Artists & Designers

Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

Mexican painter, draughtsman, and muralist Diego Rivera was born December 8, 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico. He is known as one of the “The Big Three” (Los Tres Grandes), along with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, who were in favor of a single nationalist language that, in theory at least, would accept no influences from abroad. He gained international recognition for his vast public mural programs, addressing themes of socialism and the indigenous heritage of Mexico.

Rivera showed artistic talent from an early age; he began drawing at age two, and his family moved to Mexico City in 1892 where his artistic training continued. He began art courses at age nine, enrolled at the Academia de San Carlos (San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts) at age eleven, and earned a scholarship at age fifteen and a government pension by age eighteen. Rivera had his first exhibition in 1907, from which he was awarded a travel grant to Europe, and he went to Spain in 1907 and Paris in 1909. He returned to Mexico in 1910 for an exhibition of his work at the Academia as part of the Mexican Centennial of Independence celebrations, but returned to Paris the following year after the Mexican Revolution began. He remained in Paris until 1919, where he was exposed to the avant-garde cubism that influenced his later career.

Although Rivera was familiar with the European avant-garde first-hand, he did not aspire to belong to it. Rather he developed his own figurative language promoting revolutionary ideals and the country’s ancient history. José Vasconcelos, the first Secretary of Public Education, developed a cultural program that brought to life the muralist movement in which Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros participated. The initiative consolidated a generation of artists who translated the representation of the working class (campesinos) and their traditions into a new public language. They aimed to extol the triumph of the Revolution by means of national and socialist perspectives, which some present-day historians deem to have fascist leanings. Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921 and painted a large number of murals throughout Mexico—at the Secretariat of Public Education between 1923 and 1928, the administration building and chapel of the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura (now the Universidad Autónoma) at Chapingo in 1927, the main stairway of the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City in 1929, and the palace of Cortés in Cuernavaca in 1929 and 1930. In 1929, Rivera married fellow artist Frida Kahlo.

Between 1930 and 1934, Rivera painted five murals in the United States. The most important exhibition by Rivera in the US was in 1931 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, only the second monographic show in the museum’s history. Also, Rivera produced murals for influential patrons in the country; the first one was for the Pacific Stock Exchange Luncheon Club in California in 1930. He later created the series of murals on display today at the Detroit Institute of Arts. His most famous fresco in the United States—controversial because of his inclusion of socialist leader Vladimir Lenin—was created for John D. Rockefeller. This mural was destroyed, however, and Rivera reused the composition in a mural for the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City a year later. In 1935 he completed his murals on the stairs of the Palacio Nacional and the following year he painted a series of four panels for the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City. In 1940 he painted a huge mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. From 1937 to 1942, Rivera devoted himself mostly to easel painting and portraiture. He hosted the exiled Leon Trotsky at his and Frida Kahlo's home in Coyoacán, the Casa Azul (Blue House), from 1937 to 1939.

In his last years, Rivera created a number of murals in Mexico City for public and private buildings, notably those at the Palacio Nacional (1945–51), the Alameda Park (1947–8), and the Hotel del Prado. He designed his last mural in 1953 for the façade of the Teatro de los Insurgentes, Mexico City. After Frida Kahlo's death in 1954, he married his dealer, Emma Hurtado, in 1955. Rivera created an iconographic language with which he forged a popular, monumental image of indigenous and mestizo Mexicans whose future was headed toward progress and greatness. At the time, these images encouraged a consciousness of race and national pride, but originated a range of social and cultural stereotypes that still persists today. Rivera died on November 24, 1957 in Mexico City.

