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Joslyn Art Museum Showcases Paintings and Drawings By Famed Mexican Artist Diego Rivera

OMAHA, NE.- Considered the greatest and most influential Mexican artist of the 20th century, Diego Rivera (1886–1957) was a central force in the development of a national art in Mexico throughout his life and had a profound effect on the international art world. Among his many contributions, Rivera is credited with the reintroduction of fresco painting into modern art and architecture and is famous for his murals portraying Mexican life and history. Beginning October 25, Joslyn Art Museum will host an exhibition of Diego Rivera’s paintings and drawings. The exhibition, Diego Rivera: Masterworks from the Museo de Arte del Estado de Veracruz (the Museum of Art of the State of Veracruz), will continue through January 18. This exhibition is made possible by the Governor of the State of Veracruz, the Veracruz Cultural Institute, and the Museum of Art of the State of Veracruz. It was developed in cooperation with the Xalapa Committee of the Omaha Sister Cities Association. Major sponsors are Douglas County and First National Bank. Contributing sponsors are HDR Inc., Mary and Charles Heider, Lincoln Financial Group, Mutual of Omaha, Omaha Steaks, Scoular Foundation, and Valmont. Supporting sponsors are Cindy and Mogens Bay, Centris Federal Credit Union, Fran and Rich Juro, Lenore Polack, SilverStone Group, and Wiesman Development.

The 36 works featured in Diego Rivera survey the artist’s career, including his earliest work in Mexico, where he was nurtured in the classical tradition as a student of the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. In the first two decades of the 1900s, Rivera was part of the international avant-garde movement that gathered in Paris. There, his paintings took on the influence of Impressionism, and later, when he was a colleague of Picasso, Cubism. The exhibition culminates with examples of Rivera’s monumental paintings of Mexican rural subjects for which he is best known.

Story of the Exhibition This exhibition, shown only at Joslyn Art Museum and then returning to Veracruz, is the first time that this collection of Rivera works — known in Veracruz simply as “The Diegos” — has traveled as a group outside of Mexico. Considered a National Treasure by presidential decree, the collection is a source of pride for the government and people of Veracruz. The exhibition is part of an art and cultural exchange that commenced in 2007 when Joslyn sent an exhibition of thirty 19th-century European paintings from its collection to Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz and a sister city of Omaha. That show, titled European Traditions: Nineteenth-Century Paintings from Joslyn Art Museum, included significant works from Joslyn’s collection such as Jean-Léon Gérôme’s The Muezzin (The Call to Prayer), Thomas Moran’s The Pearl of Venice, William Adolphe Bouguereau’s Meditation, Georges Rochegrosse’s Salome Dancing Before King Herod, and Gustave Doré’s Mountain Landscape. In return, the government of Veracruz agreed to send this exhibition of splendid Rivera paintings and drawings to Omaha.

At Joslyn, the Diego Rivera exhibition will launch the Museum’s Latino initiative, Culturas Unidas. Through this initiative, Joslyn seeks to foster a more welcoming environment and offer the opportunity for diverse cultures, particularly the emerging Latino population, to see themselves reflected in art and artful programming.

About Diego Rivera Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1886, Diego Rivera began to study painting at age 10, taking night classes at the Academy of San Carlos. He officially enrolled there in 1899 and until 1906 studied under painters José Salomé Piña, Félix Parra, Santiago Rebull, and, for color theory, Germán Gedovius, all of whom strongly influenced his style. Many of Rivera’s early works were landscapes, painted with great strength, color, and dynamism, inspired by the notable landscape painter José María Velasco, a long-time professor of perspective and landscape at the Academy. Rivera also studied in the workshop of engraver and illustrator José Guadalupe Posada who influenced the development of Rivera’s approach to interpreting the daily life of the common man. Rivera received several awards at the Academy and his work was included in an exhibition of Mexican artists organized by Gerardo “Dr. Atl” Murillo. That exhibition and his canvas Pico de Orizaba, o Citlaltépetl (Orizaba Peak, or Citlaltépetl), 1906, (see “Exhibition Highlights section below) in particular garnered much attention for the young artist, and in 1907 the governor of Veracruz, Teodoro A. Dehesa, awarded Rivera a scholarship to study in Europe.

