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


image: Diego Rivero, Marino almorzando (Sailor at Lunch), 1914Rivera's relationship with Beloff, and her involvement with a circle of Russian anarchists, played a significant role in developing the artist's political and national consciousness. This burgeoning awareness was furthered by the deteriorating political situation in both Europe and Mexico. Many of the symbolic objects Rivera included in paintings of that time have nationalistic overtones. Serapes, the woven blankets worn by Mexican peasants, became a hallmark of the artist's cubist paintings. They were employed to powerful effect in the 1914 portrait of sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, where their vivid patterns vitalize the composition and cloak his Lithuanian friend in Rivera's Mexican identity. Yet Rivera often drew upon multiple references. In this portrait, he looks not only to traditional Mexican art, but also to the European avant-garde. The otherwise near-monochromatic palette and gridded compositional structure are profoundly redolent of work by Piet Mondrian, who had begun to include grid structures in his paintings of trees and other subjects. In deliberately quoting his neighbor's formal devices, Rivera incorporates an evocative memento of their exchange of ideas and artistic experiences.

In spring 1914 the Chilean painter Ortiz de Zárate arrived at Rivera's studio with the directive, "Picasso sent me to tell you that if you don't go to see him, he's coming to see you." Rivera had ornamented his studio walls with reproductions of the Spanish artist's works and referred to him as "mi maestro"; the two quickly became friends. A painting that may have been inspired by Rivera's studio visits is Sailor at Lunch, which recalls a cubist painting by Picasso of a similarly mustachioed student reading a newspaper.

Like many cubist works executed on the eve of World War I, Sailor at Lunch reflects the rising tide of French nationalism. Rivera's geometrized sailor--in the process of taking a drink at a wood-grain café table--wears a prominent cap with an oversized crimson pompom as part of his uniform, emblazoned with the word "patrie" (homeland). Rivera's reference to France and its navy undoubtedly alluded to his loyalty to that country. Yet the term "patrie" not only invokes French patriotism, but also poignantly recalls Rivera's own homeland, from which he was so far removed.


image: Diego Rivera, Jacques Lipchitz (Portrait of a Young Man), 1914 image: Diego Rivera, Marino almorzando (Sailor at Lunch), 1914

1. Jacques Lipchitz (Portrait of a Young Man), 1914
2. Marino almorzando (Sailor at Lunch), 1914

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