Art of the Mexican Revolution 2: Revolution, War

from exhibitions at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016 and at the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art in 2020 and the collection of the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA in New York.


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



José Guadalupe Posada 1851–1913

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 struggle and grief of the Revolution, and the aims of post-Revolution left-wing governments to rectify the causes of the Revolution were represented by artists primarily using two media: murals and prints.


These artists were on the left of the political spectrum, adhering to the Communist view of historical evolution.  Some belonged to one wing or the other of the Communist Party. Siqueiros was a Stalinist and, appalled at the arrival of Leon Trotsky in Mexico, he involved himself in the first, and unsuccessful, plot to kill him in May 1940.


The murals of the Mexican muralists, especially of the three known as Los Tres Grandes, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, 

made them internationally famous before ever they left Mexico for the United States where they also left a record of their mural work


The muralists in particular and the work of the larger group of Mexicans who depicted the Revolution and its aims had a large effect on North American art. 


North American artists take up the subject of social inequality and the fight to rectify it;


and Jackson Pollock, a student of both Orozco and Siqueiros, learned their techniques which he went on to pioneer among his North American colleagues.




A repesentation of the cost in lives of the Revolution


                 A representation of the agreement to end the armed phase of the revolution 


Francisco I. Madero, José María Pino Suárez, Venustiano Carranza, Emiliano y Eufemio Zapata, Francisco Villa, Felipe Ángeles, Álvaro Obregón y Plutarco Elías Calles, are depicted here.

The woman in red represents the whole nation.


President Porifio Diaz is represented among his well-heeled supporters


Four scenes from the Dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz to the Revolution, a mural created between 1957 and 1964

 David Alfaro Siquieros at the National Museum of History, Chapultec Castle.



The proximate cause of the Revolution was the corruption and cronyism and constitutional constipation of the Porfirio Diaz government which had been in power for 31 years.


This corruption was one symptom of a system of government in which the goodies of Mexico were siphoned off to a tiny elite, descendants of European immigrants from the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, while the great majority of the population was held in peonage.





Troubled Waters, 1949, oil on canvas. 

Jesus Chavez Morado, 1909-2002, Mexican.  Loaned by the Secretario de Haciendo y Credito, Mexico City to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016.


The perennial stratification of Mexican society with its attendant corruption and injustice is shown as an allegory.




It was, however, prints which, according to guidance from the Met, NY, most fully expressed the history of the Revolution and the goals of those who fought for it. 

Prints – which have a history in Mexico starting in the 16th century – were published in the thousands from the Revolution onwards, including through the years of WW2; and dispersed everywhere.   




Open Air School, 1932, lithograph.

Diego Rivera.  Loaned by the MacNay Art Museum, San Antonio to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2020




Taller de Gráfica Popular (the Popular Graphic Art Workshop), founded in 1937 in Mexico City,  took off where the master printer, José Guadalupe Posada, had left off.


The Workshop created thousands of prints for both popular consumption and for collectors and was internationally famous for its expertise.  







The revolution throughout Mexico began  on  November 10, 1909, two days after the events portrayed below.


Aquiles Serdan, a shoemaker from Puebla, was imprisoned in 1909 for anti-government activities.  He objected to the repressive nature of the government of President Porfiro Diaz.  Serdan escaped from jail.  The Government sent troops to his house. 


He, his family and some friends took to arms.  He died in this fight.





Aquiles Serdan and his Family Firing the Shots that Began the Revolution; linocut, 1947; from the portfolio ‘Estampas de la revolución Mexicana’.

Fernando Castro Pacheco, 1918-2013, Mexican.  Metropolitan Musuem, NY 





Emiliano Zapata’s supporters attacking a train, scene from the Mexican Revolution; metal plate engraving, 1911.  

José Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1851–1913).  Metropolitan Museum of Art from whose website this photo.




The population of Mexico is said to have been 95% illiterate at the time of the Revolution.  Thus the enormous effect and efficacity of the many large murals commissioned for public buildings; and of the prints in paper media of all kinds.



The revolution’s first seven years – 1910 to 1917 – was of armed conflict.  This phase of the Revolution ended in 1917 with a Constitution which brought in some of the agrarian reforms for which so many took up arms in 1910. 


It is believed that as much as 10% of the population of Mexico died as a direct result of the Revolution.



Follows work which depicted the suffering and turmoil of the Revolution.


Rear Guard, 1929, lithograph.  José Clemente Orozco.  Metropolitan Museum of Art






Proletarian Mother, 1929, oil on burlap.  David Alfaro Siqueiros. 

Loaned to the Whitney, NY in 2020 by the Museum Nacional de Arte, Mexico City







The Rape, 1926-28, brush and black ink and wash over traces of graphite on bluff wove paper.

Jose Clemente Orozco. On display at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016




The Uprising, 1931, fresco on re-inforced cement in a galvanized steel framework.

  Diego Rivera. Private loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2020








Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931, charcoal on paper. 

Diego Riviera.  Private collection loan to the Whitney, NY in 2020






Bandolier, Corn, and Sickle, c. 1927, gelatin silver print.  Tina Modotti. 

