Art of the 20th Century

 




Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



 





Diego Rivera





Amedeo Modigliani
Portrait of Diego Rivera
1914


 

 


CONTENTS

An Artist is Born

Apprentice Years in Europe

The Mural - a Post-Revolutionary Ideal

Communist Ideology for Capitalist Clients

From Recognition to Renown

Dream of Peace and Unity: the Last Journey


Appendix:
collection "Frida" - Frida Kahlo
 

 

 

 

 


1910

Apprentice Years in Europe

 

In January 1907 Diego Rivera took ship for Spain. Later the artist described his euphoria: "I remember, as if I saw it from another point in space, outside myself, a dimwit of twenty, so vain, so full of the blackheads of youth and dreams of being master of the universe, just like all the other fools of his age. The age of twenty is simply ridiculous, even when you're talking of Genghis Khan or Napoleon . . . Diego Rivera, standing erect on the foreship of the Alfonso XIII, looking at the ship and how she cleaves the water, her wash foaming behind her, bawling out passages from Zarathustra in the face of the profound and melancholy silence of the ocean, is the most pathetic and kitschy thing I know. That was me . . ."

For two years after his arrival in Spain Rivera absorbed the most diverse influences, incorporated into his work what he found useful, and espoused many of the most important aesthetic movements and trends of the day. In Madrid he started working in the studio of the leading Spanish Realist Eduardo Chicharro у Agiiera, to whom Murillo had given him a letter of introduction. This symbolist painter of Spanish costumbrista (regional genre) subjects took Rivera as a pupil, and encouraged him to travel in Spain in the years 1907 and 1908.

The intellectual curiosity of the young painter, and his capacity for learning equally from old masters and from contemporary trends, is reflected in the variety of styles with which he experimented in the next few years. In the Prado he studied and copied works by Goya, especially the late "Black Paintings", El Greco, Velazquez and the Flemish masters. When Rivera met the Dada writer and critic Ramon Gomez de la Serna, one of the outstanding figures of Madrid's literary and artistic bohemia, he began to move in Spanish avant-garde circles, whose leading artistic representatives, Pablo Picasso, Julio Gonzalez and Juan Gris, had actually lived in Paris for the last few years.

In spring 1909 Rivera followed his new friends to France, after which he returned to the peninsula for only short and sporadic periods, although continuing to be in close touch with Spanish artists and intellectuals. In Paris too he studied the museum collections, visited exhibitions, attended lectures, and worked in the free schools of Montparnasse and on the bank of the Seine.

In the summer of 1909 he visited Belgium; in Brussels, home of the Symbolist artists, he painted House over the Bridge, and met a young Russian painter six years older than himself, Angelina Beloff. Born in St Petersburg of liberal middle-class family, she had been trained as a teacher of art at the St Petersburg Academy, and was now on her way to Paris, where for twelve years she was to live as Rivera's first partner.
 

 



Diego Rivera with Angelina Beloff, 1909



Angelina Beloff, 1909
 

   


 


House over the Bridge
1909

Portrait of Angelina Beloff
1917


After a short visit to London, during which he became acquainted with the work of Turner, Blake and Hogarth, Rivera returned to France with Beloff at the end of the year. On a trip to Brittany he painted among other works Head of a Breton Woman and Breton Girl, showing his interest in scenes typical of Spanish costumbrista painting. The technique of chiaroscuro, learnt from Dutch seventeenth-century paintings in the Louvre, is in evidence here.
 


Head of a Breton Woman
1910
 


Breton Girl
1910


 

After the young artist had exhibited with the Society of Independent Artists for the first time in 1910, he returned in the summer of that year to Madrid. His grant expired in August, at a time when he was preparing for his return to Mexico and arranging transport of the works painted during his spell in Europe, which were to be exhibited at the San Carlos Academy as part of the celebrations of the centenary of Mexican independence being organized by Porfirio Diaz. At the same moment Francisco I. Madero, the opposition's rival presidential candidate, with his "San Luis Potosi Plan" exhorting the people to seize arms, proclaimed the Mexican Revolution, which continued for the next ten years. Despite the political turmoil now unleashed, which forced Diaz's resignation in May 1911, the exhibition was a great artistic as well as financial success for Rivera. The proceeds from the sale of his pictures enabled him to decide on a journey to Paris in June 1911; he was to spend ten further years in Europe, not to return to Mexico again until the age of 34. The story that turns up in later biographies of his fighting alongside the peasant guerrillero Emiliano Zapata, during the brief period that he spent in Mexico at the beginning of the Revolution, remains unproven.

