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

Sojourn to Spain

image: Diego Rivera, Still Life with Balalaika, 1913In The Woman at the Well the artist incorporates a colorful bird form, suggestively Mesoamerican in appearance, which serves as a reminder of Mexico within this Spanish scene. This choice was perhaps influenced by his friend Maugard, who was documenting Mexican archaeological objects in Paris museums. The earthenware jugs, which became a favorite motif in Rivera's Toledan paintings, resemble ancient Mexican ones; for Rivera the similarity may have forged a resonant link between the Spanish city and his homeland. Memory operates as an underlying theme in other ways too: the woman and her water jar are rendered in sequential planes that suggest the passage of time. This synthesis of seen and remembered elements suggests Rivera's absorption of the philosophies of Henri Bergson, which were popular among the avant-garde in the early twentieth century. According to Bergson, individual consciousness is a melding of sensory perception, memories of the past, and anticipation of the future. Thus, there is no objective reality, only subjective understanding filtered through our experiences.

Rivera's interest in themes of memory and experience is revealed in his personal interpretation of cubism. By 1913 Rivera had fully embraced the pictorial language of cubism in canvases such as Still Life with Balalaika. Here the artist imbued familiar cubist motifs--a bottle and a musical instrument--with deeply personal resonance. The Spanish liqueur Anís del Mono, for example, alludes to Rivera's recent stay in Toledo. The distinctive faceted bottle also calls to mind the work of renowned Spaniards Picasso and fellow cubist Juan Gris, who similarly had included the Spanish liqueur bottle in their cubist works. Rivera's inclusion of a Russian balalaika evokes his Russian companion, Angelina Beloff, and their joint studio space where the three-stringed instruments were displayed, while the floral pattern is drawn from their studio curtains.

 

image: Diegot Rivera, Still Life with Balalaika, 1913

1. Still Life with Balalaika, 1913

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