Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
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DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)

La bordadora

DIEGO RIVERA (1886-1957)
La bordadora
signed and dated ‘Diego Rivera-28’ (upper left)
oil on canvas
31 1⁄4 x 39 in. (79.4 x 99.1 cm.)
Painted in 1928.
Mr. and Mrs. James Feibleman, New Orleans (acquired circa late 1920s).
Mrs. Shirley Feibleman (aka Shirley Ann Grau) New Orleans (by descent in 1987).
Private collection, New Orleans (gift from the above).
L'Art Vivant Au Mexique, Paris, no. 122, 15 January 1930, p. 90 (illustrated, titled Brodeuse Tehuantepec).
D. Rivera and B. D. Wolfe, Portrait of Mexico, New York, Covici, Friede Publishers, 1937, no. 88 (illustrated, titled Embroidering).
L. Cardoza y Aragón, La nube y el reloj, Pintura mexicana contemporánea, First Edition, Mexico City, Ediciones de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 1940, no. 17 (illustrated, titled Mujeres).
Diego Rivera: Cinquenta años de su labor artística, Exposición de homenaje nacional, Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1951, n.p. (illustrated, titled La bordadora and incorrectly published as Collection of Miss Matilda Grey [sic], New Orleans, Louisiana).
Diego Rivera, Cátalogo general de obra de caballete, Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1989, p. 111, no. 830 (illustrated, titled La bordadora and incorrectly published as Collection Matilda Grey [sic] Stream).
L. Cardoza y Aragón, La nube y el reloj, Pintura mexicana contemporánea, Second Edition, Mexico City, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 2003, p. 252 (illustrated, titled Mujeres (La bordadora).
Post lot text
Please note this work has been requested by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the upcoming exhibition Diego Rivera's America, scheduled to open in July 2022, and later travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas in March 2023.

Brought to you by

Marysol Nieves
Marysol Nieves Vice President, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

After ten years abroad in Europe, Diego Rivera received an invitation in 1921 from the new Mexican Minister of Education, José Vasconcelos, to join President Álvaro Obregón’s nascent post-Revolutionary cultural project. Uncertain of the artistic benefit that Rivera could bring to this project as a cubist painter, Vasconcelos sent him to Italy beforehand, to study the great murals of the Renaissance.
Thus, freshly arrived from Europe and fully versed in the latest vanguard trends while equally dazzled by the Byzantine frescoes he had seen in Ravenna, Rivera began to paint his first mural commission in Mexico in the amphitheater of the National Preparatory School. Still unconvinced by Rivera’s avant-garde approach in the yet to be completed encaustic mural, titled Creation (La Creación), Vasconcelos sent Rivera to visit the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a region near Oaxaca in March 1923.
In Tehuantepec, Rivera encountered a cultural reality quite different from his European experience and from everything he had known up to then about his own country. He found himself amid a paradise that was the very soul of Mexico. The experience made a lasting impression on the artist, perhaps similar to the one he imagined Paul Gauguin felt when he was captivated by the Polynesian island of Tahiti. Rivera returned to Mexico City to complete his mural, armed with hundreds of sketches drawn from nature and the profound impact of having discovered in Oaxaca, a vibrant indigenous Mexican culture. The experience left an indelible mark on his life as he returned on numerous occasions to that lost paradise.
The artistic path pursued by Rivera in the cultural context of post-Revolutionary Mexico, following this first trip to the Isthmus in the 1920s, diverged profoundly from the primitivist perspective of the European vanguard whose approach was largely comprised of appropriating the forms and motifs of marginalized cultures, much as the Cubists had done with African art. In contrast, Rivera’s vision was closer to the archeological and historical investigations undertaken by such anthropologists as Franz Boas (1858-1942) and Manuel Gamio (1883-1960) who introduced new methodologies in Mexico for studying and gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of local indigenous groups. Since 1912, Rivera had become familiar with Boas’s research through the work of the Mexican painter Adolfo Best Maugard. The latter illustrated the designs incised on Teotihuacán ceramic pottery, the archeological vestiges that were the subject of Boas’s studies.
Contrary to the commonly held belief that the creative production of Mexico’s indigenous peoples was the result of the romantic vision of the collective state of the ‘noble savage,’ Boas advocated for the creative character of the individual, recognizing artistic talent as a sign of individualism within indigenous society, and thus, confirming the highly developed intellectual and civilizing attributes of the culture. Boas himself had undertaken studies of the Pochutla dialects near Tehuantepec and these were precisely the theoretical and scientific methodologies that began to interest Rivera as early as 1921.
Like Gamio, Rivera believed that a modern project for the nation, that did not acknowledge its’ twelve million indigenous residents, was destined to serve or benefit only a minority of criollos and mestizos. The artist shared in the belief that the Mexican state and its new institutions ought to safeguard and understand the conditions of these communities and their distinct histories, economic and cultural activities, as well as their creative expressions.
The latter provided the guiding framework and the many artistic virtues one finds in this present painting from 1928. Absolutely brilliant in its construction and vibrant colors, the composition exhibits Cubist influences nevertheless, as it denotes a square arranged within an ellipse, both enclosed within a rectangle, demonstrating that Rivera never truly abandoned the avant-garde but instead, acquired a social dimension and a new ideological conscience about art’s commitment in Mexico. And, while illustrated in 1930 in a special edition of the art journal L’Art Vivant devoted to Mexican art, the painting’s location remained unknown for decades up to now, and after ninety years in the same family collection, makes its public debut at auction.
Far from being a post-Romantic indigenous vision, La bordadora (The Embroiderer) is a superb aesthetic declaration, intended to exalt Mexicans, endowing them with dignity through the work of their citizens. Rivera demonstrates that through their labor, the women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, contributed to the economy, and were also critical to the preservation of their people’s artistic traditions and how these were passed down through women from generation to generation. Thus, we are drawn to the attentive gaze of the adolescent girl who observes her mother at her delicate craft of embroidery which is unique to and identifies the women of that region of Mexico.
Luis-Martín Lozano, art historian, Mexico City

