Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, known as Diego Rivera (December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957) was a prominent Mexican painter and the husband of Frida Kahlo. His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican art. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals among others in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. In 1931, a retrospective exhibition of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico to a well-to-do family. Diego had a twin brother named Carlos, who died two years after they were born. Rivera began drawing at the age of three, a year after his twin brother's death. He had been caught drawing on the walls. His parents, rather than punishing him, installed chalkboards and canvas on the walls.
As an adult, He married Angelina Beloff in 1911, and she gave birth to a son, Diego (1916–1918). Maria Vorobieff-Stebelska gave birth to a daughter named Marika in 1918 or 1919 when Rivera was married to Angelina (according to House on the Bridge: Ten Turbulent Years with Diego Rivera and Angelina's memoirs called Memorias). He married his second wife, Guadalupe Marín, in June 1922, with whom he had two daughters: Ruth and Guadalupe. He was still married when he met art student Frida Kahlo. They married on August 21, 1929 when he was 42 and she was 22. Their mutual infidelities and his violent temper led to divorce in 1939, but they remarried December 8, 1940 in San Francisco. Rivera later married Emma Hurtado, his agent since 1946, on July 29, 1955, one year after Kahlo's death. Rivera was an atheist. His mural Dreams of a Sunday in the Alameda depicted Ignacio Ramírez holding a sign which read, "God does not exist". This work caused a furor, but Rivera refused to remove the inscription. The painting was not shown for 9 years – until Rivera agreed to remove the inscription. He stated: "To affirm 'God does not exist', I do not have to hide behind Don Ignacio Ramírez; I am an atheist and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis." From the age of ten, Rivera studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. He was sponsored to continue study in Europe by Teodoro A. Dehesa Méndez, the governor of the State of Veracruz. His mother was a Converso, a Jew whose ancestors had been forced to convert to Catholicism. Speaking about himself, Rivera wrote in 1935: "My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life."
In 1920, urged by Alberto J. Pani, the Mexican ambassador to France, Rivera left France and traveled through Italy studying its art, including Renaissance frescoes. After José Vasconcelos became Minister of Education, Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921 to become involved in the government sponsored Mexican mural program planned by Vasconcelos. The program included such Mexican artists as José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, and the French artist Jean Charlot. In January 1922, he painted – experimentally in encaustic – his first significant mural Creation in the Bolívar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City while guarding himself with a pistol against right-wing students.
In the autumn of 1927, Rivera arrived in Moscow, accepting an invitation to take part in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution. The following year, while still in Russia, he met the visiting Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who would soon become Rivera's friend and patron, as well as the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art. Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural for the Red Army Club in Moscow, but in 1928 he was ordered out by the authorities because of involvement in anti-Soviet politics, and he returned to Mexico. In 1929, Rivera was expelled from the Mexican Communist Party. His 1928 mural In the Arsenal was interpreted by some as evidence of Rivera's prior knowledge of the murder of Julio Antonio Mella allegedly by Stalinist assassin Vittorio Vidali. After divorcing Guadalupe (Lupe) Marin, Rivera married Frida Kahlo in August 1929. Also in 1929, the first English-language book on Rivera, American journalist Ernestine Evans's The Frescoes of Diego Rivera, was published in New York. In December, Rivera accepted a commission to paint murals in the Palace of Cortés in Cuernavaca from the American Ambassador to Mexico.
In September 1930, Rivera accepted an invitation from architect Timothy L. Pflueger to paint for him in San Francisco. After arriving in November accompanied by Kahlo, Rivera painted a mural for the City Club of the San Francisco Stock Exchange for US$2,500 and a fresco for the California School of Fine Art, later relocated to what is now the Diego Rivera Gallery at the San Francisco Art Institute. Kahlo and Rivera worked and lived at the studio of Ralph Stackpole, who had suggested Rivera to Pflueger. Rivera met Helen Wills Moody, a famous tennis player, who modeled for his City Club mural. In November 1931, Rivera had a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; Kahlo was present. Between 1932 and 1933, he completed a famous series of twenty-seven fresco panels entitled Detroit Industry on the walls of an inner court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. During the McCarthyism of the 1950s, a large sign was placed in the courtyard defending the artistic merit of the murals while attacking his politics as "detestable."
His mural Man at the Crossroads, begun in 1933 for the Rockefeller Center in New York City, was removed after a furor erupted in the press over a portrait of Vladimir Lenin it contained. When Diego refused to remove Lenin from the painting, Diego was ordered to leave. One of Diego's assistants managed to take a few pictures of the work so Diego was able to later recreate it. The American poet Archibald MacLeish wrote six "irony-laden" poems about the mural. The New Yorker magazine published E. B. White's poem "I paint what I see: A ballad of artistic integrity". As a result of the negative publicity, a further commission was canceled to paint a mural for an exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair. Rivera issued a statement that with the money left over from the commission of the mural at Rockefeller Center (he was paid in full though the mural was supposedly destroyed. Rumors have floated that the mural was actually covered over rather than brought down and destroyed.), he would repaint the same mural over and over wherever he was asked until the money ran out.
In December 1933, Rivera returned to Mexico, and he repainted Man at the Crossroads in 1934 in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. This surviving version was called Man, Controller of the Universe. On June 5, 1940, invited again by Pflueger, Rivera returned for the last time to the United States to paint a ten-panel mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Pan American Unity was completed November 29, 1940. As he was painting, Rivera was on display in front of Exposition attendees. He received US$1,000 per month and US$1,000 for travel expenses. The mural includes representations of two of Pflueger's architectural works as well as portraits of Kahlo, woodcarver Dudley C. Carter, and actress Paulette Goddard, who is depicted holding Rivera's hand as they plant a white tree together. Rivera's assistants on the mural included the pioneer African-American artist, dancer, and textile designer Thelma Johnson Streat. The mural and its archives reside at City College of San Francisco.