Saturday, January 27, 2018



                               Self-Portrait Diego Rivera painted in 1907

"When art is true, it is one with nature. This is the secret of primitive art and also of the art of the masters—Michelangelo, Cézanne, Seurat, and Renoir. The secret of my best work is that it is Mexican." 

It gives me great pleasure to share Diego Rivera and his incredible body of work which I so admire. I "discovered" Sr. Rivera when we first moved to Mexico (Puerto Vallarta more specifically) and I consequently fell in love with his incredible artistry. Diego is the most influential Mexican artist of the twentieth century and was truly a larger-than-life figure as were his murals and his passions.

A lifelong Marxist who belonged to the Mexican Communist Party, Rivera exemplified the socially committed artist. His art expressed his outspoken commitment to left-wing political causes, depicting such subjects as the Mexican peasantry, American workers, and revolutionary figures like Emiliano Zapata and Lenin. At times his outspoken uncompromising leftist politics collided with the wishes of wealthy patrons and aroused significant controversy inside and outside the art world.

Diego spent significant periods of his career in Europe and the United States in addition to his native Mexico. Among his many contributions, Rivera is credited with the reintroduction of fresco painting into modern art and architecture. His controversial radical political views and tempestuous romance with the painter Frida Kahlo were then, and remain today, a source of public intrigue. In a series of visits to America from 1930 to 1940 Rivera brought his unique social vision to public spaces and galleries.

Diego Rivera's Early Life

Self-portrait of Diego Rivera as a child in his iconic mural "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park" which can be seen at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera in Mexico City. Anyone else you recognize??? Hint: initials of FK

Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, known as Diego Rivera was a prominent Mexican painter. Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico to a well-to-do family, the son of María del Pilar Barrientos and Diego Rivera Acosta, in 1886. Diego had a twin brother named Carlos who died two years after they were born.

Rivera claimed to be descended on his mother's side, from Jews who converted to Roman Catholicism, and on his father's side, from Spanish nobility. Rivera wrote in 1935: "My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life." Rivera began drawing at the age of three, a year after his twin brother's death. He had been caught drawing on the walls. His parents, rather than punishing him, installed chalkboards and canvas on the walls.

Diego Rivera's Personal Life

Anyone who knows the tale of Rivera's relationship and marriage to Frida Kahlo knows he was prone to infidelity. In today's language he would have been definitely called a womanizer. Throughout his life he would have four marriages (five if you count the re-marriage of himself and Kahlo after a year of divorce), but they were all plagued by Diego's unfaithfulness. He had several children in and out of wedlock. Art and women were at the top of Diego's list of things he could never live without.

Diego was still married when he met an art student known as Frida Kahlo. They married on August 21, 1929 when he was forty-two and she was twenty-two. His "relatively" long marriage to Kahlo underscored that their relationship held something for him that his shorter marriages didn't. Their mutual infidelities and his violent temper led to divorce in 1939, but they remarried December 8, 1940 in San Francisco. The following link is to my blog posting on Frida Kahlo:

Spouses included:
Angelina Beloff (1911–1921)
Guadalupe Marín (1922–1929)
Frida Kahlo (1929–1939 and 1940–1954; her death)
Emma Hurtado (1955–1957; his death)

Rivera included his wife Frida Kahlo in her traditional huipil and skirt in his mural entitled "Pan American Unity"which you will see in its entirety in the following section.

Diego Rivera's Roots in Revolution

As he matured, Rivera rebelled against the traditional school of painting and developed a style that combined historical, social, and political ideas. His great body of work reflects the cultural changes taking place in Mexico and around the world during the turbulent twentieth century. Rivera handled major social themes in a manner appropriate to the large scale of his chosen art form, the mural.

