How Did Diego Rivera Influence Art?


Diego Rivera was a celebrated Mexican artist famous for his fresco murals that often depicted scenes from Mexican history or conveyed messages of solidarity with the working man. Rivera's work has inspired many muralists and other artists involved with public art projects. He is also well-known for his relationship with fellow Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Rivera was a passionate Communist revolutionary, even hiding Leon Trotsky in his home for some time.


  • As a young man, Rivera traveled from his home in Mexico to Spain and then all over Europe. When World War I broke out, Emiliano Zapata was heading the Liberation Army in the Mexican Revolution. Rivera returned to his home country and founded the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors. In 1927, Rivera traveled to the Soviet Union as the official representative of the Mexican Communist Party. Rivera's political beliefs were very important to him, and he never hesitated to make political art. He often carried a gun while painting. Rivera was also responsible for Mexico granting political asylum to Leon Trotsky and his wife.

Fresco Painting

  • The term "fresco" refers to mural paintings done on fresh plaster. Rivera was inspired by the Renaissance fresco paintings he had seen while studying in Italy. The mural was the ideal medium for Rivera with his socialist politics. He sought to expose the working man to his art by creating large-scale images in public places. He painted murals for the National Preparatory School, the Ministry of Education and the Agricultural School, to name just a few of the public places that hosted his art.

Henry Ford and the Rockefellers

  • in 1932, Rivera was invited to Detroit by Henry Ford and commissioned to paint a mural for the Detroit Institute of the Arts. The piece, titled "Detroit Industry," consisted of 27 painted panels, and was very controversial due to Rivera's politics. The following year, Rivera was commissioned by the Rockefellers to paint a mural for the RCA building in Rockefeller Center. The piece, "Man at the Crossroads," featured a portrait of Lenin and was ultimately destroyed before it could be completed.

Mexican Renaissance

  • Rivera's passion sparked new fervor in Mexican art. His work was often protested by Mexicans who did not appreciate the government sponsoring projects by a Communist. In 1929, he was appointed director of the Academy of San Carlos, the first major art academy in Latin America. His work there was controversial and he was forced to resign a year later. At this time he completed a massive mural depicting Mexican history in the Palacio Nacional. He later painted another mural there, based on the Great City of Tenochtitlan. A mural done for the Hotel de Prado by Rivera was covered from view for nine years because it included the words "God does not exist."

FDR's WPA Program

  • Rivera was almost as influential in the United States as he was in Mexico. American artist George Biddle was inspired by working with Rivera, and devoted his career to advocating for public works projects. In 1933, Biddle wrote to FDR suggesting plans for a mural in the new Justice Department building. This initial mural resulted in The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), designed by Biddle and enacted by FDR as part of the New Deal.

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