DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)
DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)
DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)
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DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more VISIONARY: THE PAUL G. ALLEN COLLECTION
DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)

The Rivals

DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)
The Rivals
signed and dated 'Diego Rivera 1931' (lower right)
oil on canvas
60 x 50 in. (152.4 x 127 cm.)
Painted in 1931
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., New York (acquired from the artist, 1931).
Peggy and David Rockefeller, New York (gift from the above, 1941); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 9 May 2018, lot 424 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale).
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
B. Wolfe, Diego Rivera: His Life and Times, New York, 1939, no. 142 (illustrated).
J. Barnitz, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Art of the Western Hemisphere, New York, 1988, vol. II, pp. 237-238, no. 146 (illustrated).
Diego Rivera: Catálogo General de Obra de Caballete, Mexico City, 1989, p. 132, no. 991 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Diego Rivera, December 1931-January 1932, pp. 39 and 53, no. 44 (illustrated).
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Museum of Art, Diego Rivera, February 1932, no. 44.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Exhibition 17: Summer Exhibition, Painting and Sculpture, June-October 1932, no. 32.160.
The Art Institute of Chicago, A Century of Progress: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June-November 1933, no. 738 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Modern Works of Art: Fifth Anniversary Exhibition, November 1934-January 1935, p. 33, no. 135 (illustrated).
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, The Centennial Exposition: Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures, Graphic Arts, June-November 1936, no. 4.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Summer Exhibitions: Paintings and Sculpture from the Museum Collection and on Loan, June-November 1937.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art, November 2011-May 2012.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Diego Rivera's America, July-September 2022, p. 54, no. 28 (illustrated in color).
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Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

From 1931 onwards, Diego Rivera achieved unprecedented success in the United States extending from the east to the west coasts. The artist received mural commissions in San Francisco, and later in Detroit, New York, and Chicago (the latter never realized). However, his crowning achievement came in 1931 when he was honored with a one-person exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, second only to Henri Matisse, who had been the subject of a retrospective earlier that same year.

Rivera’s growing prestige was not only the result of the critical acclaim received for his al fresco murals in some of the most well-known public buildings in Mexico City, such as the Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Secretaría de Educación Pública, but also for his participation in the Paris avant-garde circles as a distinguished cubist and follower of Paul Cezanne, a friend of Pablo Picasso’s and of others who were part of the Galerie L’Effort Moderne, whose director was Léonce Rosenberg. As such, Rivera was not only the foremost painter of the post-Revolution Mexican Mural Movement, but also, in the eyes of Alfred Barr, the artist’s work undoubtedly reflected universal dialogues with the history of art, from Antiquity and the Italian Renaissance to the School of Paris.

In June 1931, while in Mexico, Rivera was visited by arts promoter, Frances Flynn Paine, to discuss the preparations for his New York exhibition. Flynn Paine, was acting in representation of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the staunch arts patron, and founder and promoter of MoMA’s programs, and who, since 1930, with the support of Alfred Barr had been planning an exhibition of the artist’s work at The Museum of Modern Art. It was also Flynn Paine, who was charged with the task of ensuring that several important works by Rivera entered Abby Rockefeller’s personal collection, including this magnificent painting rarely on public view since 1937. Abby, who was married to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had first visited Mexico in the early 1890s, during the Belle Epoque era of Porfirio Díaz and became fascinated with Mexican culture; as such it was not unusual that years later, she would acquire one of Rivera’s most emblematic works of the 1930s. The monumental oil painting titled, The Rivals, was completed in a makeshift studio aboard the Morro Castle—the ship that in November 1931 transported Rivera and Frida Kahlo to New York.

Commissioned by Abby Rockefeller, the work remained in her collection until the early 1940s when it was then gifted to her son David Rockefeller and daughter-in-law Peggy on the occasion of their nuptials. In this painting, Rivera puts his unparalleled skills as a painter and colorist on full display no doubt to impress his benefactor, the principal supporter of his MoMA retrospective. The scene, inspired by "la fiesta de Las Velas", depicts an annual tradition indigenous to the Isthmus region of Oaxaca for which women wear embroidered huipiles or blouses, attractive gold jewelry and their hair pulled into moños (buns) and, enaguas or skirts in bright colors. The feast has indigenous roots, and is celebrated during the month of May in honor of family patron saints, amidst exotic palm trees, and papel picado or delicately cut multicolor sheets of tissue paper strung from the roofs to enliven the festivities.

Yet the theme, so profoundly Mexican, is not necessarily the painting’s most captivating feature, but rather the modern use of multiple planes coupled with the artist’s chromatic sensibility which Rivera makes full use of to resolve the painting. The vibrant tones and the sinuousness of certain compositional elements echo the decorative and sensual qualities found in Matisse’s paintings of the 1930s, including works such as La Conversation. For Abby Rockefeller, whose incredible largess as an arts patron had also extended to Matisse, the subject of a recent MoMA retrospective, the aesthetic affinities between the two international modern painters must have seemed undeniable.

Prof. Luis-Martín Lozano, art historian

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