"Gloriosa Victoria" depicts the 1954 U.S. government engineered coup d’état against the elected government of Guatemala. There are no subtleties or abstractions in Rivera’s telling of this bleak chapter in human events. He strips away the mythic to reveal the common truths found in the chronicles of Latin America. Credit: ART FOR A CHANGE

Included in his murals he shares his beliefs concerning social inequality, the relationship of nature, industry, and technology, and the history and fate of Mexico. More than half a century after his death Rivera is still among the most revered figures in Mexico, celebrated for both his role in the country's artistic renaissance, the re-invigoration of the mural genre, as well as for his out sized bigger-than-life persona.

A section of Diego Rivera's "History of Mexico" mural at the National Palace in Mexico City:
The cropped portion features the images of Emiliano Zapata (left with sombrero), Felipe Carrillo Puerto (center), and José Guadalupe Rodríquez (right with sombrero) behind banner featuring the Zapatista slogan, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty).

Diego's murals primarily reflected the condition of the working man in contrast to the wealthy class and this particular mural is one of my favorites.

The world in which Diego grew up in was a hotbed of revolution. He was witness to the Russian Revolution as he traveled and studied art abroad as well as the Mexican Revolution when he returned home. These experiences were a vital theme to his art. His murals told the stories of the people rather than the powers that governed over them.

A lifelong Marxist who belonged to the Mexican Communist Party, Rivera exemplified the socially committed artist. His art expressed his outspoken commitment to left-wing political causes, depicting such subjects as the Mexican peasantry, American workers, and revolutionary figures like Emiliano Zapata and Lenin. At times his outspoken uncompromising leftist politics collided with the wishes of wealthy patrons and aroused significant controversy inside and outside the art world.

Diego's Art and Murals

"As an artist I have always tried to be faithful to my vision of life, and I have frequently been in conflict with those who wanted me to paint not what I saw but what they wished me to see." Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera was the most visible figure in Mexican muralism which was a large-scale public art initiative that emerged in the 1920's in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. During the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 Diego Rivera used his talents as a painter to fuel the movement with passion. Mexican muralism was the promotion of mural painting starting in the 1920's, generally with social and political messages as part of efforts to reunify the country under the post Mexican Revolution government. It was headed by “the big three” painters, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

From 1929 until 1935 Rivera worked on a mural that told the story of the Mexican people from their ancestral roots to the modern era.Painted at the National Palace in Mexico City this particular mural focuses on the native peoples of Mexico such as the Aztecs. Completed after the Mexican Revolution."The History of Mexico" served to restore patriotism and nationalism to native Mexicans and depict the story of their struggles through various conquests. HISTORY OF MEXICO MURAL

Diego Rivera painted "Pan American Unity" for the Art in Action exhibition at Treasure Island’s Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, California in 1940 where it still resides. Even though this mural is in the United States, and not Mexico, I think is quite a story and an interesting read: PAN AMERICA MURAL

This is a portion of the mural entitled "The History of Mexico" which I find particularly impactful. Above men grasp a banner that reads "Tierra y Libertad" (Land and Liberty), the slogan of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata. Other revolutionary leaders are also pictured in this powerful mural. Through Rivera's incredible artistic genius we see and learn of the history, struggles, and survival of Mexico people.

In 1933 the Rockefellers commissioned Rivera to paint a mural for the lobby of the RCA building in Rockefeller Center. “Man at the Crossroads” was to depict the social, political, industrial, and scientific possibilities of the twentieth century. In the painting, Rivera included a scene of a giant May Day demonstration of workers marching with red banners. It was not the subject matter of the panel that inflamed the patrons, but the clear portrait of Lenin leading the demonstration.

As a result of the negative publicity, a further commission was cancelled for Diego to paint a mural for an exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair. Rivera returned to Mexico in December of 1933 and repainted Man at the Crossroads in 1934 in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. This surviving version is called "Man, Controller of the Universe" and it is here for all of us to see.

The central portion of Diego Rivera's famous and then controversial mural, "Man at the Crossroads" which Rivera renamed "Man, Controller of the Universe" shows a giant vacuum which sucks up the riches of the earth to feed the factories of rich capitalists including John D. Rockefeller himself, while workers rally behind the red flag of socialism and its standard-bearer, Lenin.

