Art of the 20th Century

 




Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



 





Diego Rivera





Amedeo Modigliani
Portrait of Diego Rivera
1914

 

 


 

CONTENTS

An Artist is Born

Apprentice Years in Europe

The Mural - a Post-Revolutionary Ideal

Communist Ideology for Capitalist Clients

From Recognition to Renown

Dream of Peace and Unity: the Last Journey

Appendix:
collection "Frida" - Frida Kahlo

 

 


 




The Mural - a Post-Revolutionary Ideal

 

 

For the depiction of Woman or Eve the artist had taken as his model Guadalupe Marin, with whom he now began a liaison, following relationships with other models. In June 1922 Rivera and the Guadalajara-born Lupe Marin were married and took a house in Mixcalco Street, just outside the main square of Mexico City, Zocalo Square. From their five-year marriage two daughters, Guadalupe and Ruth, were born in the middle of 1924 and at the beginning of 1927.
 

Edward Weston
Guadalupe Marin de Rivera,
first wife of Diego Rivera
1924

 

 


In these first as in all his subsequent frescoes Rivera's detailed knowledge of Mexican traditional art combines with his skilful use of contemporary elements of plastic style. His work of the next few years critically depicts the past as well as the present, and conveys the Utopian conviction that man can creatively change society to achieve a belter and more just future. Rivera uses Marxist theory in shaping the themes of his murals, although his biographers Bertram D. Wolfe and Lolo de la Torriente assert that he himself never read Marx and was reluctant to accept dogma of any kind. However, through the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers. Painters and Sculptors (Sindicato revolucionario de trabajadores tlecnicos, pintores y escultores), which he helped to found in autumn 1922, he was soon confronted with communist ideology.

The Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, whom Rivera had met in Paris at the beginning of 1919 and whose view of the Mexican Revolution and the task of a truly Mexican art and its social value he shared at the time, had returned from Europe in September, to join the figures who formed the intellectual elite of the new artists' movement - Carlos Merida, Amado de la Cueva, Xavier Guerrero, Ramon Alva Guadarrama, Fernando Leal, Fermm Revueltas, German Cueto and Jose Clemente Orozco. Like many other Latin American avant-garde groups, the newly founded trade union, emulating its European counterparts, published a manifesto, the text of which, expressing the common denominator of its artist-members' ideals, Siqueiros had composed in Spain. In 1924 the news-sheets that the union printed and distributed grew into the newspaper El Machete, which later became the official organ of the Mexican Communist Party. In its first form it served to proclaim the union's position as an organic entity between artistic and political revolutions. At the end of the year 1922 Rivera joined the Mexican Communist Party and together with Siqueiros and Xavier Guerrero he formed its executive committee.

In March 1922 Vasconcelos announced the major project of the first decade of the mural movement in Mexico, the wall-decoration of the two inner courtyards of the Ministry of Education (Secretaria de Educacion Publica or SEP); its new buildings had been opened the year before. He placed Rivera in charge of the project. With a team of assistants Rivera was to paint 117 spaces, a total surface area of almost 1600 square metres (over 17,000 square feet), on the arcaded walls of the two inner courtyards, one lying behind the other, of the huge three-storey complex. Work on the project, in which Rivera set out to supply a hitherto non-existent national revolutionary iconography, took over four years to eventual completion in 1928.

The thematic programme for the ground floor of both courtyards, whose murals are works of simple design and concentrated expressive power in classical figurative style, consists of motifs of revolutionary ideals and Mexico's Indian heritage. The smaller court, which Rivera called the "Court of Labour", contains depictions of the everyday life of the Mexican people - working scenes of rural, industrial and craft activities in the different provinces and the struggle to improve living conditions. The larger "Court of Fiestas" contains scenes of traditional Mexican folk festivals.

Since Rivera's daily remuneration amounted to only two dollars a day. he now began to sell drawings, watercolours and also paintings to collectors, predominantly North American tourists. These were often sketches or preliminary designs for murals. Mexican and indigenous motifs that occur in murals also appear in the same or similar form in easel works: Tehuantepec Woman Washing (1923) is akin in subject-matter to the mural Bathing at Tehuantepec near the entrance to the elevator of the Ministry building. Woman Grinding Maize (1924) is identical with a detail of Potters on the east wall of the same building in the "Court of Labour". In both scenes Indian women are depicted in one of their everyday activities in Rivera's typical so-called "classical" style. What begin as flattish figures become increasingly modelled and solid. Multiple use of individual motifs is seen in the "Court of Fiestas" and becomes frequent in the later cycles.
 


Tehuantepec Woman Washing
1923

 


Woman Grinding Maize
1924
 

In 1924, spurred by the political unrest provoked by conservative groups, a party of upper school students carried out an attack on the murals by Orozco and Siqueiros in the inner courtyard of the Preparatoria and demanded the cessation of all mural projects. Interviewed by the press about the incident, Rivera, seen as the most prominent figure in the mural movement, who on completion of the work in the Preparatoria had been appointed director of the Education Ministry's Department of Plastic Arts, sharply criticized the attack. Vasconcelos, now less and less in agreement with Obregon's policies, resigned from the Ministry. For the moment, the conservatives had achieved their goal: the mural project was stopped and most of the painters were dismissed. Many of them, like Siqueiros, left Mexico City to seek work in the provinces. Only Rivera, who had managed to convince the new education minister, Jose Maria Puig Casauranc, of the project's importance, kept his post so that he could complete the decoration of the Ministry.

On the first floor of the SEP building are depictions of the coats of arms of the States of the Mexican Federation, together with some less spectacular representations of the theme of "Intellectual and Academic Work". On the second floor is another narrative cycle; in Corrido of the Revolution, divided into two sections, the Agrarian Revolution and the Proletarian Revolution, extracts from a popular ballad are written on painted strips, which wind like a garland through successive panels and link them together. This plastic depiction of the corrido, a four-line ballad-like musical genre familiar to all Mexicans, was a radical artistic innovation that addressed a largely illiterate population and accustomed it to receiving news by means of verses and of songs.

The Proletarian Revolution, which consists of scenes of revolutionary struggle, the setting up of cooperatives and victory over capitalism, opens with what is probably the best known mural of the whole cycle, The Arsenal- Frida Kahlo Distributes Arms. In the only landscape-format mural of the series Rivera portrays friends and comrades of the circle around Julio Antonio Mella, the exiled Cuban Communist living in Mexico. At the centre of the mural stands Frida Kahlo, distributing arms and bayonets to the workers who have decided to fight. Rivera had met Kahlo, who became his wife a year later, in 1928 through the progressive circle of artists and intellectuals he depicted. She joined the Mexican Communist Party in the same year, and Rivera shows her, like the other Party members, with the red star of the Communist activist on the breast. At the left edge of the painting David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rivera's like-minded colleague, wears the uniform of an army captain, which he had actually been in the revolutionary years around 1915; Mella, who was murdered in the street in Mexico City on 10 January 1929 on the orders of the Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado, stands at the right edge next to his partner Tina Modotti, who hands bandoleers to comrades.
 


The Arsenal- Frida Kahlo Distributes Arms
1928
Political Vision of the Mexican People
Ministry of Education, Mexico City


 


Night of the Poor
1928
Ministry of Education, Mexico City


Night of the Rich
1928
Ministry of Education, Mexico City



 

 


Our Bread
1928
Ministry of Education, Mexico City


Death of the Capitalist
1928
Ministry of Education, Mexico City




 

The Festival of the Distribution of the Land
1923
Ministry of Education, Mexico City
 

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