2009 Archives

Meadows Museum Presents
'Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits, 1913-1917'

June 21-September 20, 2009

June 18, 2009

DALLAS (SMU) – Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) spent several critical years early in his career in Paris, during World War I, where he immersed himself in literary and art circles and enthusiastically embraced the Cubist movement. 

Artist Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera

While his Cubist works experimented with a range of genres, including landscape and still life, Rivera showed a particular affinity for portraiture, and he created empathetic and moving portrayals of some of the era’s most important figures.

Thirty-one of these works are brought together for the first time in Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits, 1913-1917, an exhibition at the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas from June 21 through September 20, 2009. (See a listing of public programs farther down.)

The exhibition was inspired by a key piece in the Meadows Museum’s permanent collection, Rivera’s Portrait of Ilya Ehrenburg (1915). It is one of only four Cubist portraits by Rivera in a public American collection. The additional 22 paintings and 8 preparatory sketches and book illustrations are from museums and private collections in the U.S. and other countries, and include several works that will be exhibited publicly for the first time.

In addition, a complementary exhibition in the museum’s first floor galleries, Mexican Art at the Meadows, will showcase lithographs by Rivera and other Mexican artists in the Meadows Museum’s permanent collection; included will be Rivera’s portrait of his wife, Frida Kahlo, titled Seated Nude with Raised Arms, and scenes of rural and peasant life in Mexico.

“We are thrilled to have organized this exhibition, which will introduce to Dallas a fascinating aspect of one of Mexico’s greatest artists,” said Dr. Mark Roglán, Meadows Museum director. “Through the quality of the paintings, complexity of the drawings, and his always evolving technique, this exhibition presents a unique opportunity for our visitors to learn about and appreciate both Rivera’s portraits and Cubism at its best.”  

Sailor at Lunch by Diego Rivera
Sailor at Lunch
by Diego Rivera
1914 | Oil on canvas, 44 7/8 x 27 9/16 in. | Museo Casa Diego Rivera, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Guanajuato,Mexico CENCROPAM-INBA SIGROA 21438 |
Photography © Francisco Kochen
See a slideshow of paintings from the exhibit.

Diego Rivera showed artistic potential from childhood, and at a young age studied at the National School of Fine Arts of San Carlos in Mexico City. In 1907 he went to Europe on a government pension and spent two years in Spain before settling in Paris. Apart from a brief trip to Mexico for his first solo exhibition at the San Carlos school in 1910, a visit that coincided with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, Rivera remained in Europe, residing primarily in Paris, until 1921. During his tenure in Europe, he established himself as an integral part, as well as a leader, of the Cubist movement.                                            

“As the old world would soon blow itself apart [in World War I], never to be the same again, so Cubism broke down forms as they had been for centuries, and was creating out of the fragments new forms, new objects, new patterns and – ultimately – new worlds,” Rivera wrote years later. 

While Cubism was fundamentally marked by a broken, two-dimensional perception of form, artists brought their own interpretation to the movement. Rivera developed and experimented with Cubist techniques, incorporating unusual materials such as sand and sawdust into his oil paintings in order to create texture.  His works were also distinguished by his adventurous use of color, treatment of the facets and intersections of forms, and occasional inclusion of Mexican motifs such as colorfully striped fabrics. 

Rivera’s favorite subject matter was portraiture, a reflection of his early interest in rendering the human form and in challenging one of the most traditional art historical genres. He expertly deconstructed his subjects’ visages in order to reassemble them meticulously on canvas.

The portraits in the exhibition introduce the viewer to his closest European friends and loved ones, those artists and intellectuals whose relationships proved invaluable to the young artist’s development. They include several of Rivera’s countrymen, notably writer Martín Luis Guzmán, painter Adolfo Best Maugard and architect Jesús T. Acevedo.  The portraits also reveal Rivera’s relationship with Paris’s Russian emigré community, which he became acquainted with through his Parisian lovers (artists Angelina Beloff and Marevna Vorobieva-Stebelska). 

Portrait of Ilya Ehrenburg by Diego Rivera
Portrait of Ilya Ehrenburg
by Diego Rivera
1915 | Oil on canvas, 43 1/2 x 35 1/4 in. | Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas, Texas, Algur H. Meadows Collection, 68.12

This community consisted of Bolsheviks living in exile after the failed St. Petersburg insurrection of 1905, and included Rivera’s friend, the young novelist Ilya Ehrenburg, depicted in the Meadows painting. Also represented are the burly poet Maximilian Voloshin, the sculptor Oscar Miestchaninoff, the painter Alexandre Zinoviev, Lithuanian sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, and the capitalist patron of the arts, Michel Ossip Zetlin, as well as several of their wives and companions such as Berthe Kitrosser, Marie Zetlin and Mme. Marcoussis. 

Rivera enjoyed both critical and commercial success with his Cubist works. While he experimented in his portraits with varying degrees of abstraction and theories of perspective, he maintained that even a Cubist portrait should contain some degree of individualization that identified it as a likeness. However, in 1917, the influential art critic Pierre Reverdy wrote an essay criticizing not only the idea of Cubist portraits, but those who painted them. An angry Rivera physically assaulted Reverdy at a dinner shortly thereafter, and consequently the Cubist movement split into two camps; as a result, Rivera no longer kept company with the influential Cubist friends who shared Reverdy’s perspective, including Juan Gris, Georges Braque and Jacques Lipchitz. By the end of 1917 he had left the Cubist movement altogether.

