting, Angelina Beloff, Rivera's common-law wife for twelve years, holds their newborn son, Diego, who died of influenza just months after his birth. The painting beautifully illustrates Rivera's unique approach to Cubism, which rejected the somber, monochromatic palette deployed by artists such as Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque in favor of vivid colors more reminiscent of those used by Italian Futurist artists like Gino Severini or Giacomo Balla.