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Diego Rivera: 1886-1957: Artist

Divorced, Remarried, Finally Lost Frida Kahlo

Back in Mexico, Rivera turned increasingly to easel painting though he did complete several unfinished murals at the National Palace and recreated the Rockefeller mural at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. During the 1930s and 1940s, his and Kahlo's relationship endured many difficulties and mutual infidelities. In 1939 the couple separated, yet re-wed the following year. They remained politically active during this time and gave refuge to exiled Soviet activist Leon Trotsky. In 1941 Rivera began to build Anahuacalli, an Aztec-style pyramid designed to house his large collection of pre-Hispanic Mexican art.

Rivera continued to receive commissions throughout Mexico during the 1940s and 1950s, including what is considered one his greatest works, "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park," commissioned for the Hotel del Prado in 1947. The work depicted the history of Mexico and featured Rivera as a small boy in the center with Kahlo's hand on his shoulder and his childhood mentor, engraver José Guadalupe Posada, nearby. Meanwhile, Kahlo was increasingly ill and spent most of 1950 in the hospital. One of the couple's last outings together was a 1954 demonstration against the CIA. A few weeks later Kahlo died of a drug overdose widely considered to have been a suicide. Rivera was devastated. "Too late," he was quoted in Marnham's book, "I realized the most wonderful part of my life had been my love for Frida."

In 1955, after a diagnosis of cancer, Rivera married his art dealer Emma Hurtado. His health deteriorated rapidly and on November 24, 1957 he died quietly of heart failure. He had given explicit instructions that upon his death his ashes be mixed with those of Kahlo. Instead the government of Mexico chose to inter his remains in Mexico City's famous Rotunda of Illustrious Men. To Mexico Rivera bequeathed Anahuacalli and his and Kahlo's art studios, all of which are national museums today. However it is his body of work that is his true gift. He not only achieved his goal of bringing art to the people of Mexico, but also brought the art of Mexico to the world. Wrote Wolfe, "His eye and hand taught outsiders and Mexicans alike to see a Mexico which until then escaped their vision." It is a Mexico that continues to inspire today.

Selected works

Ministry of Education, Mexico City, 1923-28.

Agricultural School, Chapingo, Mexico, 1924-27.

Palacio Nacional, History of Mexico, 1928-29.

Pacific Stock Exchange, San Francisco, CA, 1931.

Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI, 1932-33.

Rockefeller Center, New York, NY, 1932-33 (destroyed).

Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City, 1934.

City College, San Francisco, CA, 1940.



Marnham, Patrick, Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera, 1998.

Rivera, Diego with Gladys March, My Art, My Life, 1960.

Wolfe, Bertram D., The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera, 1963.


Los Angeles Magazine, January 1997.

People Weekly, February 12, 1996.

Smithsonian, February 1986.

—Candace LaBalle

Additional topics

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