Diego Rivera. Agrarian Leader Zapata. 1931. Fresco on reinforced cement in galvanized-steel framework, 7' 9 3/4" x 6' 2" (238.1 x 188 cm). Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund. © 2022 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“If the artist...won’t put down his magic brush and head the fight against the oppressor, then he isn’t a great artist.”

Diego Rivera

At the height of his career, Diego Rivera was an international art celebrity. Trained at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, he spent more than a decade in Europe, becoming a leading figure in Paris’s vibrant international community of avant-garde artists. There, he developed his own brand of cubism infused with symbols of his Mexican national identity. After his return to Mexico in 1922, he joined fellow creative thinkers and state officials in concerted efforts to revitalize and redefine Mexican culture in the wake of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), a decade-long conflict that killed more than a million citizens.

Along with contemporaries like José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rivera stood out as one of the best-known proponents of Mexican Muralism, a state-sponsored movement aimed at extolling the nation’s history, culture, and post-Revolutionary ideals in large-scale murals for public spaces. Using a centuries-old fresco technique, Rivera created sweeping mural cycles that drew upon modernist painting styles to render heroic visions of Mexico’s past and present that captured the attention of critics and onlookers internationally. His monumental frescos in sites like the Secretaría de Educación Pública in Mexico City (1923–28), the Escuela Nacional de Chapingo (1927), the Palacio Nacional (1929–35), and the Palacio de Cortés in Cuernavaca (1930) captured the attention of critics and onlookers from Buenos Aires to Moscow.

Artists and audiences in the United States were particularly receptive of Rivera’s work and ideas. He began traveling north of Mexico’s borders with his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo, in 1930, and over the next five years completed major mural cycles in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York, becoming a true international art celebrity. In 1931, he was invited to mount a retrospective exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, then just two years old. Rivera created eight “portable” murals as the centerpiece of the show, including Agrarian Leader Zapata.

A resounding popular success, the exhibition paved the way for Rivera’s most notorious mural commission in the U.S., a cycle completed in 1933 in the lobby of the recently finished Rockefeller Center. Rivera’s pointedly pro-leftist subject matter—including a laudatory portrait of Vladimir Lenin—and caricatured portraits of his Rockefeller patrons riled the site’s managers, and Rivera was fired before he could complete the fresco. In 1934, the unfinished fresco was chipped away from the building’s walls, sparking protests in cities around the globe. Despite the controversy, Rivera’s model for large-scale, politically engaged public artwork inspired a generation and provided a compelling model for the government-supported art programs developed as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Introduction by Jodi Roberts, Associate Curator for Special Projects, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, 2016

Note: Opening quote is from “Diego Rivera Biography,” American Masters, PBS, August 26, 2006, accessed August 16, 2022, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/diego-rivera-about-the-artist/64/.

Wikipedia entry
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, known as Diego Rivera (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈdjeɣo riˈβeɾa]; December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957), was a prominent Mexican painter. His large frescoes helped establish the mural movement in Mexican and international art. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals in, among other places, Mexico City, Chapingo, and Cuernavaca, Mexico; and San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City, United States. In 1931, a retrospective exhibition of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; this was before he completed his 27-mural series known as Detroit Industry Murals. Rivera had four wives and numerous children, including at least one natural (illegitimate) daughter. His first child and only son died at the age of two. His third wife was fellow Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, with whom he had a volatile relationship that continued until her death. His fourth and final wife was his agent. Due to his importance in the country's art history, the government of Mexico declared Rivera's works as monumentos históricos. As of 2018, Rivera holds the record for highest price at auction for a work by a Latin American artist. The 1931 painting The Rivals, part of the record-setting Collection of Peggy Rockefeller and David Rockefeller, sold for US$9.76 million.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Mexican artist. Comment on works: genre, murals
Artist, Activist, Lithographer, Muralist, Still Life Artist, Painter, Sculptor
Diego Rivera, Diego Rivera Barrientos, Diego Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, Diego María Concepcíon Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera, Diego María Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, Rivera Diego, diego m. rivera
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


92 works online



  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco Paperback, 48 pages
  • Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 148 pages
  • Frescoes of Diego Rivera Clothbound, pages
  • Diego Rivera Clothbound, pages
  • Diego Rivera Paperback, pages

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