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Diego Rivera: 1886-1957: Artist

Began Drawing As A Toddler

Diego María Rivera and his twin brother Carlos María were born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico. The birth was physically traumatic for the twins' mother, María del Pilar Barrientos, and she lapsed into a coma and was mistakenly pronounced dead. Fortunately a maid noticed her breathing and María avoided the coffin long enough to recover. Carlos's fate was not so favorable and he died at fourteen months, leaving Rivera an only child. Rivera's parents had met while working as schoolteachers together. His father, Diego Rivera Acosta, also held interests in a silver mine, served as a government official, and was the editor of a liberal paper, El Democrata, that called for social reform to help the working poor. This commitment to the plight of the working classes would influence Rivera the rest of his life.

Rivera began drawing almost as soon as he could grip a pencil and is quoted in Bertram Wolfe's The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera as saying, "The earliest memory I have is that I was drawing." He covered the walls and furniture with his work, prompting his father to give him a room of his own covered with blackboard. There the young Rivera spent hours creating worlds on his walls, a precursor of the muralist he would become.

At a Glance . . .

Born on December 8, 1886, in Guanajuato, Mexico; son of María del Pilar Barrientos and Diego Rivera Acosta; died on November 24, 1957, in Mexico City, Mexico; married, common law, Angelina Beloff; married Guadalupe Marin, 1922, divorced 1927; married Frida Kahlo, 1929, divorced 1939, remarried 1940; married Emma Hurtado, 1955; children: (with Beloff) Diego Jr. (died 1918); (with Marevna Vorobyov-Stebelska) Marika; (with Marin) Lupe and Ruth. Education: San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, Mexico City, 1896-1906. Politics: Communist.

Career: Artist, muralist. First one-man exhibition, Berthe Weill Gallery, Paris, 1914; under contract, Galerie L'Effort Moderne, Paris, 1917-21; one-man retrospective, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1931; numerous mural commissions throughout Mexico and the United States, 1922-53; director, San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, Mexico City, 1929; portraitist, throughout his career completed commissions for private and public patrons; illustrator, Canto General by Pablo Neruda, 1950.

Memberships: Joins Mexican Communist Party,1922-25, 1926-29, readmitted 1954; founding member, Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, 1922; founding member, National Institute of Fine Arts' Commission for Mural Painting, Mexico, 1947.

In 1891 the Riveras had a daughter, María, and two years later the family moved to Mexico City. There Rivera fell ill with scarlet fever and typhoid. During his convalescence a great-aunt taught him to read and write. He began to devour his father's books and by eight years old asked to attend school. His mother insisted on Catholic school and off Rivera went, only to be kicked out of catechism studies for expressing sacrilegious doubt about the virgin birth of Jesus. In 1896 at the age of eleven, Rivera began to attend night classes at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts. For two years he attended elementary school during the day and art school in the evening. In 1898 he transferred to San Carlos full time.

In 1906 Rivera finished his formal training and showed 26 of his works at the final student exhibit. His talent caught the attention of the governor of Veracruz who arranged for Rivera to study art in Europe. As Rivera was preparing to leave, a textile workers' strike broke out. The government opened fire on the unarmed workers, killing hundreds. Though no evidence exists showing Rivera's involvement in this uprising, years later he spun the incident into his own history telling of how he joined the workers, was injured by a saber, and was arrested.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyDiego Rivera: 1886-1957: Artist Biography - Began Drawing As A Toddler, Arrived In Europe As A Young Man, Returned To Mexico, Became A Muralist