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