Rivera abandoned Cubist fragmentation and experimentation for a more representational style, which continued to evolve with a trip to Italy in 1920, where he studied Renaissance frescoes. He returned to Mexico for good in 1921. By the mid-1920s he had developed the signature style found in his murals, a melding of avant-garde practices, pre-Hispanic sources and popular art, all informed by his excellent traditional academic painting. His murals set out to create a vision of Mexican society on the walls of that nation’s cultural and political sanctuaries and at such institutions as the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National Preparatory School); he also created murals in the U.S., depicting scenes of industrial labor, such as “Detroit Industry” at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Although he embraced a more nationalistic and political purpose for his art, Rivera recognized the critical influence of Cubism on his artistic development, and he remained proud of his affiliation with the movement. In 1957, shortly before his death, he said, “I still consider Cubism to be the outstanding achievement in the plastic arts since the Renaissance.”

Curated by independent Mexican scholar Sylvia Navarrete, Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits is organized by the Meadows Museum. Complementing the exhibition, two galleries with paintings from the Meadows’ permanent collection have been specially installed. One will showcase works by the “Spanish friends” Rivera colorfully described in his autobiography, including Picasso, Joaquín Sorolla, María Blanchard and others, with accompanying commentary by Rivera on his relationships with them. The other gallery will include paintings by Rivera’s Spanish contemporaries, artists such as Ignacio Zuloaga who lived and worked in Spain and whose technique and subjects directly or indirectly influenced Rivera. All of the exhibition text is presented in both English and Spanish.

The exhibition is generously funded by The Wachovia Foundation, Dallas, Texas, and The Meadows Foundation. The Meadows Museum is the exhibition’s exclusive venue.

Public Programs


July 9,
July 16,
July 23
6 p.m.
Bob Smith Auditorium
Diego Rivera and the Mexican Revolution
Dr. Luis Martin, professor emeritus of history at SMU, presents this three-week series of lectures that will explore the social, cultural and political climate of Mexico during Diego Rivera’s lifetime, culminating with the Mexican Revolution.
Admission is free; no reservation required.
For more information call 214-768-4677.
August 20
6 p.m.
Bob Smith Auditorium
Diego Rivera and Spain (1907-1922)
Mark Roglán, Director of the Meadows Museum, will explore a little-known yet critical phase in the artistic development of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. After completing his studies at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City in 1907, Diego Rivera traveled to Spain to further his artistic training. So began a new journey in his life and career, where he was influenced by artists of the past such as El Greco and Goya as well as by his contemporaries such as Picasso.
Admission is free; no registration required.
For more information call 214-768-4677.
Sept. 17
6 p.m.
Bob Smith Auditorium
The Portrait Gone to Pieces: The Cubist Era in Paris
Paloma Alarcó, Curator of Modern Paintings at the  Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid — When Diego Rivera arrived in Paris, the innovative features of Cubist portraits not only brought a complete transformation to the genre but also gave new answers to questions concerning modern identity. In the realm of portraiture, the progressive abstraction of the Cubist idiom gradually imposed itself over the traditional aim of the portrait. Like the reflection in a broken mirror, background and figure, interior and exterior, ceased to be separate elements; painting became a complex puzzle to be solved in the viewer’s gaze.
Admission is free; no registration required.
For more information call 214-768-4677.

Drop-in Art

Drop in the education studio to create your own artwork. Each day, participate in a different hands-on activity inspired by works on view in the galleries. Free, no advance registration required; participation is on a first come, first served basis. (Note: Does not include free admission to Rivera exhibition.)

July 11
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Make a Cut Paper Cubist Portrait
July 18
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Create Art from Found Objects. Produce a work of art that reflects your cultural heritage, the way Diego Rivera incorporates elements from the Mexican culture in his art. This activity, led by Viola Delgado and Kaleta Doolin, is partially funded by the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.
Aug. 1
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Discover Printmaking. Try your hand at using elements of line and composition, drawing inspiration from prints by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco on view in the corollary exhibit "Mexican Art at the Meadows."
Aug. 8
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Paint a Colorful Still Life. The still life was a subject of many Cubist works, and Cubist artists such as Rivera, Picasso, Gris, and Blanchard even incorporated elements of still life in their portraiture.

Family Events

July 25
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Diego Rivera in Paris
Join us as we celebrate Rivera’s life and art in early 20th century Paris. Enjoy gallery games, hands-on activities, and performances by Mexico 2000 Ballet Folklorico.
Admission is free; includes free admission to the exhibition Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits, 1913-1917.
For more information call 214-768-4677.
Aug. 15
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
The Frame Project
Children and adults are invited to participate in this special workshop presented by guest artists Viola Delgado and Kaleta Doolin. Participants will use found objects to create three-dimensional artworks reflecting their cultural heritage. Designed for children 6 and older; one adult per two children, please. Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Admission is free; advance registration required; call 214-768-2740. Includes free admission to the exhibition Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits, 1913-1917.
This special program is partially funded by the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.

About the Meadows Museum

The Meadows Museum, a division of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain, with works dating from the 10th to the 21st century. It includes masterpieces by some of the world’s greatest painters: El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Murillo, Goya, Miró and Picasso.

The museum is located at 5900 Bishop Blvd. on the campus of SMU, three blocks west of the DART light rail Mockingbird Station. Ample free parking is available in the museum garage.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and 12-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 per person, $6 for seniors, free on Thursday evenings after 5 p.m., and free for children under 12, museum members, and SMU faculty, staff and students.

For information, call 214-768-2516 or visit www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org.

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