Who is Diego Rivera?

Mary McMahon

Diego Rivera is one of the most famous Mexican artists of the twentieth century, and examples of his work can be found all over the world, both in forms of paintings in various art collections and as giant frescoes decorating public spaces. Born in 1886, he lived a tempestuous and adventurous life until his death in 1957. His work is greatly admired by artists and connoisseurs all over the world, and his distinctive style is readily identifiable to most people who are even vaguely familiar with Western art.

Woman painting
Woman painting

Along with a twin brother who died before the age of two, Diego Rivera was born to working class parents. His talent for art became readily apparent, and his father helped him set up an art studio at a young age. Rivera did not, however, start out as an artist: he attended military school briefly before going to art school. In 1907, he traveled to Europe on scholarship, and spent the years from 1909-1919 in Paris, where he met many influential artists of the time and refined his own style, after a brief flirtation with Cubism. While traveling in Italy, Rivera became intrigued by the ancient Roman frescoes, and when he returned to Mexico, he was commissioned to paint a large mural at the University of Mexico, the first of many projects that would catapult him to fame as an artist.

Although Diego Rivera is well known for marrying Frida Kahlo, she was not his first, or his last wife. In 1922, he married Guadalupe Marin, having two children with her, and remained married to her for five years before traveling to Russia and returning to meet Kahlo. During their marriage, Rivera traveled to numerous parts of the world, working on murals for the public to enjoy, and the two were also very active in the Mexican communist party. In 1954, he was devastated by the death of his wife, but he remarried again in 1955 to Emma Hurtado, his former art dealer, and the two remained married until his death.

The distinct style of Diego Rivera incorporates elements of traditional Mexican folk art, which include bright, beautiful colors and portraits of everyday people performing daily tasks. Some of his most famous works include portraits of flower vendors, farmers, and laborers, and are amazing glimpses into everyday life in Mexico. However, Rivera also painted strongly political work, including portraits of revolutionaries, protests, and moments in Mexican history, and it is for this that he is remembered and idolized by many aspiring artists and Latin Americans.

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