Diego Rivera (8 December 1886 – 24 November 1957) was a prominent Mexican painter. His large frescoes helped establish the Mexican mural movement in Mexican art. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals in, among other places, Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City.
Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, to a well-to-do family, the son of María del Pilar Barrientos and Diego Rivera Acosta. Diego had a twin brother named Carlos, who died two years after they were born. Rivera was said to have Converso ancestry (Marrano Jews who converted to Catholicism).
Rivera began drawing at the age of three, a talent he was appreciated for by his father who introduced him to drawing classes at an early age. Diego exhibited great artistic talent early on, and was able to help support his family by the sale of his sketches at the age of eleven. Rivera had various aunts and uncles who were also artists, so he absorbed a lot of influences from them. Although Rivera showed great interest in art from an early age, he did not begin any formal study until he was eighteen.
In 1902, Rivera entered the National Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City. He studied there under Antonio Rivas Mercado, a conservative teacher who adhered to academic conventions, and this left its mark on Rivera’s earliest work. During this time he was also exposed to the influence of modern artists such as Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
After graduation, Rivera worked for two years in the office of the famous Mexican architect Antonio Muñoz Garcia. Here he met Fernanda Cabrera, his future wife. During those years he painted a number of still lifes and landscapes. When he returned to Mexico, he began work on a series of murals, the first of which was painted for the office of the National Bank of Mexico in Veracruz.
In 1913, Rivera went to Europe at the invitation of Modernist architect Auguste Perret, to participate in the construction of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Here, he came into contact with the work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, which had a profound influence on his own style. He also visited Spain, where he was particularly impressed by the work of Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya.
Upon his return to Mexico in 1917, Rivera began work on a series of large-scale murals, the most important of which are those in the National Palace in Mexico City. These murals depict the history of Mexico from the Conquest to the Revolution, and are considered among the finest examples of 20th-century mural painting.
In 1922, Rivera married the painter Frida Kahlo. The couple had a tumultuous relationship, marked by infidelity and mutual jealousy, but their union was also one of the most important artistic collaborations of the 20th century. Together they traveled to the United States, where Rivera painted a number of well-known murals, most notably those in the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Rivera and Kahlo returned to Mexico in 1934, and Rivera painted a number of important murals there, including those in the National Palace and the Ministry of Education. Kahlo also achieved success as an artist during this period, and the couple’s joint exhibitions were well-received.
However, the relationship between Rivera and Kahlo began to deteriorate in the 1940s, and the couple divorced in 1944. They remarried briefly in 1946 but divorced again a short time later.
Rivera continued to paint until his death in 1957. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1960, and his work has since been shown in numerous exhibitions around the world. Rivera is widely considered to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century, and his murals are among the most significant examples of public art.