Diego Rivera Prints

Diego Rivera Prints


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Diego Rivera Murals: The Famous Rivera/Rockerfeller Dispute


In 1933, the famous New York Rockefeller family commissioned Diego Rivera to paint a mural on the wall of the new RCA centre. The theme for the wall was to be “new frontiers”, and it was Nelson A. Rockefeller himself who wanted the painting to force people to stop and think about its message. The finished product depicted a number of scenes that referred to socially relevant events of the time. However, there was one element of the mural that the Rockefellers deemed too controversial and Rivera was asked to change the prominent face of a well-known political figure. What began as an effort to bring an eye-catching and thought provoking work of art to the Rockefeller Centre soon turned into a major conflict that would involve America’s richest family, Mexico’s most famous artist, and the entire American public.

Diego Rivera Murals: Man at the Crossroads
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Diego Rivera murals had gained huge attention in the artist’s home country of Mexico. The task of creating a painting on one of America’s most famous landmarks, however, promised to be the job that would bring Rivera international fame. It is said that, initially, the Rockefeller family, who favoured a more modern style of art, wanted Henri Matisse or Pablo Picasso to handle the enormous task, but because the two artists were unavailable for hire, Diego Rivera was approached. Seizing the great opportunity, Rivera accepted the commission and immediately began work on the large mural.

Although the Rockefeller family had put forward the idea for the theme “new frontiers”, Rivera disapproved with the Western world’s embrace of free enterprise. Choosing instead to follow his own political beliefs, Rivera painted scenes that depicted the modern worker confronted by a symbolic junction of industry, capitalism, socialism and science. The newest of the Diego Rivera murals was provisionally called “Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future.” The mural was spectacular and achieved Nelson Rockefeller’s goal of creating a work that was arresting and inspiring. Among some of the influential personalities portrayed on the canvas were Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin, Edsel Ford and the famous Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin.

Upon completion of the mural, Rivera revealed his work to the Rockefellers, but their response was not what he had expected. When Nelson Rockefeller adamantly demanded that Rivera remove the image of Lenin and replace it with the face of another historically influential leader, Rivera refused and the mural was subsequently covered for an entire year. Although many American citizens protested to what they perceived to be artistic censorship, the painting would never see the light of day in the States and it was eventually chiseled off the wall at Rockefeller’s request.

Objecting to having his work censored, Diego Rivera later reproduced the mural in its original form on the interior wall of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. His new painting was as grand and thought provoking as the original, but Rivera chose to call this new version, “Man Controller of the Universe.” Today, this most controversial of the Diego Rivera murals is still displayed in Mexico City and many a fan of Rivera still dispute the Rockefeller family’s decision to prevent the work from being viewed.

This article was written by Betty Botis
Betty Botis is an avid art collector and fan of all Diego Rivera's art. She is also a freelance writer for Diego Rivera Prints.

 

 

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