Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera

Patrick Marnham, Author
Patrick Marnham, Author Alfred A. Knopf $35 (368p) ISBN 978-0-679-43042-1
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Hardcover - 289 pages - 978-0-7475-3108-1
Paperback - 350 pages - 978-0-520-22408-7
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-7475-4450-0
Ebook - 350 pages - 978-0-520-92515-1
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From the salons of Europe before the Great War to the walls of post-revolutionary Mexico, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) left behind a legacy that was larger than life in every way. Everything about the ""bebe monstrueux,"" as Rivera was nicknamed by his mentor, the art critic Elie Faure, was huge: his size, his artistic output, the number of his mistresses and, as Marnham (The Man Who Wasn't Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon) demonstrates, his capacity for self-invention. Retracing the steps of writers who've tackled Rivera's life and times before him, Marnham attempts to separate the facts from the fables surrounding the man. Throughout, he provides just enough context so that the backdrop against which Rivera lived his peripatetic, even swashbuckling life--the Spain of Alfonso XIII and the ""free republic of Montparnasse,"" where, surrounded by such artists as Picasso and Modigliani, Rivera flirted with cubism before turning to large-scale, figurative tributes to socialism and Mexican history--assumes its proper proportion. Marnham's considerable research also permits him to demonstrate just how Rivera kept his political and commercial interests alive, at least until he matched wits with the developers of Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, who destroyed a mural they had commissioned because it included a portrait of Lenin. Especially helpful is his synopsis of the work of Faure, whose conviction that the future of art lay in a rebirth of the Italian fresco tradition of public art changed the painter's life. In recent years, Rivera has been somewhat overshadowed by the attention paid to one of his wives, artist Frida Kahlo. This thoroughly engrossing biography, which is the first on Rivera since Bertram Wolfe revised his seminal study in 1963, begins to redress the imbalance. Sixteen color and 32 b&w illustrations not seen by PW. (Nov.)
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