Portrait of Dr. Otto Ruhle (Retrato del Dr. Otto Ruhle)


Diego Rivera ( Mexican, 1886 - 1957 )

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General Description

Diego Rivera embraced the belief that art plays an important role in creating social change within a society. His principal career as a muralist depended heavily on his Marxist and socialist politics, views which often caused trouble with people and organizations that commissioned his work. Rivera preferred murals to easel paintings, but maintained a steady output of drawings and small paintings, mostly concerned with Mexican folk life. His most powerful portraits were of his second and third wives, Lupe Marín and Frida Kahlo, and people with whom the artist felt a special bond. Rivera's portrait of Dr. Otto Ruhle appears to fall into this latter category.

Rivera painted Otto Ruhle during a six-year dry spell in which he received no mural commissions. We do not know how or when the two met; however, only that they shared similar political views, and that Ruhle, like Rivera, was involved in Mexico's post-revolutionary education reform. Born in Germany, Ruhle (1874-1942) was a schoolteacher who believed education was the leading means of achieving social reform. Deeply involved with leftist politics in Germany, he nonetheless spent much of his turbulent career in opposition to the prevailing agenda of the newly emergent Communist Workers Party. In 1936, Ruhle immigrated to Mexico, becoming an advisor on education to Mexico's socialist government. He continued to write for American Marxist journals, championing the factory worker as the ideal proletarian at a time when Rivera was working on the Detroit murals for General Motors.

Rivera painted Ruhle two years before his death. Slouching in his chair, his large hands idle, Ruhle bears a brooding, thoughtful look bordering on disgust or resignation. Rivera has emphasized his broad forehead, perhaps alluding to his intellectual prowess, yet his portrayal has an informal quality more common in his paintings of family and friends than in those of his political associates.

Adapted from

  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, Associate Curator of American Art, Object Summary, 2009.

Web Resources

  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about Mexican muralism and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.