Diego Rivera’s Powerful Messages in Mexican Muralism
Art, in any form, is one of the best, non-verbal medium
to express oneself. Many artists relay their views,
political and otherwise, through their work. For instance,
Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s murals conveyed
powerful messages that were perceptible to everyone.
What is Mexican Muralism?
Mexican muralism is an art movement initiated
during the 1930’s which acquired significant attention
from the public. Why does this movement stand out more
than others? A blatant conclusion is that it not only
expressed social opinions, but also addressed controversial
political issues. Most Mexican murals were conspicuously
displayed in public places, causing much discomfort
among all levels of society.
The History of Mexican Muralism
The heart of the movement developed when the
Mexican bourgeoisie began looking to Europe for art
that did not portray Mexican-like themes. The end result
was a distancing between the lower / middle classes
and the upper class, which soon grew into a strong animosity
towards the upper class and anything associated with
it. It is said that national pride played an important
role in the movement, creating a feeling of optimism
in regards to post-Revolution Mexico and its government.
At the start of the 1920’s, many artists looked
into native traditions as inspiration for their work,
and speculated that murals were a good medium because
everyone would be attained. Artists were commissioned
either by local governments, businesses or via grants
to decorate the walls of institutions such as schools,
government buildings, churches and museums. In Mexico
City, and other big cities like Guadalajara, murals
made native art and culture accessible to the lower-classes.
Between 1923 and 1928, Mexican
muralist Diego Rivera was
commissioned to create murals
for the Mexican National Preparatory
School and the Ministry of
Education. Many believe that
his work was the start of
the Mexican muralist movement.
The Great City of Tenochtilan Mural Art Print
Los Tres Grandes
Artists Diego Rivera, José Orozco and
David Siqueiros, came to be referred to as “los
tres grandes” (the three great ones) who led the
art movement known as Mexican muralism. Rivera is generally
considered the chief figure among them. All had strong
political opinions, which leaned predominantly towards
All three used the traditional form of fresco painting
either in the interior or on the exterior walls of public
buildings. Their murals were a convenient avenue to
expressing their opinions to the masses, as they believed
art should be accessible to all.
Los Tres Grandes formed the
Labour Union of Technical
Workers, Painters and Sculptors,
and committed themselves to
large murals which would show
Mexican history, its people
Diego Rivera’s Influence
The word that Rivera and other artists were
being commissioned by governments to create public murals
spread to the United States, as well as the account
of their influence on people. When President Roosevelt
created the Works Progress Administration which employed
artists to produce murals and sculptures, it prompted
U.S. institutions to commission “los tres grandes”.
In 1932, the Ford Motor Company called on Mexican muralist
Rivera to create a mural of the car plant in the Detroit
Institute of Arts. He accepted and produced a series
of fresco panels called ‘Detroit Industry’.
A year later, Rivera was requested to paint a mural
in Rockefeller Center with the theme ‘Man at a
Crossroads’. However, once the work was completed,
Rockefeller, among others, was not happy. Rivera had
included a likeness to Vladimir Lenin in one of his
figures. Rockefeller asked Rivera to change it or remove
it altogether, but the strong-willed artist refused
and the mural was subsequently destroyed.
Rivera later returned to the United States to paint
a 10-part mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition
in San Francisco, California.
Diego Rivera’s murals
had a unique style; they were
politically-charged and especially
powerful in view of their
bold colours and simplistic
forms. His work celebrated
Mexican culture and addressed
Mexican issues via Mexican
muralism. His influences were
more about Diego Rivera’s
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.