A leading Mexican easel painter, muralist and graphic artist. His artistic background was, first, the Academy of San Carlos and the exciting graphics of Posada. He traveled widely in Europe, 1907-21, and was associated in Paris with Derain, Braque, Klee, Picasso and Gris; as a result, his early work was Cubist. He returned to Mexico in 1922 to participate in the growing artistic revolution. Between 1922 and 1930 he did encaustic murals in the National Preparatory School and frescoes in the Ministry of Education, in the Chapel at Chapingo and in the Governor’s Palace, Cuernavaca. In the United States, 1930-34, he did frescoes in San Francisco, Detroit and New York (the last, in Rockefeller Center, destroyed through disagreement with the sponsors). His later murals are in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico, the National Palace, Hotel del Prado, Institute of Cardiology, Lerma Waterworks, new University and Social Security Hospital, Mexico City. In 1949 an exhibition of fifty years of his work was held in the National Museum of Plastic Arts.
Rivera has been involved in Mexican and left-wing world politics throughout his career; he is also influential as a painter with many direct followers. The decorative simplicity of his large-scaled forms and the bold, clear color areas lend themselves to imitation as well as to a characteristic didactic and expository style. His mood in general is lyrical rather than emotional, with the accent on narrative facility and factual detail. Far from naive, he is an extremely sophisticated personality and an active political radical. His easel paintings show a similar linear quality, while the portraits tend toward the fashionable and superficial. One of the “Big Four” (Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros and Tamayo), Rivera remains an outstanding force in Mexico’s artistic revolution. His best work is perhaps the Chapingo mural.