Day 14: Diego Rivera

“An artist is above all a human being, profoundly human to the core. If the artist can’t feel everything that humanity feels, if the artist isn’t capable of loving until he forgets himself and sacrifices himself if necessary, if he won’t put down his magic brush and head the fight against the oppressor, then he isn’t a great artist.”

Diego Rivera and his twin brother Carlos were born to a well-to-do family in Guanajuato on December 8 or 13th 1886. Carlos died at age 2, making Diego an only child. At age 3 Diego started drawing, but unsatisfied with paper he moved to walls. Instead of punishing him, his parents had chalk boards and canvas placed there for the young artist to use.

Diego River, Age 4 (1890)

Diego’s mother, María Barrientos, who Diego described as “diminutive, almost childlike, with large innocent eyes”, distraught over the loss of her son began studying Obstetrics and midwifery to overcome her depression.

Maria Barrientos Rivera (1896)

During this time, Diego suffered poor health (Rickets, which caused skeletal deformity because of a lack of vitamin D) and was sent to live in the mountains with his nanny Antonia, a Tarascan Indian. “Visually she was an artists ideal Indian woman, and I have painted her many times from memory in her long red robe and blue shawl.”

The Flower Vendor (1941)

The Flower Carrier (1935)

Diego called her a witch doctor; she used herbs and rituals to heal him and would let him roam the forrest. It was because of her that Diego featured Indigenous peoples in his works a lot.

In 1896 he entered the Academy of San Carlos, where he was receiving 30 pesos a month from Governor Dehesa to attend school.


In 1904 Murillo Atl, a Mexican artist returned from his trip to Europe excited and invigorated by the work he saw and being a huge influence on the young artists in Mexico, he started a wave of students who wanted to go as well.

La Era (1904)

“In 1905, I expressed this desire to Governor Dehesa. He told me that, if I had a one-man exhibition and succeeded in selling my paintings in Mexico, he would provide traveling and living expenses for four years’ study abroad.” Those 4 years quickly turned to 14. He studied with many artists and explored many different styles.

La Calle De Avila (1908) After a year in Spain.

Portrait of Angelina Beloff (1909) Diego met Angelina Belloff, a Russian artist in Spain. They married in 1911. The two had a son together that would die of the flu during the fall of 1918. "She gave me everything a woman can give to a man. In return, she received from me all the heartache and misery that a man can inflict upon a woman"

While Rivera was married to Belloff he had an affair with another Russian artist named Marevna Vorobyov-Stebelska. A year after the death of his son, they had a girl named Marika (who later became an French film actress and dancer). The same year he met David Alfaro Siqueiros and studied frescos in Italy. He thought this was the best way to make art appeal to the masses. “The artist must try to raise the level of taste of the masses, not debase himself to the level of unformed and impoverished taste.”  He left for Mexico June of 1921 and told Belloff he would send for her, though he never did. He sent Marevna maintenance payments for their child though he never acknowledged Marika as his.

Creation (1922) Rivera's first mural in Mexico, painted at the Simon Bolivar Amphitheatre in the Escuela Preparatoria Nacional (National Preparatory School) where Frida was attending school and was first exposed to his work.

“The subject of the mural was Creation, which I symbolized as everlasting and the core of human history. More specifically, I presented a racial history of Mexico through figures representing all the types that had entered the Mexican blood stream, from the autochthonous Indian to the present-day half-breed, spanish Indian.”

Entry Into The Mine (1923) Located at the Court of Labour at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City, Mexico. Rivera was an anarchist in his boyhood and grew to be a Marxist, he displayed his communist views through his art often in the portrayal of the working class.

In June of 1922 he married Guadalupe Marin, his second wife.

Portrait of Lupe Marin (1938)

Diego thought Lupe was the ideal woman. With long black hair and crystalline green eyes she had a slim body with round shoulders and muscular legs and hands.  Together they had 2 daughters, Guadalupe in 1924 and Ruth in 1926.

The Burning of the Judases (1923-24) Sabados de Gloria is a festival that has been celebrated since the early 1900s. It takes place at the end of lent and the day before Easter. Judas is symbolically burned and soon it became a tradition of burning effigies of unpopular people in power. Here, the 2 paper mache "judases" are a general and priest.