Needless to say, the Rockefellers were not happy with the painting and had it painted over and destroyed. Fortunately Rivera had it photographed before its destruction and he was able to recreate an almost verbatim version at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Now that is some incredible history for a mural!

Diego Riviera's "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central" is located in the Diego Rivera Mural Museum near the Palace of Fine Arts ( Palacio de Bellas Artes). This small museum was built primarily to house this very large and fantastic mural which Rivera painted in 1947.

This fifty foot fresco mural takes the viewer on a walk through Alameda Park, Mexico City's first city park which was built on the grounds of an ancient Aztec marketplace. The large mural represents three principal eras of Mexican History: The Conquest, The Porfirio Dictatorship, and The Revolution of 1910.

The central focus of the mural is on a display of bourgeois complacency and values shortly before the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The mural depicts famous people and events in the history of Mexico passing through the Alameda Central park in Mexico City.

Rivera was an atheist. His mural "Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central" (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park) depicted Ignacio Ramírez holding a sign which read, "God does not exist." This work caused a furor, but Rivera refused to remove the inscription. The painting was not shown for nine years until Rivera agreed to remove the inscription. He stated: "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."

"Celebrations and Ceremonies Totonaca Culture" as seen at Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. One of my personal favorites!

Where to view Diego Rivera's murals

Searching for Rivera’s best murals in Mexico City can feel like a treasure hunt. The three locations below feature some of his most famous pieces. They are all conveniently located within walking distance of each other in the city’s Centro Historico, or Historic Center, and are the following:




Laura becomes a part of Diego Rivera's famous mural entitled "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central" even down to the stunning hat and feathers! How fun was that!

On our next trip to Mexico City I will certainly be visiting the Secretariat of Public Education Main Headquarters in Mexico City to see their collection of Diego Rivera murals. I found this photograph on the Internet called "Wall Street Banquet" which Rivera painted in 1928. Rivera certainly was not subtle in making his political feelings known! I am definitely looking forward to seeing it in person.

Closing Comments

Rivera remains one of the greatest muralists of all time. And the best place in the world to see his greatest works is Mexico City. In closing, I would be very remiss if I did not mention his large and outstanding body of paintings that he created during his lifetime in addition to his amazing murals. Check them out through the wonder of the Internet.

Diego and Frida are still with us even if it's only on the front and back of the Mexican $500 peso bill!

I remember giving my husband a birthday present when we first moved to Mexico in 1996. It was a copy of his painting called "Nude with Calla Lilies" and it kept my husband "company" above his desk for many years. Little did I know that I was to become a real fan of Diego Rivera's art in the future.

Nude with Calla Lilies by Diego Rivera 1944

Rivera was also comfortable with humble subjects and frequently he celebrated the relationship of peasants and nature. The calla lily, a sensual, sculptural flower, and the ultimate example of Mexico's exuberant flora, was painted by Rivera many times and often included in his portraits and murals which showed peasants carrying bundles or offerings of them. While "Nude with Calla Lilies" lacked the searing social and political commentary so frequently found in his art, it was certainly a lovely addition to our first home in Mexico. Muchas gracias, Sr. Rivera!

In case you missed my posting entitled MEXICO CITY FOR FIRST TIMERS! it includes more information on the Art Museums of Mexico City.

The following link is to a wonderful film on Frida Kahlo and her relationship with Diego Rivera.  I highly recommend it NETFLIX: FRIDA

Thank you for joining me and Diego Rivera and see you again soon. Laura from MEXICO AND BEYOND:  LAURA'S PHOTO JOURNEY


  1. Really enjoyed this post full of Diego Rivera's artwork. What an amazing talent both he and Frida had. When living in Merida, I saw their art everywhere, and had pictures hanging in my house. Que precioso!

  2. Wonderful post! I am inspired to get off my butt and make the museum trip to DF.