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Diego Rivera: 1886-1957: Artist

Arrived In Europe As A Young Man

Upon arriving at the Madrid studio of Spanish painter Eduardo Chicharro, Rivera recalled in his autobiography My Art, My Life, "I was a dynamo of energy. As soon as I located Chicharro's studio I set up my easel and started to paint. For days on end I painted from early dawn till past midnight." Though he didn't produce any work of merit during his years in Spain, he did begin to master technique. In 1909 Rivera moved to Paris. There he began a relationship with Angelina Beloff, a Russian painter six years his senior. Though they would stay together for twelve years, Beloff told Wolfe, "His painting was all he ever lived for, and though he loved me for a few years and then other women, his painting was all he ever truly and deeply loved."

At the invitation of Governor Dehesa, Rivera returned to Mexico to take part in the 1910 centennial celebrations of Mexico's independence. He showed forty works at his alma mater San Carlos and the wife of Mexico's President Porfirio Diaz bought six of them. During the midst of this artistic success, a movement to overthrow Diaz began and peasant bands of insurgents rose throughout Mexico led by men such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Though the only link between Rivera and the uprising was timing, Rivera later told friends and biographers that he had ridden with Zapata's militants for five months.

By 1911 Rivera was back in Paris living with Beloff in the bohemian section of Paris called Montparnasse. He was surrounded by artists and philosophers of the day including Piet Mondrian, Amadeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. There Rivera embraced Cubism. "Everything about the movement fascinated and intrigued me. It was a revolutionary movement, questioning everything that had been said and done in art," Rivera was quoted in Patrick Marnham's, Dreaming With His Eyes Open. After six years in Europe, his foray into Cubism garnered Rivera his first financial success, selling many works at his first one-man show and acquiring a dealer.

When World War I broke out Rivera was in Spain. Returning to Paris in 1915, he found the art community in ruins. The galleries were shuttered and there was no longer a market for art. He and Beloff lived off of government subsidies and the assistance of friends. It was in these dire straits in 1916 that Beloff bore Rivera a son, Diego Jr. The child died fourteen months later. During Beloff's pregnancy, Rivera had begun an affair with another Russian painter, Marevna Vorobyov-Stebelska, who in 1919 also bore Rivera a child. During this same period his art was gaining prominence and he participated in a Cubist retrospective in New York. However, his time as a Cubist was coming to an end. He had a fist fight with a prominent art critic and was a central figure in high profile arguments regarding the nature of the movement. Finally in 1917, he abandoned the movement after seeing a pushcart laden with ripe fruit. "Look at those marvels, and we make such trivia and nonsense," Marnham quoted Rivera as telling Beloff.

In 1920 Rivera was awarded a stipend from the Mexican government to study in Italy. There he discovered the art form that would become synonymous with his name—wall frescoes. A difficult medium, fresco requires the application of paint directly onto wet plaster. An artist working in fresco must paint quickly and be sure of his technique and ability. Rivera would prove to be a master.

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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