The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera: Memory, Politics, Place

Introduction | Early Life | Montparnasse | Sojourn to Spain | Nationalism | Return to Spain | Paris during WWI | Revolution | Image List | Exhibition Information

Rivera's Early Life

image: Diego Rivera, Portrait of Martin Luis Guzmán, 1915Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, in December 1886, and moved with his family to Mexico City in the early 1890s. Rivera's parents, both educators, were part of the Europeanized professional classes that emerged under the Porfiriato, the lengthy dictatorial regime of President Porfirio Díaz. His prodigious talent was recognized at an early age, and by twelve he was enrolled in the national school of fine arts. Upon completion of his degree, Rivera was awarded a governmental stipend to further his career in art by traveling to Europe. With these funds, he sailed for Spain in January 1907. Remaining in Madrid for more than two years, Rivera studied with the Spanish academic painter Eduardo Chicharro, while assiduously copying from the collections of the Museo del Prado, and over time becoming part of the city's bohemian avant-garde.

In 1909 Rivera embarked on an itinerary of art study in Europe that included visits to Paris, London, and Belgium. In Bruges he met the Russian painter Angelina Beloff, who soon became his companion and common-law wife, and together they moved to Paris. (The two remained a couple until Rivera departed for Mexico in 1921. He married the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in 1929.) Rivera returned to Mexico for a one-man exhibition of his work that opened on November 20, 1910, a date notorious for its association with the start of the Mexican Revolution. Shortly after the December 20 close of his exhibition, Rivera again departed for Europe; it would be more than a decade--and following the end of the Revolution--before he returned to Mexico. Years later, embarrassed by his lack of revolutionary credentials, the artist claimed to have participated in the fighting, boasting that he had joined Emiliano Zapata's peasant forces and even plotted to kill President Díaz. In truth, Rivera and Beloff spent the next few years working in Spain and France, engaged with neither the strife in Mexico nor with the cubist revolution in art that had been initiated by Picasso and Braque. As his close friend and the subject of Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán would write, Rivera "arrived calmly and late" to cubism.

image one

1. Portrait of Martin Luis Guzmán, 1915

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