Latin American Art Museum
of Santa Barbara


Artist Spotlight

Diego Rivera


DIEGO RIVERA – December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957

Full name: Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez

Born: December 8, 1886, Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Diego Rivera was a Mexican painter and muralist born in Guanajuato City, Guanajuato. Studied painting in Mexico before going to Europe in 1907. While in Europe he took up cubism and had exhibitions in Paris and Madrid in 1913; he then had a show in New York City in 1916. In 1921 he returned to Mexico, where he undertook government-sponsored murals that reflected his communist politics in historical contexts. He married Frida Kahlo in 1929, and their tempestuous marriage got to be as famous as their art. In the 1930s and ’40s Rivera worked in the United States and Mexico, and many of his paintings drew controversy. His 1933 mural for the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan featured a portrait of Communist Party leader Lenin, the resulting uproar led to his dismissal and to the mural’s official destruction in 1934. Similarly, a 1948 mural for the Hotel de Prado in Mexico that included the words “God does not exist” was covered and held from public view for nine years. His personal life was as dramatic as his artwork. In 1929, he married Kahlo who was roughly 20 years younger. The two had a passionate, but stormy relationship, divorcing once in 1939 only to remarry later. She died in 1954. He then married Emma Hurtado, his art dealer. Rivera died of heart failure on November 24, 1957, in Mexico City, Mexico. Rivera’s talent for historical murals and his tributes to earthy folk traditions made him one of the most influential artists in the Americas and one of Mexico’s most beloved painters


