(1886 - 1957)
If any man can be said to have changed the course of a nation's art single handed, it is Diego Rivera. He was born in 1886 in the Mexican silver mining town of Guanajuato. His father, a freemason with a 'liberal' background, was a teacher at the time of Diego's birth and later became a school inspector. At the age of two, before Diego was even able to read, his father set up a art studio for him.
Rivera soon showed himself to be a precociously gifted artist and began to study in the evenings at the Academy of San Carlos at the age of ten. At sixteen Rivera joined a student strike at the Academy and was expelled. In due course he was officially reinstated, but never returned, instead working independently for the next five years.
Realizing that his son was getting nowhere in his chosen profession, Rivera senior helped Diego win a scholarship, awarded by the Governor of the Province of Veracruz, to study abroad. The young artist arrived in Spain in January 1907. Rivera made Spain his base for an extended tour which took in France, Belgium, Holland and England. He was in France in 1909, where he encountered the work of the Fauves and Cezanne, but he was later to claim that the artist who impressed him most was Henri Rousseau, 'Le Douanier' 'the only one of the moderns whose works stirred each and every fibre of my being.' Paris in those years was witnessing the emergence of cubism in paintings by such famous painters as Picasso, Braque, Derain, and Cezanne. From 1913 to 1918 Rivera himself enthusiastically embraced this new school of art, as his masterly cubist paintings from this time demonstrate. His paintings began to attract attention; and was able to display them at several exhibitions.
In 1909, through his friend and fellow painter Maria Gutierrez, he met a young Russian painter by the name of Angelina Belhoff. She later became his common law wife for the next twelve years. They traveled Europe together and spent a lot of time in Paris where Diego participated in several exhibitions. During this time, they had many friends who were Russian.
In 1918, Rivera met Elie Faure, which began a lifelong friendship between the two men. Faure reawakened Rivera’s enthusiasm for murals and encouraged him to go to Italy and study the works of the masters. While in Italy, he was exposed to frescoes from hundreds of years earlier. They were often painted on the walls of churches so that everyone in the towns could enjoy and appreciate them. After fourteen years away from Mexico, he left Paris and Angelina Belhoff and returned home and participated in what is known as the Mexican Renaissance.
Jose Vasconcelos, the new minister of public education, initiated a national program which included adding mural art to public buildings. He offered Rivera an indoor wall at the National Preparatory School, part of the University of Mexico. Here, Rivera painted one of his most popular works, Creation.
In 1922, he married Guadalupe Marin, whom he met while on travels in Mexico to study the various landscapes and history. Over the next four years, Rivera worked on 124 frescoes on the courtyard walls of the Ministry of Public Education. This particular work made him famous in the Western world and truly began the revival of mural painting.
In the Fall of 1927, Diego traveled to the Soviet Union to take part in the tenth anniversary celebrations of the October Revolution. He traveled as a member of an official delegation of the Mexican Communist Party. When he returned to Mexico, his marriage to Guadalupe Marin, the mother of his two children, ended. In 1928, he went on to meet Frida Kahlo, at a weekly party.
The first encounter between the two soul mates occurred in 1922. Rivera, at the age of 36, already a much celebrated artist, was painting his first mural in the amphitheater of the National Preparatory School. Kahlo, part Jewish, part German, part Spanish and part Indian, was a student at the school who watched the artist with much interest, although he was married to Guadalupe Marin.
Meanwhile, Kahlo was involved in a horrific car accident in which her spine, pelvis, collarbone, and right leg were broken and her right foot was crushed. For several months she was confined to a body cast and spent her time in the hospital honing her art skills.
After several years apart, Kahlo regained her mobility and tracked down Rivera working at the Ministry of Education. She asked him to critique a painting she brought with her to show him; she wanted to know if he thought she could earn a living as an artist. At this time, Rivera was divorced from Guadalupe Marin and became attracted to Kahlo. They were soul mates on several levels, from art to their political interest in Communism. A few days after her first visit, they had their first kiss.
He and Kahlo married in 1929, the year he was also appointed the head of the Department of Plastic Crafts at the Ministry of Education, a position he held until 1938. Rivera, with the help of David Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, created the Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were married twice during their love affair, which included numerous outside affairs from both parties. Regardless of this, Frida Kahlo was Diego Rivera’s one true love through everything. Rivera and Kahlo’s relationship had begun with art and continued to flourish with the art that brought them together.
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Diego Self Portrait to Irene