In Paris Rivera set up house with Angelina Beloff, and in the spring of 1912 went with her on a visit to Toledo, where he met a number of Latin American artists living in Europe and struck up a close friendship with his fellow-countryman Angel Zarraga. The two made a study of the work of the Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga у Zabaleta, and Rivera also felt strongly drawn to El Greco's painting, which he took as his particular model. He accentuated the angles in his landscapes of Toledo and his genre works, elongated his figures and picked up El Greco's characteristic feeling for space. In View of Toledo Rivera even used almost exactly the same viewpoint as the Spaniard in his work of 1610-1614 of the same title. This painting displays the beginning of Rivera's interest in the juxtaposition of spatial shapes and surfaces, which was eventually to lead him to Cubism.
 


View of Toledo
1912

 


Portrait of Adolfo Best Maugard
1913


El Matematico
 



 
 


Unos viejos a las afueras de Toledo


La Casteneda o el Paseo del los Melancolicos


After returning to Paris, Rivera and Beloff moved in autumn 1912 to 26 rue du Depart, a building in which various Montparnasse artists had studios. Through the work of his neighbours here, the Dutch painters Piet Mondrian, Conrad Kikkert and Lodewijk Schelfhout, whom contact with Paul Cezanne had brought to artistic maturity, Cubist influences reached Rivera. It was in the year 1913 that his transition to analytical Cubism took place, when he attained an understanding of Cubism that he then developed in some two hundred works over the next five years. His attempts, following his first Cubist works, to find a style containing both Cubist and Futuristic elements reached their apogee towards the end of 1913 in the oil painting Woman at a Well. In this as well as in most of the works that followed it, he uses a brilliant palette, unusual in earlier Cubist works by his contemporaries.

Rivera achieved a convincing, more static presentation of simultaneity with a kind of compositional grid, which he used in 1914 in works like Sailor at Breakfast. In this painting the grid is made up by the figure of a man with long black hair and a moustache seated behind a table, wearing the white-and-blue-striped shirt and cap with red pompom of the French sailor, on which the word "patrie" is inscribed; he holds a glass in one hand and on a plate before him lie two fish. This and other works of the time clearly reflect the artist's friendship with Juan Gris, whom he had met at the beginning of 1914. The synthetic Cubism of the Spanish artist from whose pictorial language Rivera learned much is especially to be seen in his use of the compositional method evolved by Gris. In his work of this period Rivera attempts the Spaniard's typical grid covering the whole picture, each individual area of the composition showing a different object and perspective being consistently preserved within each area. The mixture of paint with sand and other substances, the thick, opaque application of paint and the use of a collage-like technique are further reminders of Gris.
 


Woman at a Well
1913


Sailor at Breakfast
1914

 


While his work was being shown at group exhibitions outside France, in 1913 in Munich and Vienna, and in 1914 in Prague, Amsterdam and
Brussels, Rivera took enthusiastic part in the Cubist painters' theoretical debates, and one of those with whom he held discussions was Picasso, whom he had met through the Chilean artist Ortiz de Zarate. At his first one-man exhibition in April 1914 at the Galerie Berthe Weill, Rivera showed twenty-five Cubist works, and a number of these were sold. His problematic financial situation consequently improved, enabling him in July of that year to take a trip to Spain with Angelina Beloff and also Jacques Lipchitz, Berthe Kristover and Maria Gutierrez Blanchard. The party's stay on Mallorca was lengthened by the outbreak of war and extended by a trip to Madrid, where Rivera saw more of the writer Ramon Gomez de la Serna and other Spanish and Mexican intellectuals. In Madrid in 1915 he showed work at the exhibition Los pintores integros organized by Gomez de la Serna, at which Cubist work was shown in Madrid for the first time; the exhibition gave rise to heated critical debate.

Rivera received news of political and social events in his home country through Mexican friends living in exile in Madrid and Paris, and from his mother, who visited him in Paris in 1915 after his return from Spain. Even if Mexico was on the brink of anarchy and chaos, Rivera was clearly inspired by the idea of a Mexico waking from colonial sleep and, as the revolutionary folk hero Emiliano Zapata promised in his Manifesto to the Mexicans. preparing to give the land back to the people. Reports from his homeland and preoccupation with his origins find strong expression in Zapatista Landscape - The Guerrilla, painted after reunion with his Mexican compatriots in Madrid.
 