Private loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016





Zapatistas, 1931, oil on canvas.  José Clemente Orozco

Loaned by MOMA, NY to the Whitney, NY in 2020





Zapatistas, 1932, oil on canvas. 

Alfredo Ramez Martinez.  Loaned by the San Francisco Museum of Art to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016.




Proletarian Victim, 1933, enamel on burlap. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros. Loaned by MOMA, NY to the Whitney in 2020 


It is believed that the artist based this on a press photograph taken in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation.  Removing all elements which would situate it there, it is thought that he intended this image to represent the widespread persecution of Communists.






Revolutionary March, 1935, pyroxylin on copper. 

David Alfred Siqueiros. Loaned by the Palm Springs Museum of Art to Whitney Museum, NY in 2020






Woman Carrying a Coffin, oil and Duco on panel, c. 1936. 

Luis Arenal Bastar, 1909-1985, Mexican.  On exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016







Barricade, 1938, oil on canvas (with light interference).

José Clemente Orozco.Loaned by MOMA, NY to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016.


This is a large easel painting executed in New York.  It is based on a mural panel from the first mural the artist executed at the National Preparatory School (a high school) in Mexico City. 

The cross which appears in the design of this painting is a symbol of the sacrifice of those who engaged in the Revolution.







The Dead Girl, 1938, oil on panel.

Juan Soriano, 1920-2006, Mexican.  Philadelphia Museum of Art





The Orator, 1939, oil on canvas. 

Antonio Ruiz, 1892-1964, Mexican. A loan from a private collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016. 

Pumpkins in Spanish (Mexico) is slang for someone who lacks intelligence or common sense.






Compassion (Man in Bondage), tempera on newsprint, 1940.

Alfredo Ramos Martinez.  On loan to the Philadelphia Museum in 2016.





Our Present Image, 1947, pyroxylin on fiberglass.

David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Loaned to the Whitney Museum, NY by the Museo de Arte Moderna, Mexico City in 2020. 


The meaning of this image is not precisely known.  It is known, though, that hands were symbolic for this artist of the heroic strength of workers fighting for rights, justice and equity.







The Devil in the Church, 1947, pyroxylin on Celotex. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros.  On exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016. 


A devil has broken in through a ceiling arch.  Some of the congregation are bowing down.  Others have arms raised.  Wealthy people are looking down from the choir.

It is thought that this painting condemns the Church’s long alliance with the State against the interests of a majority of the people.






World War II





The Birth of Fascism, 1936-45, pyroxilin on Masonite. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Loaned by MOMA, NY to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016.


The artist removed references to th birth of Hitler, Mussolini and William Randolph Hearst; and an image of the Statue of Liberty sinking;  and left only a swastika bobbing in the water.





Collective Suicide, 1936, lacquer on wood with applied sections. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros.  MOMA, NY






Fascism, 8th Lecture: How to Combat Fascism, 1939, lithograph poster.

  Jesus Escobedo, 1918-1978, Mexican.  Philadelphia Art Museum






Echo of a Scream, 1937, enamel on wood. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Loaned by MOMA, NY to the Whitney, NY in 2020. 


The source of this image is a photograph in The National Graphic in 1925 taken by H.T. Cowling of a Kenyan woman and her child.  The red drape represents Communism. 

The devastation in the background is that of the effect of war by Fascist forces in Europe on civilians. 

When he finished this painting, the artist left to join the Republicans in their war in Spain.






War, 1939, nitrocellulose on composition board. 

David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Loaned by the Philadelphia Art Museum to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2020






Dive Bomber and Tank, 1940, fresco, 6 panels.  MOMA, NY. 

José Clemente Orozco. MOMA, NY. 


The artist painted this work over 10 days at MOMA and said only that it represented the subordination of Man by the machinery of war.






The Lion and the Horse, 1942, oil on canvas.

Rufino Tamayo, on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington, St. Louis in 2016


For the artist, maddened animals represented the madness which war induces.




The Mad Dog, and detail, 1943, oil on canvas. 

Rufino Tamayo.  Philadelphia Art Museum


War is madness.






Detail of Victory, 1944, oil on canvas.  José Clemente Orozco.  Loaned by the Museum de Arte Carillo Gil, Mexico City to the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016.


The goddess of victory, Nike, has become a bloated, blood-red nude standing in blood and gore and accompanied by a skeleton army.









2 thoughts on “Art of the Mexican Revolution 2: Revolution, War

  1. Very powerful stuff! I’ve always loved Mexico, the stories, art and history, the ancient ones, but when I was young my wise old friend told me don’t go alone and I’ve never been there. I’d rather be in the real world Mexico than in a resort so I guess I might never get to go.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Chris.

    I agree: very powerful stuff. I still don’t know how this style originated. Nor did these exhibitions explain it.

    I have one friend who braved the ‘real’ Mexico alone. She had a very interesting time; but this was perhaps 10 or more years ago. Things have become more unstable in recent times.

    One would wish only that the 1909 revolution had not failed as it did because fewer of them woudl be on the border now.


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