Diego Rivera Muralist

Leading on from the last Blog about Diego Rivera I will start with his painting of Man Carrying a Turkey created in 1944. Gone is the Cubism that was evident in his paintings done in 1913-1915. Around 1917 Rivera became inspired by Paul Cézanne's paintings and was attracted to Post-Impressionism employing simple forms and large patches of vivid colours.
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.

Rivera’s first mural Creation was a commissioned work from the Mexican Minister of Education Jose Vasconcelos, painted in 1922-23.

Then from 1924 to 1927 Rivera worked on what is considered to be one of his best murals - Tierra Fecundads (Fertile Land) at the Chapingo Autonomous University, an agricultural college located in Texcoco, Mexico.

This mural is made up of 41 fresco panels in which the socialist revolution parallels the evolution of nature. This is The Abundant Earth, one of the panels tracing the development of natural growth from seed to flowering plant.

The mural In the Arsenal was produced in 1928. It is based on a song (a Corrido) written by Rivera, the words of which are written above the painting - So will be the proletarian revolution.

The mural hangs on the south wall, Patio de las Fiestas (Courtyard of Fiestas), third floor, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Mexico City.

In 1929 Rivera began painting his murals in the large stairways and stairwells of the National Palace, the center of the Mexican Government, Mexico City. This image gives you some idea of the magnificence of the works towering above the people.

One section of the mural depicts the richness of the ancient Aztec culture.

As does this mural of the Pre Columbrian Aztec city of Tenochtitlan
also at the National Palace.
Here we see the The Conquest or Arrival of Hernán Cortés in Veracruz.
The South Wall contains images of a better future for Mexico but sadly I wasn't able to find an image of this mural.

Following on from this monumental work, in 1931 Rivera had a solo exhibition at MoMA where he produced 8 portable frescoes. I have chosen to show you the one depicting the Agrarian Leader Emiliano Zapata, a significant figure in the Mexican Revolution. The image shows Zapata with his white steed, bridle in hand, standing over the body of a land owner.

The mural shown below Frozen Assets was also part of the MoMA exhibition in 1931. Diego at first painted 5 portable murals depicting events from Mexican history. Then later, after the exhibition opened he painted 3 more murals including Frosen Assets, depicting scenes from the Depression era in New York. At the top you can see the skyscrapers of New York and the bottom is the waiting room of a bank. In the middle are rows of sleeping men in a steel and glass shed symbolising the dispossessed labor that made the growth possible.

Rivera's journeys to the United States had a very important effect on his work. He experienced a freedom from the Mexican elements which were central to his paintings - the cultural history, the politics, the ordinary people. This temporary respite allowed Diego to concentrate on his interest in technology which was dominating the American industrial scene. Detroit Industry (1932-3) is a 27-panel tribute to the city’s labor force. It was a commissioned work and appears in the Detroit Institute of Art in Midtown Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a very good image of this mural and the one shown below is only a section.

Labourers working at Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant are shown. On some of the panels advances in medicine and technology are depicted. I have read that of all his murals Rivera considered this one to be his best.

Diego Rivera’s work was not without controversy. In 1933 he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Rockefeller Center in New York City. In the work Man at the Crossroads he included a portrait of Lenin. The mural was never completed as Rivera refused to take Lenin out so the mural was destroyed. However Rivera had taken a photo of his work so he reproduced it titled Man, Controller of the Universe. It is housed at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

At the center of this masterpiece is a workman controlling machinery with a fist holding an orb in front of him. 4 propeller-like shapes stretch from center to corner of the composition representing discoveries made possible by science. The composition also depicts a contrast between Capitalism and Socialism with wealthy people playing cards and smoking in the left while on the right Lenin is seen holding hands with a multi-racial group of workers. It is definitely the most renowned masterpiece by Diego Rivera. (Ref: https://learnodo-newtonic.com/diego-rivera-famous-paintings)

Still in the USA, here is a close up from Allegory of California* which hangs in the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco. I am showing it so you can see the detail work and incredible composition of people and objects that Rivera created. The man was a genius.

I love learning about the little inclusions artists include in their paintings. In Diego Rivera’s case it is a Frog! The town where he was born, Guanajuato, is built on the slopes of the Sierra Madre and the P’urhepecha translation of the town’s name is hill of frogs. Diego included frogs in several of his paintings. Can you find the frog?
This mural (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park) was originally created for the Versailles restaurant at the hotel Prado but was moved to the museum after the hotel was destroyed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. The murals shows events from Mexican history with famous Mexicans shown together in Alameda Central Park, Mexico City which has witnessed several important events in Mexican history. The female skeleton in the centre is a copy of La Calavera Catrina from a zinc etching by Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada. She represents a satirical portrait of the Mexicans who were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic traditions in pre-revolution times. But what about the frog? Where is it?

The frog is climbing out of the pocket of the boy, Rivera as a child, standing next to La Calavera Catrina. Here is a close up and hopefully you can see the frog.

I am going to conclude with a close up from Night of the Poor so once more you can appreciate the artistic skill of Diego Rivera who died on 24 Nov 1957.
Location: Secretariat of Public Education Main Headquarters, Mexico City, Mexico

In summary what could be said of Diego Rivera is that He lived large, he dreamed large and he painted large!

We're about to move from Mexico so hop on a plane. We are off to Italy.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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