Biography of Mexican Painter Diego Rivera Part 2

About the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera, history and biography of the artist.


DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)

For seven to nine hours a day, Rivera labored on the scaffold, barely pausing to eat. Crowds flocked to watch as he rapidly brushed color on the freshly laid plaster. Women pursued him up the scaffolding to talk or flirt with him. Often they were pushed aside by his second wife, Guadalupe Marin. Once, after working day and night, Rivera fell asleep while painting and toppled off the scaffold. When he was borne home, Lupe called out, "Throw him on the couch. I'll tend to him when I've finished my dinner." Lupe, his favorite model, posed for the voluptuous nudes that appear in his decoration of the chapel of the National School of Agriculture in Chapingo.

When Rivera visited the U.S. in 1930, he was greatly impressed by American technological advances. After a one-man retrospective of his works at the Museum of Modern Art, he received a commission to paint murals for the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1932. The murals glorified the technological developments he observed, and heralded the new age of science.

Throughout his career, Rivera was the hub of controversy. In addition to praising the past glories of the Indian civilizations, he looked toward a promising future for his country, a future made bright by the achievements of communism. In mural after mural, he depicted Mexican peasants overthrowing wealthy landowners and attacked what he considered the evils of capitalism and the restrictive nature of the Catholic Church. He incited anger with an unflattering caricature of the Holy Family in his mural called Vaccination (part of the Detroit commission), and he caused a riot when he unveiled a mural of the Alameda, which included a portrait of an anticlerical writer who held a banner declaring, "God is dead." But the greatest flare-up occurred when he was commissioned to paint a mural for New York's Rockefeller Center. Perhaps to show American millionaires they had a communist on their hands, Rivera included a labor leader who resembled Lenin in his RCA Building mural entitled Man at the Crossroads. A public furor arose, the building was picketed, and--finally--the fresco was destroyed. Rivera later re-created it in Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts.

Tragedy darkened Rivera's last years. His fourth wife, the crippled Frida Kahlo, an accomplished artist in her own right and Rivera's best critic, died in 1954. Shortly afterward, Rivera fell victim to cancer. He traveled to Russia in 1957 to undergo a "sleep cure," which temporarily improved his condition, but a few months later he succumbed to the disease. During his 70 years, Rivera proved himself one of the most prolific of Mexican artists, producing not only magnificent murals but thousands of haunting paintings and sketches. Frida Kahlo had once remarked, "Diego is a great talent without genius." Art lovers throughout the world would disagree with her.

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