Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera is widely considered to be the most influential Mexican painter of the 20th century. Born in Guanajuato in 1886, he ascended to greatness via a path that included early trips to Europe, time spent in his native Mexico, and later visits to the United States. Among other things, Diego Rivera played a key role in reintroducing fresco painting, and his famous murals will always be classified as some of the most significant works of the modern era. One such example is the mural depicting Mexican history at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City.

Diego Rivera Artwork
Diego Rivera Artwork

Born to a wealthy family that descended from Spanish nobility, Diego Rivera was afforded the opportunity to develop his artistic skills from a very young age. By the age of ten, the young artist was studying art at the famed Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City, and his emerging talents eventually led to a sponsored trip to Europe. In 1907, Diego Rivera arrived in Europe, with Madrid being the location of his early studies. After that, it was on to Paris, where the young artist mixed with other emerging artists in the Montparnasse area. Between the years of 1913 and 1917, Rivera embraced the popular cubism movement, after which he came to find inspiration in Post-Impressionism. Subsequent to this, it was on to Italy, where the studies continued and the artist found his greatest inspiration.

It was 1920 when Diego Rivera embarked on his trip to Italy. The main purpose was to study the country’s prolific art. It should also be noted that Rivera had aspirations of starting a new form of painting at the time. The beautiful Renaissance frescoes that he encountered in Italy would serve as the main inspiration for this new form, which came to be known as muralism.

Diego Rivera Murals
Diego Rivera Murals

In 1921, Rivera returned to Mexico to take part in a government sponsored mural program, and in 1922, he painted his first significant mural. This mural, known as Creation, didn’t exactly bring great satisfaction to the artist himself, though it certainly managed to gain plenty of attention and helped lay down the foundation for the strong Mexican art movement that was developing at the time. This movement drew in artists from around the globe, and it was undoubtedly Rivera who led the way.

In 1923, Diego Rivera began work on a series of murals that were largely responsible for his emergence on the international front. These murals total more than 100 and were painted on the courtyard walls of the Ministry of Public Education building in Mexico City. Some of these famous murals focus on the agricultural and industrial aspects of Mexican history, while others offer depictions of popular Mexican festivals and folk traditions. While working on these Ministry of Public Education murals, it should be noted, Diego Rivera also completed more than 30 frescoes at the Agricultural School in Chapingo. Other famous works that he created in his native country include the aforementioned mural of Mexican history that can be found at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) and the mural at the Cortes Palace in Cuernavaca.

Diego Rivera Flower Day
Diego Rivera Flower Day

In the 1930's, Diego Rivera began making trips to the United States. Prior to that, he spent time in Russia, eventually being expelled from the country because of ties to anti-Soviet politics. Rivera, who had strong Marxist beliefs, didn’t leave much of an artistic impact on Russia, interestingly enough. He did, however, make his mark on the U.S. side. Rivera’s first fresco in the United States–the Allegory of California–was completed in 1931 and can be found at The City Club of San Francisco. Among the other famous Diego Rivera murals that were painted in the U.S. are the Detroit Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Portrait of America murals at the New Workers School in New York City, and the Pan American Unity mural that is on display at the City College of San Francisco.

Largely due to his leftist views, Diego Rivera was often a controversial figure during his lifetime. One of the biggest controversies was related to a mural that he was commissioned to paint at the Rockefeller Center in New York City. The portrayal of Vladimir Lenin in this mural caused a big political stir. So big that it was decided that the project be terminated and the mural removed. Rivera would go on to make other versions of this mural, however. One such surviving version is known by the title of Man, Controller of the Universe. It is on display at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

Diego Rivera House
Diego Rivera House

No discussion about Diego Rivera would be complete without mentioning his relationship with Frida Kahlo. The two famous Mexican artists first married in 1929, though infidelity on both sides led to a 1939 divorce. In 1940, they married again, and this also stormy marriage lasted until Kahlo’s death in 1954. Rivera himself passed in 1957.

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