Diego Rivera in New Orleans
The 1920s ushered in a period of extraordinary and radical cultural transformation in Mexico. Perhaps nowhere was this reinvention more notable than in the visual arts, where artists like Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, advocated a new approach to artmaking that was socially and politically engaged while grounded in notions of accessibility and civic engagement. Their model galvanized artists in the United States who also sought to break free from the dominance of European art to make art that was rooted in modernism but reflected their own specific reality. The cross-cultural dialogue that ensued saw many American artists travel to Mexico, while the leading Mexican muralist spent extended periods of time in the United States, executing murals, paintings, and prints; participating in exhibitions; and teaching and interacting with local artists.
The extent of this dialogue went far beyond such artistic centers as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Indeed, from the 1920s through the 1950s, Louisiana (and particularly New Orleans) artists, writers and intellectuals flocked to Mexico, some seeking respite from the brutal effects of the Depression, but many more drawn to the formal affinities between pre-Columbian art and modernism as well as the socially and politically charged works of their fellow artists across the border. For example, New Orleans natives William Spratling and Caroline Durieux befriended, studied and collaborated on numerous occasions with artists like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Emilio Amero and Carlos Orozco Romero. Along with Tulane University, the then burgeoning New Orleans Arts and Craft Club also served as an important nexus between these two thriving artists communities. In 1928, the Times-Picayune declared Diego Rivera “the greatest painter on the North American continent” (K. A. Pohl, Mexico in New Orleans, A Tale of Two Americas, Baton Rouge, 2015, 11). while announcing a four-day exhibition of his oil paintings and watercolors at the New Orleans Arts and Craft Club. Other related exhibitions followed including a 1933 exhibition of works by Mexican artists (Rivera, Amero and Tamayo) alongside works by Spratling and Durieux.
Spratling, an accomplished silver designer, traveled to Mexico in the late 1920s with Tulane University archeologist Frans Blom. The news of Blom’s excavations of Mayan ruins and his explorations of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (also a source of study for Rivera) published in local newspapers and magazines captivated Louisianans (K. A. Pohl, 5). Motivated by these accounts, Spratling traveled with Blom in the late 1920s to study ancient indigenous art and archeology. The trip ultimately prompted Spratling’s move to Taxco, Mexico where he played a significant role in promoting Mexican silversmithing traditions. The painter and printmaker Caroline Wogan Durieux arrived in Mexico City in 1926 with her husband Pierre, the newly appointed Latin American corporate representative of General Motors. Armed with a letter of introduction from Blom to the great muralist Diego Rivera, Durieux quickly absorbed her new milieu. Durieux not only befriended many of Mexico’s leading artists and intellectuals of the day (including Rivera and Kahlo) but flourished under the tutelage of Rivera and Emilio Amero with whom she honed her skills as a painter and printmaker as well as the satirical qualities of her work. In 1929, curator René d'Harnoncourt, organized a solo exhibition of Caroline's oil paintings and drawings at the Sonora News Company in Mexico City for which Rivera published an enthusiastic review in the journal Mexican Folkways:
