We are grateful to Professor Luis-Martín Lozano for his assistance cataloguing this work.
Numerous paintings of children abound in Rivera’s prolific body of work such as the various portraits of little Juana Rosas, Delfina and Juanita Flores, impish Ignacio Sánchez, among others. Retrato de Carmelita Avilés, is both a celebration of childhood and a formal portrait of a small child who looks as if she has been told to stand still, if only for a moment and given a flower which she does not care to hold, but will for the time being. Carmelita is unlike the many campesino children portrayed in Rivera’s murals and other works. She is clothed in middle class finery in a dainty summer dress with a bow, wears shoes with socks and has gold earrings. Her hair is not braided but rather let loose giving her a surprisingly adult appearance. Carmelita’s demeanor is neither petulant nor resigned but rather hints at her self-possessed assurance. The banner above her head identifies and provides her age and has antecedents dating to the fifteenth-century but was frequently employed in portraiture in colonial Mexico. This beguiling painting is linked to other child portraits in the arsenal of Western art history. Francisco Goya’s tender portraits of aristocratic children who assume such countenance or bearing such as Portrait of María Teresa de Vallabriga, Countess of Chinchón, (1783) comes to mind. Both artists fittingly capture the spirit of their young subjects who are separated by time and class.
Rivera’s studio was constantly filled with those closest to him—his assistants, his cooks, gardeners, models and children. Later, his grand-children from his daughters Guadalupe and Ruth from his marriage to Guadalupe Marín and whom he spoiled and played games with, were a constant delight to him. In Europe he had suffered the loss of two children from his two mistresses—Angelina Beloff and Maria (Marevna) Vorobieff-Stebelska and wrote poignantly about their demise in his autobiography, My Art, My Life. During his entire life Rivera was relentless in depicting the countless daily activities of his people or la vida mexicana in all its manifestations whether in monumental works such as his public murals or in small, individual portraits such as this.
Margarita Aguilar, Doctoral Candidate, The Graduate Center, New York