Tag Archives: Frida

Diego Rivera, the Mexican Fresco Muralist’s 125th Birthday

8 Dec

1886 -1957

Back in 1990 at an art store, I saw these beautiful prints (below).

The Flower Carrier, with a woman helping to place a bundle of beautiful flowers in a basket on a worker and the other “The Flower Seller” where a woman, facing away was bundling a large group of lilies!  The lilies were so beautiful.  I purchased them both , had them framed and are in my home.

At that time, it left me to learn more about the painter, Diego Rivera.  Only to find out he was the most controversial Mexican muralist ever, to say the least!

Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato, to a well-to-do family. Rivera was descended from Spanish nobility on his father’s side. Diego had a twin brother named Carlos, who died two years after they were born.   From the age of ten, Rivera studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City.

His career in Mexico was very lucrative but as I said without controversy!   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.  Rivera is credited with the reintroduction of fresco painting into modern art and architecture.

After José Vasconcelos became Minister of Education, Rivera returned back to Mexico in 1921 to become involved in the government sponsored Mexican mural program planned by Vasconcelos.
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.

The mural named Man at the Crossroads, painting begun  in 1933 for the Rockefeller Center in New York City, however it was removed after a furor erupted in the press over a portrait of Vladimir Lenin it contained.  Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917.

Besides being a communist, there were so many other things that made him more controversial.. for you  history buffs, here’s  the story that made history:

The Rockefellers wanted to have a mural put on the ground-floor wall of Rockefeller Center. Nelson Rockefeller.  They wanted either Henri Matisse or Pablo Picasso to do it because he favored their modern style, but neither one was available.   Diego Rivera was one of Nelson Rockefeller’s mother’s favorite artists and therefore he was commissioned to create the huge mural. He was given a theme: “Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future.” Rockefeller wanted the painting to make people pause and think.  Be careful what you ask for!

The huge mural had many parts including: society women drinking alcohol, pictures of  STD cells,  Leon Trotsky and finally the famous Lenin portion (depicting communism) which upset Rockefeller terribly.  The patron asked Rivera to change the face of Lenin to that of an unknown laborer’s face as was originally intended, but Diego did not, left it as it was. The work was paid for on May 22, 1933 and immediately draped.  People protested but it remained covered until the early weeks of 1934 – until it was finally smashed by workers and hauled away in wheelbarrows. Rivera responded by saying that it was “cultural vandalism.”

Rivera issued a statement that with the money left over from the commission of the mural at Rockefeller Center (he was paid in full though the mural was supposedly destroyed.  Rumors have floated that the mural was actually covered over than brought down and destroyed.), he would repaint the same mural over and over wherever he was asked until the money ran out.  So let’s say he was crazy!

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, 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.

His personal life was very dysfunctional (the correct word to use!).  Many marriages and children, however the marriage which is intriguing, yet explosive was with the thick eyebrows  artist,  Frida Kahlo. They married on August 21, 1929 when he was 42 and she was only 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.  He died on November 24, 1957.

I can say that I love his work about the Mexican culture, art is art! The love of color and shapes are extraordinary.  It’s Diego Rivera’s 125th birthday Anniversary and Google has established their logo with a mural honoring him.

As for Hollywood movies, Rubén Blades portrayed Diego Rivera  in 1999’s Cradle Will Rock, and by Alfred Molina in 2002’s Frida starring Salma Haynek;  depicting Diego’s later years. 


Letia 🙂

If interested in seeing more of his work, the  book Diego Rivera, 1886-1957: A Revolutionary Spirit in Modern Art (Taschen Basic Art) by Andrea Kettenmann is a start!  Logo and photos by Google.  Book cover at Amazon.com 

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