Murals of Diego Rivera — Terry Grant

This post is a bit of a travelogue. In February I was able to visit Mexico City and one of the things I was most interested in seeing was the National Palace and the murals of Diego Rivera, which he painted there between the years of 1929 and 1945. If you saw the movie, “Frida” about his wife Frida Kahlo, you saw a scene when she came into the courtyard of the palace and shouted up at him to come see her work, while he was at work on one of the many murals in the palace.

Mural art has a long tradition in Mexico. The pyramids of the Aztecs and Zapotecs are richly painted with murals on the inside walls. In a country with a high rate of illiteracy, murals are a way of conveying history to the masses. Mexico has a colorful and sometimes violent history, which Rivera depicted. An atheist and communist, Rivera inserted his own views of historical events into his murals. You may remember that he was commissioned to paint a mural in New York City, by John D. Rockefeller. They came to disagreement when Rivera insisted on including Lenin and other communist luminaries in the mural and Rockefeller had the mural destroyed.

Mexico continues to be always in the midst of political turmoil it seems. When we were there in February, this was the view as we approached the Zocalo, the city’s main plaza. In the back you can see a demonstration forming that soon marched into the Zocalo protesting the prices of gas and food and the low wages.

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The building on the right is the National Palace where the murals are. These are my photos taken at the National Palace. You can see my husband in the white hat in several of the photos that will give you an idea of scale.

Mexico Through the Centuries, on the main stairwell leading to the first floor, (below) depicts every major event and person of Mexican history, from Cortés’ conquest of the Aztecs and Mexico to the Mexican Revolution, all with Rivera’s typical Marxist twist. The most famous being the “Epic of the Mexican People in their Struggle for Freedom and Independence”, which condenses two thousand years of history onto the space of a wall.

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Below is a detail from the mural above, showing Diego’s wife, Frida Kahlo. Note the red star around her neck, indicating her affiliation with the Communist Party. The pale-eyed woman in the foreground is Frida’s sister, with whom Diego had an affair. Behind Frida is Leon Trotsky, the Communist writer who lived for a time with Frida and Diego and was later assassinated in his home a few blocks from theirs.

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The murals below depict the pre-Columbian people of Mexico.

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Below we see the arrival of the Spanish in the New World. Diego’s opinion of the Spanish is obvious in the detail at the bottom.

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These murals’ size and detail make them quite wondrously monumental. As narratives they are lyrical and exciting. In comparison, Rivera’s paintings seem trifles. The murals were Rivera’s passion and his genious. That they are so well-preserved and well cared for is a great gift. I came away with a much greater respect for Rivera and count seeing these works in person among my most memorable art viewing experiences.

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7 Responses to “Murals of Diego Rivera — Terry Grant”


  1. 1 Kim July 9, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Thank you for posting these. I’m teaching a group of 3rd and 4th grade students about different artists and Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are the first two we’re doing. I was wondering, would it be possible to use your photographs of the murals in my class – and if so, would you mind emailing me them so I can print out high quality images?

    With thanks! Kim

  2. 2 Jane Davila June 24, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Geez, Terry, tell a girl that you’re raising the ante with a fantastic road trip to see breathtaking art in person in far-off, exotic locales! I volunteer to head out to Tahiti for an in-depth report on the effect of the landscape, light, climate and people on Paul Gauguin’s work there. It may take me a while to do the proper research…

    Rivera’s work captures so well the feeling of the pre-Hispanic art of Mexico in the faces of the Indians, very reminiscent of Toltec and Olmec sculpture. His obvious animosity toward the Spanish oppressor is well depicted. Fernando Botero of Colombia explores a similar theme (at a later time).

  3. 3 Dijanne June 23, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Terry

    These are wonderful- thank you so much for posting them. Does anyone know of a good biography of Rivera? Also June I think Rivera was quite influenced by the Russian constructivists of the time- which lead into the socialrealism type of painting as well and is still apparent in the work of some middle eastern artists.

  4. 4 clairan June 22, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I can see them now, and I am glad!

  5. 5 June June 21, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Oh, and Clairan, I am not having trouble seeing the images.

  6. 6 June June 21, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Diego Rivera was a phenomenon. Can you imagine composing and designing and then creating all those people and images and getting them up onto the crowds on the walls? –not to mention the knowledge that would have gone into the decision making process.

    Before he got into Mexican murals and politics, he did Cubist paintings — pretty good ones. And some of his figures are kind of blocky in that social realist way, which I attribute to the Cubist/Abstraction influence as well as the indigenous stone art. His perspective is Chinese via Cezanne — ie — distance indicated more by heighth than anything else, although size plays a part.

    In other words, he seems to have taken all he needed from anywhere he could get it and made it his own. And then transformed it into an art of his time and himself.

    His was a wonderful art, coming out of very tumultuous times.

  7. 7 clairan June 21, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Does anyone have any idea why I cannot see any of the photographs?


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