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Diego Rivera

Mexican Painter and Muralist

Movements: Mexican Muralism, Social Realism

Born: December 8, 1886 - Guanajuato, Mexico

Died: November 24, 1957 - Mexico City, Mexico

Important Art by Diego Rivera

The below artworks are the most important by Diego Rivera - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.


Artwork Images

View of Toledo (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: A stunning tribute to two of Rivera's favorite masters—El Greco and Paul Cézanne— View of Toledo exemplifies Rivera's tendency to unite traditional and more modern approaches in his work. The landscape is a reworking of the famous 1597 landscape painting by El Greco, whose work Rivera studied during his time in Spain; Rivera's version even deploys the same viewpoint as the Spanish Old Master. At the same time, the subdued palette, flattened forms, and unconventional use of perspective suggest the artist's reverence for Cézanne, his L'Estaque landscapes. This artwork also documents the beginning of Rivera's Cubist phase.

Oil on canvas - Fundacion Amparo R. de Espinosa, Puebla


Artwork Images

Zapatista Landscape –The Guerrilla (1915)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this work, painted during Rivera's sojourn in Paris, the artist deployed Cubism—a style he once characterized as a "revolutionary movement"—to depict the Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, here seen with attributes such as a rifle, bandolier, hat, and sarape. The work's collage-like approach is suggestive of the Synthetic rather than Analytic phase of Cubism. Executed at the height of the Mexican Revolution, the painting—later described by its creator as "probably the most faithful expression of the Mexican mood that I have ever achieved"—manifests the increasing politicization of Rivera's work.

Oil on canvas - Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City


Artwork Images

Motherhood –Angelina and the Child (1916)

Artwork description & Analysis: Motherhood is a modernizing, Cubist treatment on a perennial art historical theme: the Madonna and Child. In this painting, Angelina Beloff, Rivera's common-law wife for twelve years, holds their newborn son, Diego, who died of influenza just months after his birth. The painting beautifully illustrates Rivera's unique approach to Cubism, which rejected the somber, monochromatic palette deployed by artists such as Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque in favor of vivid colors more reminiscent of those used by Italian Futurist artists like Gino Severini or Giacomo Balla.

Oil on canvas - Museo de Arte Alvar y Carmen T. de Carrillo Gil, Mexico


Artwork Images

Creation (1922–23)

Artwork description & Analysis: His first commission from Mexican Minister of Education Jose Vasconcelos, Creation is the first of Rivera's many murals and a touchstone for Mexican Muralism. Treating, in the artist's words, "the origins of the sciences and the arts, a kind of condensed version of human history"—the work is a complex allegorical composition, combining Mexican, Judeo-Christian, and Hellenic motifs. It depicts a number of allegorical figures—among them Faith, Hope, Charity, Education, and Science—all seemingly represented with unmistakably Mexican features. The figure of Song was modeled on Guadalupe Marin, who later became Rivera's second wife. Through such features of the work as the use of gold leaf and the monumental, elongated figures, the mural reflects the importance of Italian and Byzantine art for Rivera's development.

Fresco in encaustic with gold leaf - Museo de San Idelfonso, Mexico City


Artwork Images

Man, Controller of the Universe (Man in the Time Machine) (1934)

Artwork description & Analysis: As its title indicates, the painting is a powerful representation of the human race "at the crossroads" of reinforcing or competing forces and ideologies: science, industrialization, Communism, and capitalism. Revealing Rivera's dedication to Communism and other left-wing causes, the painting has at its center a heroic worker surrounded by four propeller-like blades; it contrasts a mocking portrayal of society women, seen on the left, with a sympathetic portrayal of Lenin surrounded by proletarians of different races, on the right. Commissioned by the Mexican government, this painting is a smaller but nearly identical recreation of Man at the Crossroads, the Rockefeller-commissioned mural for the soon-to-be-completed Rockefeller Center. The New York City mural was destroyed a year before this work, amid controversy over Rivera's portrait of Lenin and his subsequent refusal to remove the image.

Fresco - Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City


Artwork Images

Portrait of Lupe Marin (1938)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this magnificent portrait of his second wife from whom he separated the previous decade, Rivera again reveals his profound artistic debt to the European painting tradition. Utilizing a device deployed by such artists as Velazquez, Manet, and Ingres—and which Rivera would himself use in his 1949 portrait of his daughter Ruth—he portrays his subject partially in reflection through his depiction of a mirror in the background. The painting's coloration and the subject's expressive hands call to mind another artistic hero, El Greco, while its composition and structure suggest the art of Cézanne.

