Born Diego María Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, in Guanajuato, Mexico on December 8, 1886. Diego was one of Mexico’s most amazing painters; He is most famous for his large murals in Fresco which helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance. Diego came from a wealthy family, descendant of Spanish nobility on his father’s side. Diego’s parents were Diego Rivera and Maria Barrientos de Rivera. His father worked as a teacher, an editor for a newspaper, and a health inspector. His mother was a doctor. Diego began drawing when he was only three years old. His father soon built him a studio with canvas-covered walls and art supplies to keep the young artist from drawing on the walls and furniture in the house. Diego was an absolute atheist. He did not believe in God and made this very explicit in many of his murals. His lack of belief on religion comes from a very early age. Since he was three years old he was known as “the little atheist,” and he continued to be one until the last days of his life. Diego had a twin brother (Carlos) who died at the age of two. Diego’s art instruction began at the age of ten when his family moved to Mexico City and he received a Government scholarship to study at the Art Academy of San Carlos. He stayed at the Academy until his expulsion in 1902, for being part of student protests. Diego studied under great artists like Jean Auguste Ingres and Jose Guadalupe Posada were he would get most of his artistic influence from.
Five years later, Diego had his first exhibition, which was a big hit; this earned him a Scholarship from the Government of Veracruz. His Scholarship was to continue his education as a painter in Spain, in the School of San Fernando in Madrid. While in Europe he made many trips to France, Belgium, Holland and Britain until he finally settled in Paris in 1911. During this trip he was influenced by post-Impressionism, particularly the art of Paul Cézanne, which moved him to experiment with cubism and other newest styles, in whose language Diego unfolded with ease, creating original works full of harmony. In 1910 he had another exhibition in Mexico and even though he had not yet reached his full potential he still received a great reception from the public. Diego then presented in Madrid and in Paris. In 1920 he went to Italy to study Renaissance frescoes, and investigated the mural art of Italian Renaissance painter Giotto, whose influence did deviate from the Cubist movement.
After Jose Vasconcelos became Minister of Education, Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921 to become involved in the government sponsored Mexican mural program planned by Vasconcelos. In January 1922, he painted his first significant mural “La Creacion” in the Bolívar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City while guarding himself with a pistol against right-wing students. While working on this mural his future wife Frida Kahlo first heard of him, being one of the students at the National Preparatory School. Even though students were not allowed to enter the auditorium while ”El Maestro” was working, Frida would hide in the back and watch him for hours. She became fascinated by the “larger than life” man whom she nicknamed “Panzon”. One day she shocked a friend by telling her that she one day wanted to have a child by Diego Rivera. During this time he also painted one of his greatest works, “La Tierra Fecunda” conducted for the National Agricultural School of Chapingo.
Diego was an active member of the Communist party. His participation in the party were very influenced by his activities as a painter. Diego tried to express his communist ideas through his paintings, this made him almost a symbol of communism. Because of this all of his actions were closely watched by the party. The communist party was very anti-government and Diego’s commissions were mostly government-funded, which the communist party looked down upoun. In September of 1926 he was expelled from the Mexican communist party for having accepted to be the director of the San Carlos Academy of Art. Even though he tried many times, he was never accepted back into the party.
In 1928 Diego went to a party hosted by photographer and silent film star Tina Modottithis, on this night Frida and Diego Rivera finally met face-to-face for the first time. On August 21, 1929 he married Frida Kahlo. Diego was 42 years old, 6′ 1″ and 300 pounds while Frida was 22, 5’3″ and just 98 pounds. Fridas mother, Matilde Calderón y Gonzalez did not approve of her daughters wedding with Diego so she did not attend the wedding. Frida’s mother said that Diego was too old, too fat and worse yet he was a Communist and an atheist. She described the marriage as being: “… the marriage between an elephant and a dove“. Frida’s father, Wilhelm Kahlo an Athiest himself did not fight the union and he was in attendance at the ceremony. Even though Diego’s and Frida’s marriage was difficult at times due to Diego’s infidelities, it was based on true love. In his biography, Diego tells, right before his death, that he realized that the only worthy thing in his life was his love for Frida. They always respected and admired each-other and over all had the most wonderful friendship. Around the time of his marriage to Frida, Diego was appointed the head of the Department of Plastic Crafts at the Ministry of Education, a position he held until 1938.
In November of 1930, Rivera began work on his first two major American commissions: the American Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the California School of Fine Arts. In 1932 Nelson Rockefeller asked Diego to paint a mural in the Radio Corporation Arts building in Rockefeller Center and in 1933, he began the mural entitled Man at the Crossroads. But the Mural was never completed because Diego put Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Soviet Union in the Mural, this caused a conflict and the painting was destroyed in February of 1934 after Diego refused to change it. Diego did eventually complete this painting in Mexico City in the Palace of Bellas Artes, the new version included a portrait of Lenin and Leon Trotsky he gave it the name “Man, controller of the Universe”. The murals that Rivera painted in Mexico made him so famous that he became not only head of school of painting, but also a political leader. He painted what he believed and because of this there were many controversies over his paintings.
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.
In 1940 Diego and Frida divorced only to remarry after a year and this time the relationship lasted until Fridas death in 1954. His most ambitious and massive project, an epic story mural of Mexico to the National Palace, was left unfinished at his death in Mexico City on November 25, 1957.
Diego’s and Frida’s home is now a museum and to this day is loved and respected in Mexico as one of its greatest artists.