Artists of the Mexican Revolution 1

from exhibitions at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016 and at the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art in 2020


Major artists of the Revolution – all Mexican except Carlos Merida – were:


Alfredo Ramos Martinez, 1871-1946

José Clemente Orozco, 1883-1949

Diego Rivera, 1886-1957

Adolfo Best Maugard,1891-1964

Carlos Merida, 1891-1984, Guatemalan, active Mexico

Tina Modotti, 1896-1942 Manuel

Rodriguez Lozano, 1896-1971

Rufino Tamayo, 1899-1991

David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1896-1974

Miguel Covarrubias, 1904-1957

(Frieda Kahlo, 1907-1954) 


The revolution’s first seven years – 1910 to 1917 – was of armed conflict. It is thought that 10% of the population died in this conflict.


The 1917 Constitution, a radical constitution which recognized the need for agrarian reform, the right of the government to expropriate foreign interests; the protection of labor unions, brought an end to armed revolutionary activities.


The major political consequence of the revolution was the constitutional establishment of presidential government and the maturing of the political process of party formation.


Its socio-political consequence was to forge a national identity.


For the first time, the nefarious effects of a social stratification in which indigenous peoples and mestizos were left at the bottom of a hierarchy which sucked off all wealth and power to a tiny group of landowners of European descent were publicly recognized.



Artist Self-Portraits



Self-Portrait, 1921, oil on canvas. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Loaned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016




Self-Portrait, 1930.

Diego Rivera.  Loaned by a private collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016




The Communicating Vessels (Homage to Andre Breton), 1938, linoleum cut.

Diego Rivera.Private collection loan to the Philadelphia Museum in 2016.

Breton visited Mexico in 1938.  Here Rivera represents Surrealist belief in the relationship between a person’s interior and the exterior world by treating one eye as closed and the other as open.





Self-Portrait with Mirror, cellulose nitrate paint on board coated with phenolic resin, 1937.

David Alfaro Siqueiros. Loaned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to the Whitney, NY in 2020





Self-Portrait. 1935, oil on canvas. 

Carlos Merida. Private loan to Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016


After his move to Mexico in 1919, Merida became a muralist.  In the 1930s, he moved to Surrealism and portrays his eyes metaphorically as turned inwards towards inner vision which Surrealism holds to be a higher and more creative form of vision.



Self-Portrait on the Border Line between Mexico and the United States, 1932, oil on metal.

Frieda Kahlo.  Private collection loan to Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016. 


Kahlo travelled extensively in the US with her husband, Diego Rivera.  She represented what she saw as the confrontation of the two countries as one between indigenous and an industrial cultures.



My Dress Hangs There, 1933-1938, oil and collage on Masonite. 

Frieda Kahlo. Loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016. 

A painting of her scorn for the American way of life, Kahlo started this when she left the US and finished it five years later.

Her dress hangs in the middle of an invented panorama of a New York City full of breadlines, protestors, and throw-away garbage.



Portraits of Known Subjects





The Writer, 1925, oil on cardboard. Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, 1896-1971, Mexican. 

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016. 


Thought to be a portrait of the writer Salvador Novo, a member of the group, Contemporaneos, Novo was known for his wit and elegance, his refusal to hide his homosexuality or to go along with other forms of social conformity; and his refusal, with the whole group, to go along with the aims of political revolution.



Self-portrait of Adolfo Best Maugard, 1891-1964, Mexican.

Private collection on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.





Zapata, 1931, oil on canvas. 

David Alfaro Siquieros.  Loaned by the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2020


  A leader of the impoverished farmers of the state of Morelos and founder of the agrarian movement called Zapatismo, Emiliano Zapata, 1879-1919, played an important role in the Revolution and in post-revolutionary skirmishing for power.  He was assassinated in 1919. 

A national icon; a great deal of the land distribution reform sought by Zapata was enacted in the 1930s.




Portrait of Maria Izquierdo, 1932, Rufino Tamayo. 

Loaned by the Art Museum of Chicago to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016. 


Izquierdo and Tamayo shared a studio after they met at the National School of Fine Arts.  The museum noted that the role of an independent woman was not available to women until after the Revolution.






Artists of the revolution voluntarily and at the request of the post-revolutionary government aided the aims of the 1917 Constitution and of national reconciliation. 


Their primary tool was the mural: a public art easily accessed and easily understood by a population whose illiteracy rate in 1917 was above 95%.



Unlike the 3000 murals which have been painted in Philadelphia in the last 30 years, these murals seem to have been destined for the inner surfaces of rooms.  Not outside.  Their effect on people was thus direct and inescapable.


It was with their murals that Mexican artists had a significant effect on American art. The artists and their mural art arrived in the US just before and as the Great Depression was taking its toll.


