Diego María Rivera (1886-1957) is one of the most prominent
Mexican artists of the twentieth century. He gained international
acclaim as a leader of the Mexican mural movement that sought to
bring art to the masses through large-scale works on public walls.
In his murals of the 1920s and 1930s Rivera developed a new, modern
imagery to express Mexican national identity, which featured stylized
representations of the working classes and indigenous cultures and
espoused revolutionary ideals. This exhibition highlights Rivera's
early foray into cubism, a less known but profoundly important aspect
of the artist's development, in which his interest in themes of nationalism
and politics first emerges. Featuring twenty-one works created in
France and Spain between 1913 and 1915, the selection celebrates
the National Gallery's No. 9, Spanish Still
Life, 1915, recently
bequeathed by Katharine Graham.
During his time abroad, Rivera drew upon the radical innovations
of cubism, inaugurated a few years earlier by Pablo Picasso and Georges
Braque. Rivera adopted their dramatic fracturing of form, use of
multiple perspective points, and flattening of the picture plane,
and also borrowed favorite cubist motifs, such as liqueur bottles,
musical instruments, and painted wood grain. Yet Rivera's cubism
is formally and thematically distinctive. Characterized by brighter
colors and a larger scale than many early cubist pictures, his work
also features highly textured surfaces executed in a variety of techniques.
The paintings on view, produced during a period that coincided with
both the Mexican Revolution and World War I, reflect Rivera's expatriate
role and explore issues of national identity. Many incorporate souvenirs
of Mexico from afar and are infused with revolutionary sympathy and
nostalgia. But these references to his native land are often embedded
within canvases that refer to new Spanish, French, or Russian allegiances.
Rivera's Early Life »