"I hereby return to the people what i was able to salvage of their ancestors' artistic heritage"
Diego Rivera is born on December 8 in the city of Guanajuato, located in the state of the same name. His parents are Diego Rivera and María del Pilar Barrientos. His intellectual upbringing is influenced by the progressive ideas of his father, the editor of a local newspaper with liberal tendencies as well as a chemist and teacher. From a very early age, Diego shows a great interest and exceptional aptitude for drawing, a talent that is especially valued and encouraged by his mother.
Diego’s family moves to Mexico City and settles there permanently.
Just before his eleventh birthday, Diego enrolls in the Academia San Carlos, accompanied by his mother. There, he is taught art by Santiago Rebull, José Salomé Piña, Félix Parra and José María Velasco. During this same period, he meets the printer José Guadalupe Posada, whose ingenious work and personality make a deep impression on him.
The rigid teachings imposed by the Academia San Carlos cause Diego to abandon the classroom and start to work independently.
Diego’s first exhibition is held, thanks to which he obtains a grant from the governor of the state of Veracruz, Teodoro Dehesa, that enables him to study at the Academia Madrileña in Spain. The artist produces a series of canvases that demonstrate an exceptional sense of gesture and compositional strength. Diego meets and frequents the most outstanding figures from the Spanish art world and intellectual circles.
Diego takes up residence in Paris, traveling for work and study through Belgium, Holland, and England. He participates in the 1910 exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in Paris. He returns to Mexico, where he holds a new exhibition and witnesses the start of the Mexican Revolution.
Back in Paris, Diego participates in the Autumn Salon. During a brief stay in Catalonia, he completes landscapes that reflect the influence of neo-Impressionism (pointillism).
He returns to Paris, exhibiting his work once again with the Société des Artistes Indépendants.
Diego works in cubism, a style he uses to create a significant number of works. He spends a brief period in Toledo, where he paints cityscapes, exhibiting once again in the Autumn Salon.
Not long after the outbreak of world War I, Diego travels first to Mallorca and then to Madrid, where he exhibits his work alongside that of Spanish painter María Blanchard.
He remains during these years in Paris, working intensely. He finds in the work of French artists additional elements that will form part of his vast cultural reserve and his artistic personality: the sensuality of Renoir, the structural equilibrium of Cézanne, the decorative synthesis and brilliant coloring of Gaugin. He holds debates with David Alfaro Siqueiros regarding the need to transform Mexican art by creating a popular, national movement.
Diego travels through Italy, where he observes the classics, making studies and sketches of their paintings and frescoes. He returns to Mexico with a rich legacy of studies, observations, and artistic experiences. Through this encounter with the nation’s artistic vitality his true artistic personality emerges, inimitable and monumental. Together with José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, he forms the Painters Union. He creates the first public mural works that have identified the name of Mexico with great modern art. The themes that comprise his oeuvre are: everyday life, people and colors; folk festivals; landscapes; our great indigenous past; and the tragedies and hopes of the Mexican people.
Diego completes his first mural work for the auditorium of the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (Simón Bolívar Amphitheater) under the philosophical theme Creation. From that time forward, he alternates his work as a muralist with an intense production of drawings, watercolors and easel paintings. During this period, he marries Guadalupe Marín, with whom he has two daughters: Lupe and Ruth.
Diego completes the frescoes of the Ministry of Public Education, a mural work in which he describes his concepts on the everyday lives of Mexican people at work, as well as their social struggles and folk festivities.
He creates the murals of the National School of Agriculture at Chapingo, a song to the Earth considered to be among the most beautiful work he painted.In September 1927, Diego travels to the Soviet Union on invitation of the Public Education Commission of that country, where he produces an interesting collection of drawings, watercolors and oils based on his observations during the festivities to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
In August, Diego returns to Mexico to complete his murals at the Ministry of Public Education. Following his separation from Guadalupe Martín, he marries the painter Frida Kahlo.
He decorates the Hall of the Council of the Department of Health with great symbolic nudes representing health and life.
Diego composes the murals for the Palacio de Cortés in Cuernavaca, Morelos, where he expresses early concepts regarding the history of Mexico. He also initiates the monumental decoration of the stairway of the Palacio Nacional.
Diego travels to San Francisco, California and exhibits his easel work at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.
On the walls of the stairway of the Luncheon Club of the San Francisco Stock Exchange, he paints an allegory regarding the great natural and industrial wealth of California. He also completes a fresco at the residence of Mrs. Sigmund Stern in Fresno, California. He paints a mural at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, a tribute to modern industry as applied to building construction. Finally, Diego exhibits his work at the Museum of Modern Art in Nueva York in what will become his most important show at an American museum. For the occasion, he paints four moveable panels as a sample of his mural work.
At the Music Academy of Philadelphia, the Horse Power Ballet is presented with music by Carlos Chávez and scenery and costume design by Diego Rivera. Following a brief stay in Mexico, Diego initiates a mural entitled Portrait of Detroit that he completes in the patio of the Detroit Institute of Arts. He dedicates long weeks to the study of the factories, workshops, machines and workers whose images will be transferred into this magnificent composition, considered by the painter to be one of his most important works.
Diego Rivera Timeline
By Fernando Gamboa (Mexico City, 1909-1990)
Source: Biographical note in the book-catalog Exposición Nacional de Homenaje, Palacio de Bellas Artes / México 1977-1978. Text updated in May 2018.