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


No. 9, Nature morte espagnole (Spanish Still Life), 1915Diego 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.

image one

1. No. 9, Nature morte espagnole (Spanish Still Life), 1915

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