Oil on canvas - Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

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Artwork Images

The Detroit Industry Fresco Cycle (1932–33)

Artwork description & Analysis: The twenty-seven panels comprising this cycle are a tribute to Detroit's manufacturing base and workforce of the 1930s and constitute the finest example of fresco painting in the United States. Here, Rivera takes large-scale industrial production as the subject of the work, depicting machinery with exceptional attention to detail and artistry. The overall iconography of the cycle reflects the duality concept of Aztec culture via the two sides of industry: the one beneficial to society (vaccines) and the other harmful (lethal gas). Other dichotomies recur in this work, as Rivera contrasts tradition and progress, industry and nature, and North and South America. He uses multiple allegories based on the history of the continents, as well as contemporary events to build a dramatic artwork.


Artwork Images

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park (1947–48)

Artwork description & Analysis: Rivera revisits the theme of Mexican history in this crowded, dynamic composition, replete with meaningful portraits, historical figures, and symbolic elements. Conceived as a festive pictorial autobiography, Rivera represents himself at the center as a child holding hands with the most celebrated of Guadalupe Posada's creations: the skeletal figure popularly known as "Calavera Catrina." He represents himself joining this quintessential symbol of Mexican popular culture and is shown to be protected by his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo, who holds in her hand the yin-yang symbol, the Eastern equivalent of Aztec duality.

The mural combines the artist's own childhood experiences with the historical events and sites that took place in Mexico City's Alameda Park, such as the crematorium for the victims of the Inquisition during the times of Cortes, the U.S. army's encampment in the park in 1848, and the major political demonstrations of the nineteenth century. As in many previous works, Rivera juxtaposes historical events and figures, deliberately rejecting the Western tradition of linear narrative.

Transportable fresco - Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City



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Related Art and Artists


The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L'Estaque (1885)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Artwork description & Analysis: In this view of L'Estaque, the artist's palette bursts with a vibrant bouquet of colors previously unseen in his work. The rigid architectonic forms of the houses define the foreground, while the rest of the picture is realized just as "solidly" through the bold blues of the sea and the sky. The complimentary colors are skillfully employed by the artist to create an illusion of pictorial depth. The entire composition reminds us the artist's stated desire to "make of Impressionism something solid and enduring, like the art in museums." Cézanne painted numerous views of L'Estaque, which was one of his favorite destinations in the south of France.

Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago


The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope (1905)

Artist: Henri Rousseau

Artwork description & Analysis: The lion and antelope at the center of the painting wear vacant stares that contribute to a surprisingly static attack scene, much of which is taken up by lush trees before a setting sun. Rousseau based the poses of the two animals on a diorama made for the zoological galleries of the Jardin des Plantes, home to a large collection of flora and fauna often visited by the artist. With its reference to an antelope "shedding a tear," the caption that accompanied the work reveals Rousseau's lack of firsthand experience of his wild animal subjects: "The hungry lion, throwing himself upon the antelope, devours him. The panther stands by awaiting the moment when he, too, can claim his share. Birds of prey have ripped out pieces of flesh from the poor animal that sheds a tear!" Among his largest works at 83 by 122 inches and displayed at the Salon d'Automne of 1905, the painting forcefully announced the return of Rousseau's jungle scenes, from which the artist had taken a hiatus between 1891 and 1904. With its absence of three-dimensional illusionism and depiction of jungle savagery, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope was seen as both ancient and modern, inviting comparison to art forms such as cave painting and fresco, while demonstrating the directness of expression to be achieved from the rejection of academic artistic principles. At the Salon, the painting hung near works by artists that included Henri Matisse and André Derain, and may have prompted one keen-eyed critic to refer to the young painters as "Fauves," or "Wild Beasts."

Oil on canvas - Ernst Beyeler Collection, Basel


Artwork Images

Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso's Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle is typical of his Synthetic Cubism, in which he uses various means - painted dots, silhouettes, grains of sand - to allude to the depicted objects. This combination of painting and mixed media is an example of the way Picasso "synthesized" color and texture - synthesizing new wholes after mentally dissecting the objects at hand. During his Analytic Cubist phase Picasso had suppressed color, so as to concentrate more on the forms and volumes of the objects, and this rationale also no doubt guided his preference for still life throughout this phase. The life of the café certainly summed up modern Parisian life for the artists - it was where he spent a good deal of time talking with other artists - but the simple array of objects also ensured that questions of symbolism and allusion might be kept under control.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, London

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Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
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Mexican Muralism
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Social Realism
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Gerardo Murillo
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Leon Trotsky
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Guillaume Apollinaire
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Frida Kahlo
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Post-Impressionism
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Cubism
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Surrealism
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Ben Shahn
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Jackson Pollock
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Tina Modotti
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Bertram Wolfe
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