Tres Murals

It took a few years, but this week we finally visited (and photographed) the last of the three murals Diego Rivera painted in San Francisco.

The first fresco, completed in 1931, is called the "Allegory of California.” It covers the wall and ceiling of the grand stairwell at the City Club (then called the Pacific Stock Exchange Luncheon Club).

9-1701 Allegory of CA (FX01-1-418)

His second San Francisco work, also in 1931, is titled “The Making of a Fresco.” It depicts the building of a modern city and covers an entire wall of the San Francisco Art Institute (then called the California School of Fine Art).

9-1702 Making a Fresco (FX01-0-847)

9-1703 Panarama (FZ28-2-032)

In 1940, Rivera returned to San Francisco and painted “Pan American Unity” for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Years later, the mural was installed in the Diego Rivera Theater at San Francisco City College.

Created in five panels (10 sections), this 22’ x 75’ fresco weighs over 22 tons. Diego Rivera described it thusly: “My mural will picture the fusion between the great past of the Latin American lands, as it is deeply rooted in the soil, and the high mechanical developments of the United States.”

9-1705 Quetzalcoatl (FZ28-2-037)9-1706 Center Panel (FZ28-2-028)

If you’re not familiar with Diego Rivera (1886-1957), he’s one of Mexico’s most famous artists. In the 1920’s, he was hired by the Mexican government to paint murals on the walls of public buildings as part of a program to bring art and information to Mexico’s mostly illiterate masses. In the early 1920s, Rivera became world famous as he worked on 124 frescos on the walls of Ministry of Public Education buildings throughout Mexico. Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros were also part of the Mexican Mural Renaissance, and the three artists became known as los tres muralistas. “Their works … represented complex social and national themes, religious motifs, and a pre-Hispanic world view” (from rivermural).

You might also recognize Diego as Frida Kahlo’s husband. Their stormy relationship was portrayed in “Frida,” the 2002 movie. Frida is a major artist in her own right, and some say she’s even better than Diego. Some of her works are on display at the San Francisco MOMA. Between her injuries in a near-fatal bus accident and Diego’s relentless womanizing, Frida suffered great physical and emotional pain. Her pain is reflected in her art.

Some in America still fault Diego Rivera for his communist leanings. But it’s useful to keep in mind that, in the 1930s, capitalism had revealed its ugly downside due to the stunning excesses of our unfettered financial institutions. Luckily, that can’t happen again. Oh, wait …

In the lower left corner of this center panel, Diego painted himself sitting behind Freida Kahlo while unabashedly holding hands with Charlie Chaplin's wife, Paulette Goddard »»»»

Frida Kahlo (scan)

This 1940 self-portrait by Freida, wearing a thorn necklace, reflects her pain »»»»

The panel below was influenced by Picasso's "Guernica."

9-1708 Close-up (FZ28-2-033)

© Virginia E. Vail 2012