Wednesday 17 August 2011

Diego Rivera – part 1

This is part 1 of a 2-part post looking at the life and works of Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957). Rivera was a prominent Mexican painter born in Guanajuato. He was an active communist, and the husband of painter Frida Kahlo. His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals among others in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. In 1931, a retrospective exhibition of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1897 Rivera began studying painting at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City. His instructors included Andrés Ríos Félix Para (1845 – 1919), Santiago Rebull (1829 – 1902), and José María Velasco (1840 – 1912). Para showed Rivera Mexican art that was different from the European art that he was used to. Rebull taught him that a good drawing was the basis of a good painting. Velasco taught Rivera how to produce three-dimensional effects. He was also influenced by the work of José Guadalupe Posada (1852 – 1913), who produced scenes of everyday Mexican life engraved on metal.

In 1902 Rivera was expelled from the academy for leading a student protest when Porfirio Díaz was reelected president of Mexico. Under Díaz's leadership, those who disagreed with government policies faced harassment, imprisonment, and even death. After Rivera was expelled, he travelled throughout Mexico painting and drawing.

Teodora Dehesa, the governor of Veracruz, Mexico, who was known for funding artists, heard about Rivera's talent and agreed to pay for his studies in Europe. In 1907 Rivera went to Madrid in Spain and worked in the studio of Eduardo Chicharro. Then in 1909 he moved to Paris. There he was influenced by the work of the impressionist painters, Renoir in particular. Later he was inspired by the post-impressionists like Gauguin, Cezanne, and Matisse.

As Rivera continued his travels in Europe, he experimented more with his techniques and styles of painting. The series of works he produced between 1913 and 1917 are cubistic. In Italy he studied the techniques of fresco (in which paint is applied to wet plaster) and mural painting before returning to Mexico in 1921.

He began painting large murals on walls in public buildings. Rivera's first mural, the Creation (1922), in the Bolívar Amphitheater at the University of Mexico, was the first important mural of the twentieth century. In his later works he used historical, social, and political themes to show the history and the life of the Mexican people.

1922 Creation

In 1929 Rivera married the artist Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954). The couple travelled in the United States, where Rivera produced many works of art, between 1930 and 1933. In San Francisco he painted murals for the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the California School of Fine Arts.

Two years later he had an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. One of his most important works is the fresco in the Detroit Institute of Arts (1933), which depicts industrial life in the United States.

1933 Detroit Institute of Arts

1933 Detroit Institute of Arts (detail)

Rivera returned to New York and began painting a mural for Rockefeller Centre (1933). He was forced to stop work on the mural because it included a picture of a labour leader who looked too much like Lenin, the founder of the Russian Communist Party. After Rivera and Kahlo returned to Mexico, he painted a mural for the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City (1934). This was a copy of the project that he had started in Rockefeller Centre – Lenin appears, so does John D. Rockefeller, in close proximity to venereal microbes.

1933 Man at the Crossroads Looking with High Vision to the choosing of a New and Better Future

In 1940 Rivera returned to San Francisco to paint a mural for a junior college on the general theme of culture in the future.
His two murals in the National Institute of Cardiology in Mexico City (1944) show the development of cardiology and include portraits of the outstanding physicians in that field.

1944 Institute of Cardiology

In 1947-8 he painted a mural for the Hotel del Prado, A Dream in the Alameda:

1947 Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park mural (detail)

In 1951 an exhibition honouring fifty years of Rivera's art took place in the Palace of Fine Arts. His last works were mosaics for the stadium of the National University and for the Insurgents Theatre, and a fresco in the Social Security Hospital No. 1.

Frida Kahlo died in 1954. Diego Rivera died in Mexico City in 1957. Over his lifetime Rivera produced many fine oil paintings as well as frescoes:

1896-7 Landscape 

1904 Threshing Floor 
oil on canvas

1909 The Building on the Bridge 
oil on canvas

1912 Landscape 

1920 Operation 
oil on canvas

1920 The Child Writing the Word 
oil on canvas

1923 Burn the Judas 

1923 Dancing 

1924 Sharpener 

1926 Make the Tortilla 
oil on canvas

1926-7 The Power from Underground 

1928 Night of the Rich fresco in the Courtyard of the Fiestas, Ministry of Education, Mexico City

1928 The Arsenal - Frida Kahlo Distributes Arms

1928 The Dancing from Tehuantepec

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