Based initially at the school of San Fernando in Madrid, Spain, Rivera made many trips to France, Belgium, Holland, and Great Britain from 1908 to 1910, establishing a workshop in the Montparnasse area of Paris, France, in 1911. From there, he sought out the masters of the European schools, encountering the works of Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, and Matisse. Rivera experimented with a variety of techniques, styles, and schools, including academic painting, Impressionism, pointillism, post-Impressionism, and Cubism, absorbing elements of all and redirecting them into his own style. He studied with the academic painter Victor-Octave Guillonet and befriended Spanish artists Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris.

In search of a new form of painting that could express the complexities of his day, transform Mexican art into a national, grass-roots movement, and reach a wide audience, Rivera turned to the Renaissance frescoes of Italy. He toured Italy to study the frescoes, particularly the work of Giotto. Returning to Mexico in 1920, Rivera utilized the fresco medium — mural paintings done on fresh plaster —to introduce his work into the everyday lives of the people. A life-long Marxist, Rivera saw the frescoes' size and public accessibility as an antidote to the elite walls of galleries and museums. With David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, Rivera founded the Mexican muralist movement and created the Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors.

Throughout the 1920s Rivera produced numerous large murals depicting scenes from Mexican history, including 124 frescoes on the courtyard walls of the Ministry of Public Education. In the growing industrial societies of the 1930s, Rivera saw the workers' struggle as a symbol of the fragile political ground on which capitalism trod.

His views are expressed in major works in the United States, where he continued to investigate the struggles of the working class in his art. Among these are murals for the American Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the California School of Fine Arts. Automobile giant Henry Ford commissioned a paean to the American worker on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts. In 1932, Nelson Rockefeller asked Rivera to paint a mural in the Radio Corporation Arts building in Rockefeller Center. Begun in 1933, that mural, titled Man at the Crossroads, included an image of Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. Rockefeller insisted that Lenin be removed, but when Rivera refused, his commission was cancelled and the piece, two-thirds complete, was chipped from the wall the following year. Determined to complete the mural, Rivera recreated it at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, calling it Man, Controller of the Universe and included portraits of both Lenin and Russian revolutionary and Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky.

Rivera’s personal life has long been a source of intrigue. During his time in Europe, he was married to Russian painter Angelina Beloff with whom he had a son, Diego (1916–1918). In 1918, Rivera had a daughter with Marevna Vorobyov-Stebelska. In 1922, he married Guadalupe (Lupe) Marín with whom he had two daughters, Guadalupe and Ruth. Separated from Lupe Marín in 1928, Rivera married painter Frida Kahlo in 1929 when he was 42 and she was 22. They divorced in 1939, but remarried in 1940 and remained together until Kahlo’s death in 1954. The next year, Rivera married publisher Emma Hurtado, his agent since 1946. In 1955, Rivera was diagnosed with cancer, and underwent a brief period of treatments in the Soviet Union before dying of a heart attack in his studio on November 24, 1957.

Exhibition Highlights Highlights of the Diego Rivera exhibition include works that represent the three primary periods in the artist’s career: his early years at the Academy; his time in Europe; and his easel works in Mexico toward the end of his life, when he also was completing his most famous murals:
• Pico de Orizaba, o Citlaltépetl (Orizaba Peak, or Citlaltépetl), painted in 1906 when Rivera was 20 years old. The work was the picture that attracted the attention of the Governor of Veracruz during the Mexican artists’ exhibition at the Academy and earned Rivera a government sponsored scholarship to study in Europe. It dates from his period of study with José María Velasco and marks the beginning of Rivera’s professional artistic life.
• Paisaje de Arcueil (Landscape at Arcueil), 1918. This street scene was painted in Paris and typifies the work Rivera did there, assimilating the impressionistic style, among other themes, schools, and techniques, into his work.
• Hombre cargando pavo, o Campesino cargando un guajolote (Man Carrying a Turkey), 1944, and Desnudo con girasoles, o Mujer de rodillas con girasoles (Nude with Sunflowers, or Kneeling Woman with Sunflowers), 1946. These two exceptional paintings represent Rivera’s era as an established painter and the artist’s later focus on political and social commentary through subjects such as those shown here: the everyday life of the common rural worker and the plight of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.

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