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Audio: Diego Rivera, Portrait of Linda Christian
Diego Rivera (Mexican 1886-1957)
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Diego Rivera (Mexican 1886-1957)

Portrait of Linda Christian

Diego Rivera (Mexican 1886-1957)
Portrait of Linda Christian
signed and dated 'Diego Rivera 1947' (lower left)
oil on canvas
44 x 35 5/8 in. (111.7 x 90.5 cm.)
Painted in 1947.
Acquired by the sitter from the artist.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
L.Christian, Linda: My Own Story, New York, Crown Publishers Inc., 1962 (illustrated in color on the cover).

Lot Essay

In 1947 the much acclaimed Mexican painter Diego Rivera was sixty-one years old. At this point in his life he had already accomplished all the things an artist of his stature should--he had far surpassed his early academic training, traveled to Europe to study the great artists and their masterpieces, and having become conversant with these sources developed his own style. By 1910, he had tasted success in Spain and Mexico. But far from being satisfied with this he returned to Paris a year later coming into direct contact with key vanguard movements, challenging the motives of Picasso and Braque, and developing his own ideas, theories and formal approach towards cubism. Subsequently, by 1916 he abandoned cubism altogether reclaiming figuration as the essential language of art becoming the leading proponent by 1921 of the Mexican mural movement. As a muralist he continued to struggle--even against the powerful censorship of Rockefeller--to assert his ideals as one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century.
Diego Rivera's indefatigable artistic trajectory led him to paint hundreds of square meters of fresco murals in Mexico and the United States, thousands of drawings and watercolors yet to be fully catalogued and accounted for, and dozens of wonderful easel paintings that encompass a half century of production. All of these were possible due to Rivera's insatiable admiration for the human condition in relation to the challenges of his era. He was likewise fascinated by the landscape, so much so that he attempted to decipher the mysteries of space and the existence of a fourth dimension. He was so profoundly moved by the dispossessed that he made children and hard labor the foundation of his ideological battle as an artist. Yet, he was also an undeniable esthete, rendered powerless by feminine beauty in all its forms. The latter resulted in several captivating portraits of some of the most beautiful and intelligent women of his time.
His ongoing preoccupation for science and recent advancements led Rivera, in a rather logical manner, to become interested in film and cinema. He understood its enormous capacity for communication and the efficiency of its didactic narratives. Thus it's not unusual then that he would develop friendships with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson, as well as with the actresses Dolores del Río and Mara Félix, both of whom he painted in all their splendorous beauty. To this extraordinary list of divas one must add Paulette Goddard and Linda Christian, who Rivera met in the 1940s. He immortalized Paulette in one of his murals in San Francisco, while he painted Linda Christian at least twice in two portraits that survive to this day. One, a full-length portrait in which she poses voluptuously in a bikini reclining on the beach--capturing one of the most impressive bodies to have graced the silver screen. And, a second portrait (the present lot), rendered from the waist up, which up until now had been unknown to the general public and scholars alike. In this work the actress appears radiant and sensuous, rendered by Rivera in all her glorious feminine beauty, with her long arms enveloped by the exuberant natural elements of her surroundings. Here Rivera creates a magnificent compositional interplay between organic curves, human and natural, while the playful hummingbirds explore the inner hollows of the orchids and tulips suggesting an erotically charged metaphor. Rivera incites the viewer's senses thus capturing the sexual essence of Blanca Rosa Henrietta Stella Welter Vorhauer, the woman whose body, gaze, and sensuality shook the collective consciousness of the cinema.
Featured on the cover of her 1962 autobiography, Linda My Own Story, this extraordinary work by Diego Rivera is a sublime example of his skills as a portraitist, expressing his brilliant use of light and color as if recreating an oneiric vision of "Mara," Linda Christian's character in the 1948 Robert Florey film Tarzan and The Mermaids. This is undeniably one of the most fantastic portraits ever painted by the hand of Diego Rivera.

Professor Luis-Martín Lozano, Mexico City, September 2012

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