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Related Multimedia

Symposium in conjunction with Modern Masters of Mexico: The Gelman Collection (Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera), October 8, 2000-January 28, 2001; "The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection: Focusing on Gunther Gerzso and Frida Kahlo", Dr. Salmon Grimberg, independent art historian; "Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Their Art and Their Life", Ruth Alvarado Rivera, independent curator and granddaughter of Diego Rivera; "Orozco and Siquieros: Art and Ideology", Gregorio Luke, Executive Director, Museum of Latin American Art, Los Angeles; "Enigmas and Variations: Portraits and Self-Portraits in the Gelman Collection", Dr. Edward Sullivan, Professor of Art History, New York University
Solis provides highlights of the Center's activities and accomplishments and announces the Elante Award recipient. Dr. Arteaga talks about the exhibition Mexico 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and the Avant-Garde.
Symposium in conjunction with Art in Post-Revolutionary Mexico, 1920-1950, September 16, 1999-February 13, 2000; cosponsored with Mexican Cultural Center; Speakers include Alicia Azuela, art historian, " The Mexican Artistic Renaissance and its Various Expressions; Rina Lazo, artist, "A Dream of Painting on Sunday Afternoon with Diego Rivera: What I Learned from the Mexican Master; Arturo Garcia Bustos, artist, "My Participation in the Mexican Mural Movement (in Spanish); panel moderator Dr. Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Assistant Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin
Gallery talk by Dr. Adam Herring, Emily Rich Summers Endowed Professor of Art History, SMU
Audio files
panel discussion in conjunction with Modern Masters of Mexico: The Gelman Collection (Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera), October 8, 2000-January 28, 2001; Zamudio-Taylor is curatorial advisor for the Televisa Cultural Foundation and the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photography Archives, Mexico City; Jimenez is featured in exhibition
Audio files
Symposium in conjunction with Modern Masters of Mexico: The Gelman Collection (Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera), October 8, 2000-January 28, 2001; "The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection: Focusing on Gunther Gerzso and Frida Kahlo", Dr. Salmon Grimberg, independent art historian; "Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Their Art and Their Life", Ruth Alvarado Rivera, independent curator and granddaughter of Diego Rivera; "Orozco and Siquieros: Art and Ideology", Gregorio Luke, Executive Director, Museum of Latin American Art, Los Angeles; "Enigmas and Variations: Portraits and Self-Portraits in the Gelman Collection", Dr. Edward Sullivan, Professor of Art History, New York University
Symposium in conjunction with Art in Post-Revolutionary Mexico, 1920-1950, September 16, 1999-February 13, 2000; cosponsored with Mexican Cultural Center; Speakers include Alicia Azuela, art historian, " The Mexican Artistic Renaissance and its Various Expressions; Rina Lazo, artist, "A Dream of Painting on Sunday Afternoon with Diego Rivera: What I Learned from the Mexican Master; Arturo Garcia Bustos, artist, "My Participation in the Mexican Mural Movement (in Spanish); panel moderator Dr. Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Assistant Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin
Art historian, critic, and biographer Hayden Herrera talks about her book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, sharing insights into the art and life of this renowned artist whose self-portraits illustrate Kahlo's tumultuous marriage to the muralist Diego Rivera. Additionally, Herrera will discuss Kahlo's paintings that express anguish over her broken body and multiple surgeries; portraits and still-lifes that underscore both her passion for Mexico and her leftist political views; and finally the paintings that suggest the joy Frida Kahlo took in nature as revealed in her depictions of fruits, vines, roots, flowers, and animals, including her pet monkeys, dogs, cats, and parrots. Herrera's other biographies include Pulitzer Prize nominee Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work and Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Audio Files
Symposium in conjunction with Art in Post-Revolutionary Mexico, 1920-1950, September 16, 1999-February 13, 2000; cosponsored with Mexican Cultural Center; Speakers include Alicia Azuela, art historian, " The Mexican Artistic Renaissance and its Various Expressions; Rina Lazo, artist, "A Dream of Painting on Sunday Afternoon with Diego Rivera: What I Learned from the Mexican Master; Arturo Garcia Bustos, artist, "My Participation in the Mexican Mural Movement (in Spanish); panel moderator Dr. Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Assistant Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin
Audio files
Gallery talk; speaker is McDermott Intern for Family Experiences, DMA; focus on Diego Rivera
Audio files
Audio files
Stunning visual works by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and José Clemente Orozco set the scene for a unique chamber music experience involving Dallas Symphony Orchestra musicians inspired by the Dallas Museum of Art's México 1900â0131950 exhibition. SOLUNA is a festival for Dallas, bringing together international artists with Dallas's finest arts organizations. Anchored by performances with Jaap van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, SOLUNA celebrates Dallas's rich cultural legacy and diversity of expression.
Gallery talk by Jessica Harden, Director of Exhibition and Museum Design, DMA
Audio files
Gallery talk by Dr. Emily Schiller, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, DMA
Explore masterpieces of Mexican modern art with Dr. Agustín Arteaga, The Eugene McDermott Director of the DMA and the organizing curator for México 1900-1950. Dr. Arteaga discusses key themes in the exhibition, which documents an artistic renaissance in Mexico through painting, sculpture, film, photography, and printmaking. 
panel discussion in conjunction with Modern Masters of Mexico: The Gelman Collection (Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera), October 8, 2000-January 28, 2001; Zamudio-Taylor is curatorial advisor for the Televisa Cultural Foundation and the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photography Archives, Mexico City; Jimenez is featured in exhibition
Gallery talk by Marta Torres, McDermott Graduate Intern for Visitor Engagement, DMA
All DMA Members are invited to an exclusive opportunity to hear Mari Carmen Ramírez, Wortham Curator of Latin American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Director of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), talk about the exhibition México 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde.
panel discussion in conjunction with Modern Masters of Mexico: The Gelman Collection (Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera), October 8, 2000-January 28, 2001; Zamudio-Taylor is curatorial advisor for the Televisa Cultural Foundation and the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photography Archives, Mexico City; Jimenez is featured in exhibition

