Unknown Rivera Art


Due to a unique combination of Diego's personal life circumstances and his prodigious drawing habits, an enormous amount of canvas and paper artworks were produced by this one man alone.

Diego was always in need of more money than his mural artwork could provide. Throughout the years 1923 to 1927, the Mexican government paid him only $2.00 per day for painting their nationalistic frescos. Diego needed to earn living expenses for his family just the same as anyone else alive during those lean depressed years. In later years, after Rivera was earning high paying commissions for his mural work, he still needed substantially more monies to pay for his ferocious collecting of Pre-Columbian art.

He was quite famous early in his career so he decided to paint a significant amount of easel art. Often, they were sold to North American visitors who purchased his paintings while visiting in Mexico City and carried them back home on their return to the states.

The other condition that resulted in an abundance of artwork was the fact that Diego was a compulsively prolific draftsman. He drew day and night, wherever he went and whatever he saw, endlessly, studying and sketching. It is impossible to predict how much art was produced through his drawings.

Fortunately for us today, thanks to this clever and hardworking artist, many unrecognized Diego Rivera artworks, undoubtedly, exist in the general population, just waiting to be discovered.

Toward that end, we have designed this segment of our website to include a definitive review of Rivera's canvas and paper art. Most importantly, to share with you our observations and reveal the nuances that earmark the changing look of Rivera's artistic style as it evolved over the years.


When Diego returned to Mexico from Europe in 1920, he also returned to a realistic painting style, abandoning Cubism forever. The subjects during this decade are predominately indigenous Mexican Indians, drawn realistically in full rounded sensual forms, wrapped in rich and sumptuous colors.

During the 1920's, Rivera also produced many drawings as completed works of art, not just study sketches. The drawings are usually done in pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolor or pen and ink. His subjects are drawn in a linear, two dimensional composition, with the same voluminous form as found in his paintings.


Bather of Tehuantepec 1923


The Grinder 1924

In many pieces, the subjects are used as details in his mural art. Two good examples are the easel paintings, the Bather of Tehuantepec and The Grinder, which are related to images painted in one of the panels in the Secretary of Public Education building, Mexico City.


Head of a Tehuantepec Woman 1923


Tobacco Seller 1923


Indian Woman Holding Baby


Peasant with Sombrero 1926


Diego Rivera returned to Mexico from the United States in the beginning of 1934 to work on several murals over the next several years but due to poor health he was only able to work sporadically on the large pieces. From 1937 to 1942 his primary artistic production consisted of a large quantity of oil paintings, drawings and watercolors.

Again his subject is primarily the ethnic Indian people and the Mexican landscape, for both of which he had a deep abiding affection. But we can see that even though the subjects are the same, the portrayal is different. The subjects are more abstracted, somewhat less realistic looking, projecting a more stylized dramatic image to the viewer. There is more contrast of light and dark, more break between the backgrounds and the front figures; creating a more individual presentation of planes of color; less melding of all the surfaces into one.

During the 1930's, he also sketched countless drawings of very ordinary subjects in his surroundings such as peasants, animals, flowers and especially children for the tourist trade.

There were probably more finished drawings produced during this time period than any other. Some of the drawings are more abstracted like his paintings but others are very realistically drawn images, as done in the past.

The pictures shown below illustrate these significant changes in his artistic style. In one of the images, painted in 1938, we can see the reemergence of the calla lily imagery that will become so prevalent in the next decade of his easel paintings.


Huarache Sale 1936


Seated Women 1936


Roots 1937


Copalli 1937


Mexican Peasant with Sombrero and Sarape 1938


Indian Woman with Marigolds 1938


Profile of an Indian Woman with Calla Lilies 1938





Flower Vendor

Diego Rivera's artwork from the1940's decade contain the most familiar images for most people today. These are the paintings that are made into wall poster art, calendars, post cards and book jackets for the present day marketplace.

The subjects remain primarily ethnic Indians and Mexican landscapes but the subjects move even more toward an abstracted image of interrelated planes of color, rather than a realistic representation of the subjects. The colors become totally high contrast which projects an intensely dramatic effect. There is a proliferation of the calla lily images in the paintings of this period, even though they were first introduced in 1925, Rivera did not use them extensively until the 1940's decade. The calla lilies are probably the most memorable imagery of all of Diego Rivera's easel paintings.

There need only be one picture shown in this segment depicting the 1940's decade, as you will find many other representational pictures from this time period throughout our website, all with a chronologically coordinated text/picture dateline.