If the Mexican artist Diego Rivera were still alive, he would be turning 125 years young today. Born on December 8, 1886, in the Spanish colonial city of Guanajuato, Diego Rivera rose from relatively ordinary beginnings to become the most famous Mexican painter of the 20th century.
Rivera studied art first in Mexico City and then in Europe, where he was influenced by the likes of Picasso and Cézanne. However, his heart remained with the indigenous cultures, history, and landscapes of his homeland, to which he returned in 1921 and where he spent most of his working life.
Diego Rivera was a large man — standing over six feet tall and reportedly weighing in at more than 300 pounds — and his artistic and political visions matched his stature. In his art, Rivera never failed to champion the rights of the exploited and the oppressed peoples of his native Mexico. He is best known for the vast, often politically inspired murals featuring casts of thousands that cover the walls of public buildings in Mexico City and in other locales throughout the country. He also left his mark on edifices in New York City, Detroit and San Francisco.
Politically, Diego Rivera flirted with Communist ideology, and both he and his artist wife Frida Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party. Rivera's relationship with fellow Mexican Communists was a stormy one. Nonetheless, he was instrumental in helping the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky gain political asylum in Mexico in 1936.
I discovered Diego Rivera's remarkable murals over 25 years ago during my first visit to Mexico City. They made such a deep impression on me that I continue to seek them out whenever I return to the Mexican capital. While Rivera has been criticized for his left-wing political views and idealism — which some claim were naive — his works endure as testaments to his boundless humanity and undeniable artistic genius. He was truly one of a kind.
Move the cursor over the screen of the slideshow below to view captions and locations (Mexico City, Cuernavaca, and Acapulco). Click on individual images to see larger versions and for information about ordering prints or downloading images for personal or editorial use.
Diego Rivera Murals - Images by John Mitchell