Diego Rivera was born on December 8, 1886, in Guanajuato, Mexico. At the age of two, before Diego was even able to read, his father set up a studio for him. The family lived in Guanajuato until 1892, when they moved to Mexico City. At the young age of 10, Diego decided he wanted to become an artist. So he began taking evening classes at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. He enrolled in military college at the request of his father. But Diego did not like the strict regimen and after two weeks, in 1898, he attended San Carlos as a full-time student. At the school’s annual show, he exhibited for the first time with 26 works and became and established painter. But Rivera was unhappy with the new art director at the academy. And so he decided to leave the school where he had been a student for the last six years.
Diego Rivera's art was one of the columns on which one of the strongest movements in american painting was to find support: Mexican Muralism. His art greatly depends on a vocabulary born from a mixture between Gauguin and the aztec and mayan sculptures. His works range from murals and pencil drawings to book illustrations and political writings. Diego Rivera, using simplified forms and vivid colors, brilliantly rescued the precolombine past, as well as the most important moments of Mexico's history: the land, the factory and land workers, the customs and the popular way of life. Diego Rivera's contribution to modern mexican art was decisive in murals and conventional painting; he was a revolutionary painter who wanted to take the art to a broad audience, to the street and buildings, using a precise and direct language with a realistic style, full of social meaning. Parallel to his creative effort, Diego Rivera teached and gathered a magnificent collection of mexican popular art.
Early Years of Diego Rivera
Diego María Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, better known as Diego Rivera, was barely ten years old, Diego's family moved to Mexico City. There, he obtained a government scholarhip to attend to the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos (San Carlos' Fine Arts Academy), in which he remained until he was expelled in 1902, due to his participation in the student revolts of that year. The influences he received while in Mexico's capital were varied, going from those received from his first teacher, who was a pupil of Ingres,to those from José Guadalupe Posada, engraver in whose workshop Diego worked and whose influence was to be decisive in his subsequent artistic development. Five years later, Diego had his first exposition, which was a great success among the public; this earned him a Veracruz's government scholarship to continue his pictoric education in Spain, at the San Fernando de Madrid school. From there he traveled to France, Belgium, Holland and Great Britain, between 1908 and 1910, until he finally moved to Paris in 1911. During this trip he was influenced by post-impresionism, mainly by Paul Cézanne's art. This moved him to experiment with cubism and some other new styles, in whose languages Diego unfolded freely, creating original artworlks full of harmony. In 1910 he also exhibited forty of his artworks in Mexico, with which, even though his vigorous style was not fully developed, he obtained a favorable reaction from the public.
Journey Continued ...
In 1909, through his friend and fellow painter Maria Gutierrez, he met a young Russian painter by the name of Angelina Belhoff. She later became his common law wife for the next twelve years. They traveled Europe together and spent a lot of time in Paris where Diego participated in several exhibitions. During this time, they had many friends who were Russian. In 1918, Rivera met Elie Faure, which began a lifelong friendship between the two men. Faure reawakened Rivera’s enthusiasm for murals and encouraged him to go to Italy and study the works of the masters. While in Italy, he was exposed to frescoes from hundreds of years earlier. They were often painted on the walls of churches so that everyone in the towns could enjoy and appreciate them. After fourteen years away from Mexico, he left Paris and Angelina Belhoff and returned home and participated in what is known as the Mexican Renaissance.
Jose Vasconcelos, the new minister of public education, initiated a national program which included adding mural art to public buildings. He offered Rivera an indoor wall at the National Preparatory School, part of the University of Mexico. Here, Rivera painted one of his most popular works, Creation. In 1922, he married Guadalupe Marin, whom he met while on travels in Mexico to study the various landscapes and history. Over the next four years, Rivera worked on 124 frescoes on the courtyard walls of the Ministry of Public Education. This particular work made him famous in the Western world and truly began the revival of mural painting.
In the Fall of 1927, Diego traveled to the Soviet Union to
take part in the tenth anniversary celebrations of the October
Revolution. He traveled as a member of an official delegation
of the Mexican Communist Party. When he returned to Mexico,
his marriage to Guadalupe Marin, the mother of his two children,
ended. In 1928, he went on to meet Frida Kahlo, at a weekly
party. He and Kahlo married in 1929, the year he was also appointed
the head of the Department of Plastic Crafts at the Ministry
of Education, a position he held until 1938. Rivera, with the
help of David Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, created the
Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors. In
November of 1930, Rivera began work on his first two major American
commissions: the American Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the
California School of Fine Arts. But it was in 1932 that Nelson
Rockefeller asked him to paint a mural in the Radio Corporation
Arts building in Rockefeller Center. And in 1933, he began the
mural entitled Man at the Cossroads. However, conflict arose
over the mural in which Rivera included Lenin, leader of the
Soviet Union. As a result, the mural was never completed and
was chipped off the wall and destroyed in February of 1934.
Rivera was determined to compete the mural but in a different
location. His new version called Man, Controller of the Universe,
was done in Mexico City and included a portrait of Lenin and
Leon Trotsky. Rivera returned to Mexico at the end of 1933.
In the 1930 decade, his fame expansion took Rivera to show his art in New York, and was asked to paint big murals at the Detroit Art Institute and at the Rockefeller Center in New York, where his fresco "Hombre en la encrucijada (Man at the crossroads)", received a lot of criticism because of the resemblance of one of his figures with Lenin. The mural was destroyed by the Rockefeller Center, and substituted by antoher from Brangwyn, but Diego later reproduced it for the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Palace) in Mexico City. In his numerous assignments decorating public buildings, Rivera used the buon fresco, technique, which he fashioned again, as well as the use of old encaustic methods.
Alberto Pani, a politician who had befriended Rivera in Europe, was asked to ascertain if Mexico would permit Leon Trotsky immediate political asylum. Rivera sought out President Cárdenas, who agreed to give Trotsky refuge. Trotsky and his wife lived in Rivera’s home of Coyoacán. Along with André and Jacqueline Bretón, the Trotsky and Rivera families socialized and traveled together until personal and political conflicts developed between Diego and Trotsky. In 1940, Diego and Frida were separated, divorced, and remarried in December of the same year. Rivera went to San Francisco to participate in the 1940 Golden Gate international exposition. Meanwhile, Trotsky’s life was in danger when Siqueiros led an assassination attempt on him in his Coyoacán house. Just months later, Trotsky was assassinated by Ramón Mercader in August.
In 1947, Rivera went on to form the Commission of Mural Painting, an arm of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA), with Orozco and Siqueiros. Controversy followed Rivera once again when he completed his mural at the Hotel del Prado. He included a slogan reading “God does not exist”, which kept the mural from public view for nine years. Once again, one of Rivera’s works was removed in 1952. This time, it was in the Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes, where his painting of The Nightmare of War and the Dream of Peace included Stalin and Mao Tsetung.
From the end of the 1930 decade he painted landscapes and portraits. In his last paintings, he developed an indigenist and social style of great popular atractive. , in November 25th 1957 at Mexico City. Rivera suffered a great loss in July of 1954 when his wife Frida Kahlo died. But one year later, he married Emma Hurtado, his dealer since 1946. Following an operation towards the end of the year, Rivera went through cobalt treatments. In April of 1956, he returned to his native Mexico and recuperated at the home of his friend Dolores Olmedo. On November 24, 1957, Rivera died of heart failure in his San Angel studio. He was buried in the Rotunda of Famous Men in Civil Pantheon of Mourning. His most ambitious and greates project, an epic mural based on Mexico's history for the National Palace, was left unfinished due to his death. No wonder, he is still considered a Latin American folk hero.
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