The first to arrive in the US was Jose Clemente Orozco in 1927. He remained until 1934 and received and executed many commissions.


His first mural -Prometheus risking everything to bring fire to humankind – made him very well known:



 Reproduction of Prometheus, 1930, Frary Dining Hall, Pomona College, California. 

José Clemente Orozco




The Epic of American Civilization by José Clemente Orozco, painted between 1932 and 1934, is probably the most well-known of Orozco’s commissioned murals.  It was made for a reading room of Dartmouth College.


The artist takes the history of the Americas from the arrival of peoples to the continent until the height of the Aztec empire; and then from the arrival of Hernan Cortez to the present day.


Orozco presents America’s epic as cyclical in nature, the eternal return of destruction and creation, rather than a linear tale of democratic expansion and progress. This is a view directly opposed to the evolutionary view of Western thought and in line with that of many indigenous cultures.


These 24 panels have been declared a national historic landmark.


To view a full-screen panoramic image of the The Epic of American Civilization, click in the top left-hand corner:


Dartmouth Digital Orozco





Study for The Departure of Quetzalcoatl, panel 7 o the Dartmouth ensemble,, 1930-34. 

Jose Clemente Orozco. Loaned by the Hood Museum of Art to the Whitney, NY in 2020.






Christ Destroying His Cross, 1943, pyroxilin on wood. 

Jose Clemente Orozco.  Loaned to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2020 by Museum de Arte Carillo Gil, Inbal, Mexico City. 


The musuem noted that this painting mirrors one of the panels of the Darthmouth College Ensemble called Modern Migration of the Spirit. 

The image is an inversion of the traditional view.  Here Christ rejects his sacrificial destiny.  For the artist, Christianity did not impose cosmic order.  Instead it called for revolution against injustice and disorder.





Diego Rivera, the most famous of the muralists in 1930 and to this day, came to the United States in 1930.  He created murals in San Francisco and Detroit. 


In 1932, the Rockfeller Corporation commissioned him to create a mural on the ground floor of the its latest 66-story high-rise. 


The drawings were approved early in 1933. The mural was to be called: Man at the Crossroads (between war and the onward march to progress).


The artist, however, deviated from the drawings.  He presented, instead, a comparison between a decadent, self-indulgent, capitalist society and a virtuous, utopian Communist one.





Man, Controller of the Universe, fresco, 1934.  Diego Rivera.  Palace of the Fine Arts, Mexico.  Photo from the net


Nelson Rockfeller asked the artist to remove the portrait of Vladimir Lenin and when the artist refused, he was dismissed with full pay.


The following year, the fresco was destroyed. 


In retaliation, Diego Rivera painted a modified version in Mexico City:



 Detail of  Man, Controller of the Universe, 1934.  Diego Rivera.  Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City (Photo: by Joaquin Marrtinez), 




Liberation of the Peon, 1931, fresco on cement, galvanized steel framework. 

Diego Rivrera.  Philadelphia Art Museum 

This work derives from a fresco painted in 1923 at the Ministry of Public Education and is a secular reworking of The Lamentation by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy which the artist had visited two years prior.





Sugar Cane, 1931, fresco on cement, galvanized steel framework. 

Diego Rivera.  Philadelphia Art Museum. 

Based on a full-scale fresco at at sugar plantation in the state of Morelos.






Study for Colonial America from Portrait of America, c. 1933, graphite on paper. 

Diego Rivera. Loaned by the Museo Anahuacali to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016.

Study for one panel of a 21-panel mural painted for the Communist New Workers School, NY in 1933





The muralists’ effect on North American painters related to subject matter: a number of North Americans began openly to address issues of racial injustice and the degradation of war. These included Charles Wright and Philip Guston and Aaron Douglas. 


Jacob Lawrence credited Orozco for inspiring his Migration series of the 1940s.

Their effect extended also to the style of their work: large gestural paintings; bold, contrasting colours; clear legibility. 

That Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program has painted – in a partnership with high schools in the city – 3000 murals speaks to the enduring popularity of the mural.




Siqueiros founded the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop in New York City in 1936 with the explicit aim of teaching how to use art to fight Fascism.  There it was that Jackson Pollock saw paint dripped, poured and splashed on canvas tacked to the floor ten years before his own first drip painting.



The most politically radical of the the three muralists who came to the US – Rivera, Orosco and himself – he believed that new techniques and new media were needed for a new age.

One example:  he evolved the use of  quick-drying cement and automobile lacquer shot from a commercial spray-gun and preferred this to the traditional pigment-and-plaster fresco methods.  A second is pyroxylin, a synthetic lacquer paint which can be dripped, streaked, layered and reworked easily.


It was from his work and that of Orosco, that Jackson Pollock learned how to be bold.