Since she has lived among us, she has developed a close spiritual rapport with the country and simultaneously there has grown in her a painters mature power of expression. Not only does her painting show the love of nature, exalting the grandeur of the mountains, the beauty of the peasants, and the orderly freedom of our architecture, but she has also seen our mongrel, perverted and deformed bourgeoisie, with the clear eye of a Mexican mountaineer, and yet with all the urbanity, the culture, and the occidental sophistication which are Caroline’s” (quoted in K. A. Pohl, 13).
Durieux and Rivera’s enduring friendship is perhaps best celebrated in the elegant portrait the Mexican artist painted of his New Orleans comrade in 1929 and which today hangs in the collection of the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge.
The history of Rivera’s La bordadora (The Embroiderer) is likewise linked to this rich network of connections between a community of creatives, intellectuals and art patrons across Mexico City and New Orleans. As a child Caroline Durieux (nee Caroline Spellman Wogan) befriended James Kern Feibleman (1904-1987), the first owner of The Embroider. The two New Orleans natives continued their friendship to adulthood and participated in a vibrant community that included the likes of Blom, Spratling, William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, and Roark Bradford, among others who often met in the cafés of the bohemian French Quarter.
Feibleman remained in New Orleans much of his life and became a noted philosopher, poet, and businessman. He published his first book, Death of God in Mexico, in 1931. And, while he became a successful businessman, working as vice-president and general manager of the James K. Feibleman Realty Company, Inc., and later appointed partner at the Leopold Investment Company, literature remained his passion. His literary pursuits prevailed, and he became a professor of English at Tulane University in 1943, and later the W.I. Irby Professor of Philosophy (1968 to 1974), Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities (1974), and in 1975 Professor Emeritus, until he retired in 1977.
Feibleman authored over thirty-nine books on subjects ranging from philosophy, sociology and psychology, to education and the arts.
Given his circle of acquaintances and intellectual pursuits, Feibleman must have certainly been familiar with the work of Diego Rivera and his contemporaries. He acquired The Embroiderer circa 1928-29 around the same time of his first marriage. The painting remained in his collection after his divorce and later marriage in 1955 to the writer Shirley Ann Grau (1929-2020). Grau inherited the painting upon her husband’s death in 1987. An accomplished writer in her own right, Grau’s work earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, for her epic novel The Keepers of the House, a searing and fearless examination of race, gender and power in the South.
Shirley Ann Grau gifted The Embroiderer to one of her daughters in 2005. Known only from a black and white photograph taken by Tina Modotti in the late 1920s, The Embroider was first published in the Paris journal, Art Vivant in 1930. Its whereabouts remained unknown for decades thereafter. In 1950, it was mistakenly credited to the collection of noted Rivera patron and collector Matilda Gray Stream of New Orleans. This mistake was perpetuated in subsequent publications including the 1989 catalogue raisonné. Among the pleasures of working in an auction house are the discoveries we bring to light of the works we are privileged to handle. After nearly one hundred years in the Feibleman Grau family collection we are honored to return this painting to the public sphere and share this remarkable story of cultural convergences between Mexico and New Orleans and of the indelible role played by Diego Rivera in the history of American art during the twentieth century.

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