Diego Rivera The National Palace

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The National Palace and Diego Rivera's Ambitious Murals

The National Palace was one of Diego Rivera's most ambitious schemes. Rivera's murals aimed to inspire a nationalist or socialist identity. Although his work is sometimes crude, it possesses a surprising vigour. This is evident in his depiction of the revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, who wears a hat, sarape, and rifle. Diego Rivera's work was increasingly politicized, particularly in the post-Revolution period.

Rivera's Education and Influences

In his youth, Rivera studied under Eduardo Chicharro in Madrid. He also worked in Paris at a studio called La Ruche. The famous Amedeo Modigliani painted his portrait of the artist in 1914. His close friends included Ilya Ehrenburg, Chaim Soutine, Max Jacob, and Moise Kisling. He married Frida Kahlo in 1932. He died in Mexico City on November 24, 1957.

European Influence and Difficult Relationships

Aside from being an American, Rivera also studied in Europe and became a staunch Cubist. While he was there, he met Pablo Picasso, a fellow Cubist, and exchanged ideas with him. This brought about difficult relationships with other artists in the Cubist circle. In France, Diego Rivera was involved in an argument with the art critic Pierre Reverdy, which led to a rift in his friendship with his fellow artists. Later, he traveled extensively throughout Europe, absorbing the works of Renoir and Cezanne.

Diego Rivera and the Soviet Union

After the October Revolution, Diego Rivera visited the Soviet Union. He attended celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the revolution, and spent nine months teaching monumental painting in the capital. During this time, Diego Rivera married Frida Kahlo, and worked at the Academy of San Carlos. But after being expelled from the Communist Party, he was accused of being a Trotskyite and advancing the goals of the regime.

The Artist's Early Life and Artistic Development

The artist's life was full of tragedy. His twin brother died at the age of two. After his parents moved to Mexico City, they encouraged Diego to explore his artistic talent. At age twelve, Diego Rivera enrolled in the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts. There, he studied traditional painting techniques as well as sculpting. His father, a liberal criollo, was one of his fellow students and became a co-editor of the Mexican newspaper El Democrata.

Diego Rivera's Monumental Works

When he returned to Mexico City in 1934, Diego began work on the monumental stairway of the National Palace. These murals depict the history of Mexico and culminate with a symbolic image of Marx. In spite of this, Rivera never completed the four movable panels of the Hotel Reforma. They were later withdrawn due to their controversial nature. Other works include portraits of Lupe Marin and easel paintings. Although his murals are mostly political, they also depict aspects of Mexican history.

Turbulent Relationships and Controversy

During this time, Diego Rivera's relationship with the woman who would become his wife was turbulent. The relationship between the two artists would eventually turn out to be troubled, as he had a string of extramarital affairs. The couple divorced in 1929 and then remarried in 1940. This relationship was troubled by the artist's divorce, but he continued to paint. In 1957, he died of heart failure.

Controversy and Negative Publicity

The artist's work prompted controversy and a lot of negative publicity. His famous mural, Man at the Crossroads, was removed from the Rockefeller Center due to controversy surrounding its commission. The Chicago World's Fair commission was subsequently canceled. Rivera returned to Mexico in December 1933 and repainted his mural. The work was later retitled Man, Controller of the Universe and was exhibited in Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Mexican Working Class and Renaissance Influence

Although he did not become a household name, his paintings and murals reflect the life of the Mexican working class. Originally from Mexico, Diego Rivera had studied ancient art and architecture while living in Italy. His love of Renaissance frescoes influenced his works. In 1920, he became involved in the mural painting scene in his native country. He joined the government-sponsored mural program in Mexico City and painted a mural of the Creation in the National Preparatory School's auditorium. This mural depicts the heavenly host with Renaissance-style halos.

The SFAI's Gallery and Diego Rivera's Mural

The SFAI's gallery is a place of artistic rebellion and social critique. The mural by Diego Rivera is on display at the campus' gallery, as are the works of other artists. The SFAI gallery is a place where artists can engage in a shared dialogue. SFAI faculty member Ray Boynton had studied with Diego Rivera in Mexico in 1926. He brought back several paintings by Rivera to SFAI. In fact, it was Boynton who suggested that Albert Bender commission Rivera to paint a mural at the SFAI.

June 24, 2022


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