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Diego Rivera Photo

Diego Rivera

Mexican Painter and Muralist

Born: December 8, 1886 - Guanajuato, Mexico
Died: November 24, 1957 - Mexico City, Mexico
Movements and Styles:
Mexican Muralism
Social Realism
"When art is true, it is one with nature. This is the secret of primitive art and also of the art of the masters—Michelangelo, Cézanne, Seurat, and Renoir. The secret of my best work is that it is Mexican.."
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Diego Rivera Signature
"... (Cubism) was a revolutionary movement, questioning everything that had previously been said and done in art. It held nothing sacred. As the old word would soon blow itself apart, never to be the same again, so Cubism broke down the forms as they had been seen for centuries, and was creating out of the fragments new forms, new objects, new patters and—ultimately—new worlds."
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Diego Rivera Signature
"All inner doubt, the conflict that had so tortured me in Europe, had disappeared. I painted as naturally as I breathed, spoke or sweated. My style was born like a child, in a moment, with the difference that this birth took place at the end of a painful, 35-year gestation."
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Diego Rivera Signature
"The marching mass... had the floating motion of a snake, but it was more awesome... At the head of this winding, undulating creature mass was a group in the form of an enormous locomotive. A big red star and five picks were over the "cylinder" of the "boiler". The "headlight" was an enormous inscription between two flags: THE UNIONS ARE THE LOCOMOTIVES MOVING THE TRAIN OF THE REVOLUTION. THE CORRECT REVOLUTIONARY THEORY IS THE STEEL TRACK."
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Diego Rivera Signature

Summary of Diego Rivera

Widely regarded as the most influential Mexican artist of the 20th century, Diego Rivera was truly a larger-than-life figure who spent significant periods of his career in Europe and the U.S., in addition to his native Mexico. Together with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, Rivera was among the leading members and founders of the Mexican Muralist movement. Deploying a style informed by disparate sources such as European modern masters and Mexico's pre-Columbian heritage, and executed in the technique of Italian fresco painting, Rivera handled major themes appropriate to the scale of his chosen art form: social inequality; the relationship of nature, industry, and technology; and the history and fate of Mexico. More than half a century after his death, Rivera is still among the most revered figures in Mexico, celebrated for both his role in the country's artistic renaissance and re-invigoration of the mural genre as well as for his outsized persona.


  • Rivera made the painting of murals his primary method, appreciating the large scale and public accessibility—the opposite of what he regarded as the elitist character of paintings in galleries and museums. Rivera used the walls of universities and other public buildings throughout Mexico and the United States as his canvas, creating an extraordinary body of work that revived interest in the mural as an art form and helped reinvent the concept of public art in the U.S. by paving the way for the Federal Art Program of the 1930s.
  • Mexican culture and history constituted the major themes and influence on Rivera's art. Rivera, who amassed an enormous collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, created panoramic portrayals of Mexican history and daily life, from its Mayan beginnings up to the Mexican Revolution and post-Revolutionary present, in a style largely indebted to pre-Columbian culture.
  • A lifelong Marxist who belonged to the Mexican Communist Party and had important ties to the Soviet Union, Rivera is an exemplar of the socially committed artist. His art expressed his outspoken commitment to left-wing political causes, depicting such subjects as the Mexican peasantry, American workers, and revolutionary figures like Emiliano Zapata and Lenin. At times, his outspoken, uncompromising leftist politics collided with the wishes of wealthy patrons and aroused significant controversy that emanated inside and outside the art world.

Biography of Diego Rivera

Detail of <i>Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park</i> (1946-47) by Diego Rivera. At the Diego Rivera Mural Museum in Mexico City

When Diego Rivera first returned home to Mexico from his artistic studies in France, he was so overcome with joy that he fainted. Later, he said, "Great art is like a tree, which grows in a particular place and has a trunk, leaves, blossoms, boughs, fruit, and roots of its own .. The secret of my best work is that it is Mexican."

Important Art by Diego Rivera

Progression of Art

View of Toledo

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


Zapatista Landscape - The Guerrilla

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


Motherhood - Angelina and the Child

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

Creation (1922-23)


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

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

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

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


Portrait of Lupe Marin

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

The Detroit Industry Fresco Cycle (1932-33)

The Detroit Industry Fresco Cycle

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.

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

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park

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 19th 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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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Diego Rivera Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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