1886 -December 13: Born José Diego (twin brother José Carlos) Rivera Barrientos, in Guanajuato, Mexico.
1888 -José Carlos dies at age one and a half.
1891– Sister, María del Pilar Rivera, born.
1892 – The family move to Mexico City.
1896 – Enters evening art course at the Academy of San Carlos.
1899 – At his father’s insistence enrolls in a military college, but after two weeks, repealed by the prospect of regimented training, he is permitted to enroll in regular classes at San Carlos. His teachers at the academy include Félix Parra, José María Velasco, and Santiago Rebull.
1904 – Paints both figures studies and landscapes in the manner of Velasco, including La era and La castañeda.
1905 – Wins a government pension
1906 – Included in an exhibition at San Carlos. Exhibits some landscapes.Participates in an exhibition organized for Savia Moderna.
1907 – January 6: Rivera arrives in Spain. He receives a modest four year scholarship for European study from Governor Teodoro Dehesa. Gerardo Murillo has provided a letter of introduction to the fashionable Spanish realist Eduardo Chicharro, who takes Rivera on as a student.
1908 – Forms friendship with leading members of the Spanish avant-garde, including Ramón del Valle-Inclán and the painter María Gutiérrez B.
1909 – Arrives in Paris. In summer visits Bruges, and through María Gutiérrez meets a young Russian artist, Angeline Beloff, who will later become his common-law wife. In november returns to Paris.
1910 – Studies with the academic painter Victor-Octave Guillonet. Exhibits several painting in the exhibition of the Societé des Artistes Independants. Rivera arrives back in Mexico.
1911 – Rivera returns to Paris. Exhibits landscapes in the Salon d’ Automne. He travels to Catalonia.
1912 – He returns to Paris and set up residence at 26, rue de Depart. Exhibits Catalonian landscapes in the Societé des Artistes Independants. Spring: travels with Beloff to Toledo.
1913 – This year mark Rivera’s transition to Cubism. Exhibits painting in the Groupe Libre exhibition at the Gallerie Bernheim-Jeune.Remains in Paris studio preparing for spring exhibition of the Societé des Artistes Independants.Early in the year returns to Toledo and completes his Adoration of the Virgin and child, the first work to successfully incorporate the Cubism elements. Late summer exhibits at the Salon d’ Automne.
1914 – Exhibits in the Societé des Artistes Indépendants. Meets Juan Gris and adopts some of his language. Meets Picasso, Picasso express admiration for Rivera’s recent painting, and they talk for several hour about Cubism. April: Rivera’s only one person exhibition in Paris at the Gallery of Berthe Weill. Beginning of World War I. Rivera, Beloff, Jacques Lipchitz, and María Gutiérrez undertake a walking and sketching tour of Spain. At the outbreak of the war, they are camped on the island of Majorca. Rivera’s group moves to Madrid.
1915 – Exhibits his Spanish work in “los pintores integros”, an exhibition organized by Gómez de la Serna, which introduces Cubism in Madrid. Rivera and Beloff return to Paris. Meets Marevna Vorobieva.
1916 – Included in two group shows of post-impressionist and cubist at Marius de Zaya’s Modern Gallery in New York. Invents an instrument he calls “la chose”-possibly to assist him in plotting planar refractions on his canvases. Beloff gives birth to Rivera’s son Diego.
1917 – Pierre Revendy, in Apollinaire’s wartime absence the most prominent critic in Paris, denounces Rivera and Lhote by implication in his essay “Sur le cubisme”. At a subsequent dinner given by Leonce Rosenberg- a collaborator of Revendy-Rivera and Revendy engage in an argument that leads to actual physical violence. As a result of what would later be termed “l’affaire Rivera” by the critic André Salmon, the artist breaks with Rosenberg. Begins executing Ingres-drawing and continues to study Cezanne. Meets Elie Faure; this marks the beginning of his lifelong friendship.
1918 – Rivera continues his pencil studies and again paints under the influence of Cezanne. At the invitation of Jean Cocteau and Andre Lhote, Rivera, Beloff , Adam Fisher and his wife travel to the seaside village of Le piquey in southwest France.
1919 – Participates in an exhibition in Paris.Continues to paint Cezannesque manner. David Alfaro Siqueiros after a stay in Spain, visits Rivera. Rivera stays with Faure in the Dordogne in southern France.
Birth of Marika, daughter of Marevna and Rivera.
1920 – Becomes entranced with sensuous quality of Renoir. Rivera goes to Italy to study Renaissance art .
1921 – Rivera leaves Paris and Beloff. Arrives in Mexico. Vasconcelos’s mural program begins with the decoration of the former Jesuits Church and the convent of Saints Peter and Paul, Mexico City. Rivera appointed to art-related government position by Vasconcelos. At the invitation of Vasconcelos, travels to Yucatán to view the preconquest sites of Chichén Itza and Uxmal. Meets Lupe Marín.
1922 – Early in the year begins the mural Creation in the Anfiteatro Bolívar of the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, for which he draws heavily on his italian studies. Marries Guadalupe Marín of Guadalajara and moves to a charming old house on the calle Mixcalco. Vasconcelos funds Rivera’s trip to Tehuantepec, whose people and physical beauty greatly impress the artist.
1923 – Begins work on the wall of the east patio of the Secretaría de Educación Pública.The first panels Rivera paints at the Secretaría treat Tehuantepec subjects, as a token of appreciation to Vasconcelos, who is a native of the region.Siqueiros, Rivera, de la Cueva, with the support of José Clemente Orozco, form the Union of technical Workers, painters, and sculptors.
1924 – Vasconcelos, increasingly dissatisfied with Obregon’s policies, offers his resignation. The press attacks the Preparatoria murals.At the instigation of conservative political group, student of the school riot in protest against the murals. They present a petition to Vasconcelos demanding that the work be discontinued, and they deface the murals of Orozco and Siqueiros. All mural decoration at the school stops.Daughter Lupe born. Rivera establishes a congenial relationship with the new minister of education, J.M.Puig Casauranc. Rivera begins murals in the administration building at the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura in Chapingo.
1925 – Finishes all the murals in the court of fiestas, continues to paint at Chapingo, and begins the second and third floor murals at the Secretaría. Rivera’s painting flower day is included in the Pan American exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum and wins the purchase prize.
1926 – Rivera begins his mural program in the chapel at Chapingo. Continues to work on Secretaría murals. Daughter Ruth born.
1927 – Completes the Chapingo murals four days before leaving for a visit to the Soviet Union. Rivera visit the Soviet Union to participate in the celebration of tenth anniversary of the October revolution.
1928 – June: Returns to Mexico. The definitive break Rivera’s tumultuous marriage with Lupe Marín. Rivera meets Frida Kahlo at one of Tina Modotti’s weekly party. Finishes the Secretaría series.
