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 Diego Rivera (1886-1957) 20th Century Mexican Artist

Diego Rivera was arguably one of the greatest Mexican painters of the 20th Century, and certainly the most well known. He is credited in modern times for reviving the art of painting frescos in Latin America and the United States, and was a leader in the Mexican mural movement.

Portrain of Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Jose Diego Rivera Barrientos was born in Guanajuato on 8th December 1886. He had a twin brother, Jose Carlos, who died at eighteen months old, and a younger sister. When he was six, the family moved to Mexico City. Showing an early talent, Rivera received a scholarship to attend the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts but, after student riots, he was expelled. He was then granted a travel scholarship to study in Europe. He arrived in Spain in 1907, and then went to France. After arriving in France he met Angeline Beloff, who gave birth to his only son, Diego, in 1916.

A famous painting by Diego Rivera
A famous painting
by Diego Rivera
He participated in exhibitions for the Societe des Artistes Independants between 1910 and 1912, and in 1914 held his only solo exhibition in France. In 1919 his daughter Marika was born to Marevna Vorobieva, although he was still with Angeline. In 1920 he travelled to Italy to study renaissance art, and specifically frescos. The next year he finished with Angeline and went home to Mexico.

One of his first frescos in Mexico was a work at the National Preparatory School in 1922, at which time Frida Kahlo was a student there. He went on to paint a series of frescos for the Ministry of Education, and one at the National Agriculture School. Also in 1922 he married for the first time, Guadalupe Marin, with whom he had two more daughters, Lupe and Ruth.

Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky
Trotsky & Rivera
He became politically more active in 1923, joining the Mexican communist party and also forming the Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors. The reason Rivera painted frescos was because he wanted to take paintings out of galleries and to share it with the people. He felt that art was something everyone could enjoy. Most often his frescos were images of the Mexican revolution, or his Marxist beliefs. In later years frescos in Mexico and the USA would cause outrage by stating that 'God is dead', criticizing the Holy Family, and prominently showing Lenin in his paintings.

In 1925 a painting he entered into the Pan American exhibition won a prize. This lead to further exhibitions and ultimately to commissions to paint murals for the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Rockefeller Centre, among other places. Eventually he fell out of favour, because he could or would not separate his painting from his politics. The mural painted at the Rockefeller Centre was removed because it showed Lenin, and the centre was picketed. He later recreated the mural in Mexico.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera on their wedding day
Frida & Diego
In 1927 Rivera travelled to the Soviet Union to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. When he returned to Mexico he split up with his wife and later that same year met Frida Kahlo. He married her in 1929, the same year he was made director of the Academy of San Carlos, from which he was expelled over twenty years before.

His marriage to Frida Kahlo was tempestuous, both had affairs, and there were rumours of domestic violence. When Trotsky died after having an affair with Kahlo, both were investigated as suspects, although eventually cleared. They divorced but were unable to stay apart, remarrying and staying together until Frida's death in 1954. After her death he married his agent at the age of 69. Mexico celebrated his 70th birthday in 1956. Diego Rivera died in 1957 of heart failure.

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