 


Zapatista Landscape - The Guerrilla
1915
 

 

Now one of the leaders of the so-called "Classicist'" group, which included Gino Severini, Andre Lhote. Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger and Jacques Lipchitz. Rivera was achieving increasing success. In 1916 he participated in two group exhibitions of Post-Impressionist and Cubist art at Marius de Zaya's Modern Gallery in New York, and in October of the same year the latter also invited him to take part in an Exhibition of Paintings by Diego M. Rivera and Mexican Pre-Conquest Art. Leonce Rosenberg, dealer and director of the Effort Moderne gallery, secured him on a two-year contract. He actively participated in the philosophical discussions of the group of artists and Russian emigres organized through the war years by Henri Matisse. In this circle, to which he was introduced by Angelina Beloff, he met the Russian writers Maximilian Voloshin and Ilya Ehrenburg. Preoccupation with scientific and philosophical ideas led to an increasingly unadorned "classical" style and compositional simplicity, which may be seen in the painting Motherhood: Angelina and the Child Diego, straightforwardly depicting Angelina Beloff sitting on a chair feeding their son, born on 11 August 1916. Weakened by cold and hunger, "Dieguito" fell ill during an influenza epidemic in the winter of 1917/18 and died before the end of the year. Some drawings of the mother and child, and the use Rivera made of them in this Cubist painting, are mementos of his young son.
 


Motherhood - Angelina and the Child Diego
1916
 

Not long afterwards the couple moved to an apartment in rue Desaix near the Champ-de-Mars, some distance away from the artistic-intellectual milieu of Montparnasse. The break-up with the Cubist painters occurred through a row between Rivera and the art critic Pierre Reverdy in the spring of 1917, later referred to by Andre Salmon as "the Rivera affair". During the absence of Guillaume Apollinaire through the war years Reverdy had become the theorist of Cubism. In his article "Sur le Cubisme" he had written of the work of Rivera and Andre Lhote so derogatorily that when the Mexican met the critic at a dinner arranged by Leonce Rosenberg, a dispute ensued that ended in fisticuffs. The result of this incident was Rivera's total abandonment of Cubism and break with Rosenberg and Picasso. Braque, Gris, Leger and even his close friends Lipchitz and Severini turned their backs on him, and his painting Zapatista Landscape, which Rosenberg had bought, was locked away until the 1930s.

In 1917 Rivera began intensive study of the work of Paul Cezanne, in the course of which he returned to figurative painting. He turned again to the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century and painted a series of still-lifes and portraits, strongly reminiscent of Ingres. While he was searching for a new realistic form of expression, Fauvist elements may be seen in his work before he took up the style and palette of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In his return to figurative painting Rivera found support from Elie Faure, a doctor and recognized art critic, who had invited him earlier, in 1917, to take part in the group exhibition Les Constructeurs which he had organized, and later wrote of the Mexican: "In Paris about twelve years ago I met a man whose intelligence was almost uncanny. [. . .] He told me wonderful things of Mexico, where he had been born. A mythologist, I thought, or perhaps a mythomaniac."

This enabled him to go to Italy in February 1920 and spend seventeen months there studying Italian art history through Etruscan, Byzantine and Renaissance works of art.

He made more than three hundred sketches and drawings after works by Italian masters and of landscapes, architecture and people, in sketchbooks, according to his wont, distributed over various jacket pockets. Most of these drawings are lost today. From Giotto's frescoes and murals of the Trecento and the Quattrocento he discovered a monumental form of painting that later, on his return to Mexico, would prove the spur to a new, revolutionary, public art.

 

In spring 1920, just after Rivera had arrived in Italy, the new president of Mexico, Alvaro Obregon, appointed Jose Vasconcelos his minister of education. One of his first actions on taking office was the introduction of a comprehensive programme of popular education, which included the provision of murals in public buildings as educative media. Shortly after his return from Italy in March 1921 Rivera, drawn by socio-political developments in Mexico, decided finally to leave Europe, and he prepared to return to Mexico. He left behind him in Paris with Angelina Beloff his daughter Marika, born on 13 November 1919 of his liaison with Marevna Vorobyov-Stebelska, another Russian artist whom he had met in 1915 in the Russian circle to which he had been introduced by Angelina Beloff. For a time Rivera maintained relationships with both women, and in 1917 he lived for six months with the spirited, six years younger Marevna. On his return to Mexico, however, he broke off all contact with both. From time to time, through mutual friends, he sent Marevna maintenance payments for his daughter, though without ever acknowledging paternity. Back in his homeland, he turned his back on Europe completely.
 


Retrato del pintor Zinoviev
1915


Portrait of Ramon Gomez de la Serna
1915


 

 

The Architect
1915


Still Life with Gray Bowl
1915



 

 


Portrait of Two Women
191
4


Still Life in Oval
191
4



 

 


The Cafe Terrace
1915


Portrait of Marevna Vorobev-Stebelska
1915



 

 


Portrait of Bertha Kritosser
191
6

Eiffel Tower
191
6

Still Life in Oval
191
6

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