1929 – Rivera appointed director of the Academy of San Carlos. He propose sweeping changes in the curriculum. Rivera’s hugely ambitious program draw much criticism, especially from conservative administration. Begins work on his comprehensive history of the Mexican nation on the main stairway of the Palacio Nacional. Rivera paints six large nudes, symbolizing purity,strength, knowledge, life, continence, and health in the conference room of the Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia. He also design four stained-glass windows on the theme of the element August: marries Frida Kahlo in Coyoacán. Expelled from the Mexican communist party for disobedience to its policies. U.S. ambassador Dwight W. Morrow commissions Rivera to paint a mural for the loggia of the Palacio de Cortés in Cuernavaca. December: Begins to paint at Cuernavaca.
1930 – Continues working on the Cuernavaca murals. Rivera forces to resign as director of San Carlos. November: Rivera finishes murals at Cuernavaca. Mid-November: arrives in San Francisco. A large Rivera retrospective exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of honor. December: Begins work on Allegory of California for
1931 – February: finishes Allegory of California.Paints “the making of a fresco” in the Gallery of the California School of arts. December: Rivera’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art of New York.
1932 – The Art commission of the City of Detroit approves Valentiner’s proposal that Rivera be commissioned to paint murals for the garden Court of the Detroit Institute of Art. Contract signed between the founders Society of the Detroit institute of arts and Rivera for the extended fresco project, Detroit industry (funded by Edsel ford). Rivera, Frank Brangwyn, and José María Sert are commissioned to create nine murals in the main corridor of the lobby of the RCA building in New York.
1933 – March: Detroit murals completed. Late March: arrives in New York to begin work on the RCA mural, entitled ” Man at crossroads looking with hope and high vision to the choosing of a new and better future”.
Abby A. Rockefeller visits the mural site and praises the section depicting the Soviet May Day demonstrations. Nelson Rockefeller asks Rivera to replace the face of Lenin with that of an anonymous individual. Rivera offers to substitute Abraham Lincoln and the other 19 th century North American figures for a group opposite Lenin. The RCA dismisses Rivera. The RCA mural is covered with canvas painted to match the adjoining blank wall. July : Rivera begins painting at the New Workers School. December: Public showing of the New Workers School panels and nightly lectures by Rivera. Rivera and Kahlo sail for Mexico and on arrival move into their newly finished residence in San Angel.
1934 – February: RCA murals are destroyed. June: Rivera signs a contract to reproduce the RCA murals on a wall at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. November: Rivera begins his smaller version of the RCA mural.
1935 – Continues working on the stairway at the Palacio Nacional, which he completes on november 20. Siqueiros and Rivera brandishing pistols, attack each other with inflammatory rhetoric.
1936 – Alberto Pani, the politician and financier who had previously befriended Rivera in Europe, commissions murals on the theme of Mexican festivals for his new Hotel Reforma in Mexico City. Receives a cable from writer Anita Brenner asking him to ascertain if Mexico would permit Trotsky immediate political asylum. Rivera seek out President Lázaro Cárdenas, who agrees to give Trotsky refuge.
1937 – January 9: León and Natalia Trotsky arrives at Tampico. They will live in the Rivera’s Coyoacán home.
1938 – André and Jacqueline Bretón arrive in Mexico. They first stay with Guadalupe Marín, then with Riveras at San Angel. The Riveras, the Bretons and the Trotsky socialize and travel together. Personal and political conflicts develop between Rivera and Trotsky.
1939 – Trotsky announces he no longer feels “moral solidarity” with Rivera’s anarchistic ideas. The Mexican section of the IV international denounces Rivera for abandoning the rask of socialism and support the conservative presidential candidate Juan Andrew Almazán.
1940 – Rivera and Kahlo separate and are divorced. Timothy Pflueger travels to Mexico to invite Rivera to participate in the forth-coming Art in action program of the 1940 Golden Gate international exposition. Siqueiros leads an assassination attempt on Trotsky in his Coyoacán house. Jun: Rivera arrives in San Francisco. August: Trotsky assassinated by Spanish Ramón Mercader. Kahlo comes to San Francisco and is reconciled with Rivera; they remarry on December 8.
1943 – Rivera undertakes one mural project in Mexico City, devoted to the history of cardiology at the instituto Nacional de Cardiología. Teaches composition and painting at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura y Escultura (La Esmeralda).
1944 – Rivera begins the mosaic decoration of Anahuacalli with pre-conquest motifs. Returns to the Palacio Nacional and paints The Great City of Tenochtitlán.
1945 – Continues painting in Palacio Nacional.
1947 – Begins a mural commission, “Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda”, for the newly constructed Hotel del Prado. With Orozco and Siqueiros, forms the Commission of Mural Painting, an arm of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas artes (INBA).
1948 – Completes the Hotel del Prado mural. His inclusion of the slogan “God does not exist” creates a scandal, with the result that the mural is kept from public view for nine year. Return to Chapingo to paint doorway panels with portraits of presidents Manuel Avila Camacho and Alvaro Obregón.
1949 – Rivera present his plan for additional murals on the second floor of the Palacio Nacional.
1950 – Siqueiros and Rivera illustrate Pablo Neruda’s Canto General. Rivera’s painting, along with those of Orozco, Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, exhibited in the Mexican pavilion at the Venice biennale. Designs the scenery for José Revuelta’s play the Quarter of solitude, presented in May at the Arbeu Theater, Mexico City.
1951 – Paints murals (which are intended to be submerged underwater) at the Lerma Waterworks, Mexico city, in an experimental medium combining BKS-92 polystyrene and liquid rubber. Rivera create a vast mosaic, which depicts the rain God Tláloc.
1952 – Paints “The night mare of war and the dream of peace” in which appears Stalin, accompanied by Mao Tsetung. The Director of INBA, Carlos Chávez, refuses to exhibit the work. INBA officials remove the painting from Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes.
1953 – José María Dávila commissions Rivera to create a mural for the facade of the new Teatro Insurgentes. Paints two large oils for the Cuernavaca home of Santiago Reachi. Rivera begins the mural The people’s Demand for better health for the Hospital de la Raza. Send “The nightmare of war and the dream of peace” to the people’s Republic of China.
1954 – Kahlo’s last public appearance as she and Rivera participate in a demonstration protesting C.I.A. involvement in the ouster of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán.July: Frida Kahlo dies.
1955 – July: Marries Emma Hurtado, his dealer since 1946.August: Sets up a trust fund through the Banco de Mexico to administer for the public the structure and collection of Anahuacalli and Kahlo’s Coyoacán home as museumsAt the invitations of the Moscow Fine Arts Academy, leaves for Moscow with Hurtado.
October-December: following an operation, undergoes cobalt treatments. Makes numerous drawing and notes during his hospital stay.
1955 – April: Returns to Mexico. Recuperates at the Acapulco home of his friend Dolores Olmedo. December: national homage on the occasion of Rivera’s seventieth birthday.
1957 – Dies of heart failure in his San Angel studio.He is buried in the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres at the pantheon of Dolores, Mexico City.