The Abundant Earth (1926) The bright nude woman in the front with her hair pulled up is Tina Modotti, who he had an affair with.

The Arsenal - Frida Kahlo Distributes Arms(1928) Other than Frida in the center (handing out rifles and bayonets to workers who have decided to fight), you can see Siqueiros on the left and Julio Antonio Mella and his partner Tina Modotti

In 1928, Frida Kahlo met Diego. He had been married for 6 years but was immediately taken with her and in 1929 the 42 year old Rivera and 22 year old Kahlo married. It wasn’t always a happy partnership.

"If I ever loved a woman, the more I loved her, the more I wanted to hurt her. Frida was only the most obvious victim of this disgusting trait."

Soon after, Rivera gaining popularity in the United States would spend the first few years of the 1930s doing commissions in San Fransisco, Detroit and New York. Mesmerized by the industry, architecture and infrastructure he said “Your engineers are your great artists and these highways are the most beautiful things I have seen in your beautiful country,” and “Out of them and the machine will issue the style of tomorrow.”

However, despite Rivera being in awe of it all, many were outraged by a communist creating a mural for Detroit Industry. After all just weeks before he and Frida arrived in April of 1923, 60,000 marchers gathered to protest the shooting of 5 Ford Motor Co. employees who were rallying against the plant.

Detroit Industry (1932) “American artists should have at least been considered for the execution of this work,A question of much more (than) art is involved. It constitutes a war between communists and capitalism.” said the Rev. H. Ralph Higgins, senior curate at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Detroit, in a 1933 Detroit News interview.

I really wish he would’ve made a protest piece on behalf of the workers.

It’s not like controversy was new to him or that he wouldn’t get himself into plenty of it while he was in the states.

Man at the Crossroads (1933) “Here it is -- the might , the power, the energy, the sadness, the glory, the youthfulness of our land .” Renamed Man, Controller of the Universe, was redone in Mexico after the uproar it caused in New York for containing a portrait of Lenin and Trotsky. Refusing to remove the images, Rockefeller, who had commissioned the piece had it destroyed.

After the upheaval that this piece caused, his commission at the World Fair in Chicago was cancelled and he wouldnt return to the United States again until 1940. He held no ill will toward the US in spite of the opposition he faced in the past.

Pan American Unity (1940) ”… the fusion of the genius of the South (Mexico) with its religious ardor and its gift for plastic expression and the genius of the North (the United States) with its gift for mechanical expression.” The powerful symbol of this fusion was “a colossal Goddess of Life , half Indian, half machine. She was to the American civilization of my vision what Quetzalcoatl, the great mother of Mexico, was to the Aztec people.”"

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park (1947-48) In this piece he depicts Ignacio Ramirez holding a sign that reads "Dios no existe" or "God does not exist". This work was very controversial but Rivera refused to remove the inscription and because of this, it was not shown for 9 years (until he finally agreed to remove it). Rivera said "To affirm 'God does not exist', I do not have to hide behind Don Ignacio Ramírez; I am an atheist and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis."

Glorious Victory (1954) a portrayal of of the infamous CIA coup that overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected government. Eisenhower is depicted as a bomb, a priest oversees the massacre and CIA Director Dulles is shaking hands with Colonel Castillo Armas. Frida would attend a protest against the orders of her doctor because of this and her health grew worse.

In 1954 Frida finally passed away. “July 13, 1954 was the most tragic day of my life. I had lost my beloved Frida forever. Too late now I realized that the most wonderful part of my life had been my love for Frida.” A year before she died he stated that “Frida Kahlo is the greatest Mexican painter. Her work is destined to be multiplied by reproductions and will speak, thanks to books, to the whole world. It is one of the most formidable artistic documents and most intense testimonies on human truth of our time.”

He married Emma Hurtado a year later, but the marriage would be brief. He died of cancer at age 70 on November 24, 1957.

People that raise a lot of hell usually end up living a long time,

The Pythia


One response to “Day 14: Diego Rivera

  1. Stunning, absolutely breathtaking how incredible Diego was as an artist. His murals are so rich and enormous, it is hard to imagine one man doing so much. Have you seen his Detroit murals?

    Please feel free to stop by my blog and checkout some of the Mexican Art I post. You might find a new artist to write about!


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