When I think of Diego Rivera I immediately think of his paintings of the ordinary folk of Mexico. They were often burdened by their work, as illustrated so graphically below and when we studied some of his paintings in Diego Rivera Painter.
Rivera was a life long Marxist and member of the Mexican Communist Party and eventually turned to Social Realism as a way to express his ideas about the oppression of the poor in a country dominated by a contrasting politics and colours. He wanted to make the workers the heroes of his paintings, workers toiling to bring progress to Mexico. Public art was the way to do it on a grand scale. His murals are filled with large, simplified figures and bold contrasting colours.
In 1920 Rivera visited Italy which ignited his interest in Renaissance frescoes. Consequently when he returned to Mexico in 1921 he joined the Muralist Movement. This post looks at some of his murals.
Rivera’s first mural Creation (below) was a commissioned work from the Mexican Minister of Education Jose Vasconcelos, painted in 1922-23 and depicts a heavenly host with Renaissance haloes.
But this mural represents a key moment in the Mexican Muralist movement. Rivera takes the tropes of Italian Renaissance fresco painting he discovered on his travels in Europe, and combines them with a distinctly Mexican aesthetic, joining old and new styles in a unique and highly influential way. Rivera later felt however that he had borrowed too much from the Italianate style and wanted to create an even more "Mexican" aesthetic in the future.2
Rivera then began, in 1922, creating a series of frescoes that focused on Mexican society and the country's revolutionary past, entitled Ballad of the Proletarian Revolution that he would not complete until 1928. The finished work, consisting of over 120 frescoes covering more than 5,200 square feet, is installed in Mexico City's Secretariat of Public Education building.3
It has been difficult to identify this mural as, across the internet, the titles seem to change. However I am confident that this is a photo of the mural in situ though it has been labelled Political Vision of the Mexican People.
The frescos that make up these murals are breathtaking. All political messages aside - Diego Rivera was a genius and I could happily fill my home with these paintings. Here is just a small selection.
The National School of Agriculture in Chapingo, Mexico, houses Rivera's mural titled The Liberated Earth with Natural Forces Controlled by Man as shown below.
This striking mural was painted for the altar wall of a chapel at a Mexican University. It represents the peak of Rivera's style in Mexico; it is much less Italianate than his earlier attempts, instead embracing a muscular, uniquely Mexican aesthetic in bold earthy colors, which recall traditional Mexican art. Shockingly, considering its holy location, the mural depicts a voluptuous pregnant, nude woman, representing a fertile earth liberated through social revolution. 2
Diego Rivera painted many murals throughout his career and several of these are in America.
He painted three murals in San Francisco from 1930 to 1931. One of these, located in the Pacific Stock Exchange building, is titled The Allegory of California. This work centers around an oversized female figure representing California and features several workers plying their trades.3 A detail is given below.
The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City was painted for the San Francisco School of Fine Arts. It features an open building with several rooms, each filled with people working on various tasks. 3
The third mural painted in San Francisco is the Pan American Unity (now located in San Francisco's Diego Rivera Theater) which is massive and consists of five frescoes. A detail is shown below.
In 1932, Rivera produced at the Detroit Institute of Arts 27 panels collectively known as the Detroit Industry Murals.
The murals depicts the evolution of the Ford Motor Company. Rivera considered this series, which he completed in 1933 with the help of assistants, to be one of his most successful projects.3
Below you can see the North Wall of the project.
We finish up today with what is considered to be Diego Rivera's most notorious failure: Man at the Crossroads.
Commissioned to paint a mural for the Rockefeller Center in New York, the artist began work on Man at the Crossroads. A figure stood at the center of the main fresco, and in the various sections surrounding him appeared scenes from science, industry, politics and history. To the right and left of center, giant statues of Jupiter and Caesar loomed. The Rockefellers took exception to the inclusion of Lenin in the mural. When Rivera refused to remove him, they cancelled further work and had the mural destroyed. Afterward, the artist would recreate the scene on a smaller scale in the Palace of Fine Arts upon his return to Mexico City, using photographs of the mural as a guide.3
Rivera travelled once more to San Francisco to paint ten murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1940, and then completed various commissions in his native country over the course of the next few years. In 1949, Rivera enjoyed an anniversary exhibition celebrating 50 years of his work at Mexico City's Museum of the Palace of Fine Arts.3
In summary what could be said of Diego Rivera is that He lived large, he dreamed large and he painted large! 9