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

Mexican Revolution

image: Diego Rivera, Paisaje Zapatista (Zapatista Landscape), 1915Over the course of 1915, Rivera's comprehension of the dire situation in Mexico was significantly heightened by visits from Martín Luis Guzmán, a journalist who had spent a year with Pancho Villa's guerrilla army and was exiled in Spain. In Rivera's Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán, painted in Paris that year, Mexican iconography is utilized to compelling effect. Rivera highlights the writer's Mexican identity, portraying him seated in an equipal (reed chair) and wearing a boldly colored Zacatecan serape. Yet Rivera adorned his friend in a matador's headdress and draped the serape over his arm like a cape, thus invoking bullfighting, synonymous with Spain. In so doing, the artist at once alludes to the new home Guzmán found there and engages a personal metaphor: Rivera wrote of Guzmán "plunging the knife into a bull," in reference to the writer's political activities and writings.

Executed in the summer of 1915 at the height of the Mexican Revolution, Zapatista Landscape illustrates the increasing politicization of Rivera's work. The depicted objects (sombrero, serape, rifle, and cartridge belt), placed before the mountains of the Valley of Mexico, evoke the peasant revolution. This amalgamation of still-life and landscape genres is, above all, a symbolic portrait of Mexico. Indeed, its more specific title was acquired later. Rivera would state that his so-called "Mexican trophy" was "probably the most faithful expression of the Mexican mood that I have ever achieved."

Though he ultimately produced nearly two hundred cubist works, Rivera would not duplicate the overt nationalism of Zapatista Landscape. Instead, his cubist style became increasingly austere and accordingly less political over the next several years. By 1918 Rivera had left Montparnasse and abandoned cubism altogether. But his paintings of 1913 to 1915 remain an important legacy of both his singular approach to the idiom of cubism and the awakening of his political sensibility and emergent Mexican nationalism. The works function as records of the artist's exploration of the conjunction between history and personal experience. Following his return to Mexico in July 1921, he began producing work that attempted to define a new identity for the post-revolutionary nation. He wrote of wanting to create an art that would "help the masses to a better social organization." Rivera would work toward that goal with his politically committed, public murals, though he later attested to the Mexicanidad that suffused his cubist art, stating "My cubist paintings are my most Mexican."

image: Diego Rivera, Portrait of MartÌn Luis Guzm·n, 1915image: Diego Rivera, Paisaje Zapatista (Zapatista Landscape), 1915

1. Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán, 1915
2. Paisaje Zapatista (Zapatista Landscape), 1915

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