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Diego Rivera’s Life In Portraits

Artists' Stories

Diego Rivera’s Life In Portraits

Diego Rivera is mostly famous for his controversial mural for the Rockefeller family and for being the husband of Frida Kahlo. Yet in his times, he was the more famous one in their marriage, and definitely the more successful and appreciated one, too. No one could deny his talent and he became almost an iconic figure for the newly recovered Mexico. People adored him and his art. And their admiration was certainly valid: he was a great painter. And, as these self-portraits are going to prove, he was very self-aware.

Youth

Diego Rivvera, Self-portrait with a broad-brimmed hat, 1907, Museo Dolores Olmedo

Diego Rivera, Self-portrait with a broad-brimmed hat, 1907, Museo Dolores Olmedo

Diego Rivera turned 21 in 1907. He was already pretty fat and over six feet tall. In this year he arrived in Spain where he studied art with the Spanish painter Eduardo Chicharro y Agüera. In Madrid, he had  chance to see the masters such as Brueghel, Cranach, El Greco, Velázquez, Goya in the Museo del Prado. After studies in Spain, Rivera moved to France where he met the most promising artists of his time: Picasso, Modigliani, Braque.

Adulthood

Diego Rivera, Self portrait, 1918

Diego Rivera, Self portrait, 1918


In 1918 we can see the change in Rivera’s style: he  moved away from the influence of French Cubism, which he had learned from Picasso and Braque in Paris, and instead he looked towards classical Italian art, especially the works of Giotto and the painters of the Early Italian Renaissance. In 1920 he travelled across Italy to return to Mexico a year later.

Middle age

Diego Rivera, The Firestone Self-Portrait, 1941, Museum of Art at Smith College, in Northhampton, Massachusetts

Diego Rivera, The Firestone Self-Portrait, 1941, Museum of Art at Smith College, in Northhampton, Massachusetts

In 1941 Sigmund Freud commissioned both Diego and Frida to paint their self-portraits for him. This painting was however for the actress Irene Rich and Rivera made it almost identical to the one for Freud. The Spanish dedication said: “I painted my portrait for the beautiful and famous actress Irene Rich, and it was in the city of Santa Barbara in Southern California in the month of January, in the year 1941. Diego Rivera.”

Old age

Diego Rivera, Self-portrait: The Ravages of Time, 1949, Collection of Marilyn O. Lubetkin

Diego Rivera, Self-portrait: The Ravages of Time, 1949, Collection of Marilyn O. Lubetkin


The year of 1949 was a tough year. Diego’s friend and companion, a muralist Jose Clemente Orozco, died. Diego’s request to be readmitted to the Mexican Communist party was rejected although Frida became re-accepted. In this portrait, a 63-year-old Diego seems to be saying: I’m tired of travelling, people, paintings. I’m getting old: look what the time has done to me.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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