Fun Facts

  • Diego Rivera was portrayed by Juan José Gurrola in Frida: naturaleza viva (1983), Rubén Blades in Cradle Will Rock (1999), Alfred Molina in the biopic Frida (2002), and by José Montini in Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015).

Web Resources

  • Biography
    Learn more about Rivera, and explore links to other famous artists in Rivera's circle.
  • Diego Rivera Web Museum
    Visit the virtual museum dedicated to the artist, and learn more about his work and life.
  • Diego Rivera Mural Project
    Learn more about the Diego Rivera Mural Project and the artist's "Pan American Unity" mural, as SFMOMA and City College of San Francisco have partnered for the historic display of as part of a major exhibition on Rivera's work in 2020.
  • New York Times
    Read an article about Marcel Sternberger’s portraits of Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and his ability to deeply delve into the emotions and thoughts of his subjects.
  • Huffington Post
    Read and article and watch a video on how Diego Rivera turned sketches into his iconic Detroit mural.
  • Christie's
    Watch a 2016 video tour of Rivera and Frida Kahlo's home in Coyoacán, the Casa Azul (Blue House).
  • Canal 22
    Watch a 2015 video in Spanish produced by Canal 22 Mexico City, and learn more about Rivera and his Man at the Crossroads.
  • Khan Academy
    Watch a video about Frida Kahlo's portrait of her and Diego Rivera with Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about Mexican muralism and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.
  • Khan Academy
    Read more about Rivera's Detroit Industry murals.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about Rivera's "Man at the Crossroads."
  • Khan Academy
    Watch a video about Rivera's murals in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City with Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about Rivera's "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon" in Alameda Central Park.
  • Khan Academy
    Watch a video about Rivera's Calla Lilly Vendor with Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about Rivera and Rockefeller Center.
  • Khan Academy
    View a video about art and identity and explore how artists like Frida Kahlo, Glenn Ligon, and Andy Warhol investigate and express ideas about identity in their work.