Diego Rivera's Lost Painting


Several years ago, Robert Mc Donald, owner and co-founder of Bond Latin Gallery in San Francisco, acquired a drawing depicting a flower festival by Diego Rivera.  

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More Than A Drawing

Upon examining the piece Robert noticed several details that indicated that the drawing may be a working drawing for a larger piece such as a large painting or mural.  However, Mc Donald did not recognize the painting that the drawing corresponded to, nor could he find it in Diego Rivera's catalogue raisonné.  

Robert then contact the Diego Rivera Museum in Mexico City, to find out if someone at the museum knew something about the drawing. However, the museum was unable to find anything in their records indicating a larger work, which corresponded to the drawing.  Robert was still convinced that piece was in fact a working drawing because the evidence was so strong.

The first piece of evidence that the the piece was a working drawing for a a large painting or mural was the presence of a grid, there were faint pencil marks across the drawing that created a barley noticeable grid across the entire height and width of the piece. 

The reason this is indicative of a working drawing is because artists will often create a grid to help translate a small drawing into a larger work. By creating a grid, the artist can see where each part line, shape or form should be placed in a larger format. A grid also helps break down a large wall or canvas into more manageable pieces.

Robert also noticed several parts of the drawing that had been erased, which was very peculiar for Diego Rivera. Rivera rarely erased anything in his drawings, he had an organic style of drawing predicated on confident bold strokes. The use of the eraser indicates that Rivera did not create the drawing as a final product but instead, used it as a working drawing. It appeared to be plan for something else, not a final product in itself. 

The Note

When Robert acquired the drawing, it came in a shabby, old frame. The piece stayed in the frame for months until, Mc Donald decided to remove it so that he could have it re-framed in something more fitting. Upon removing the drawing from the frame, he found a note tucked away from view that appeared to be in Rivera's handwriting.  

The note exclaimed that the image was a cartoon drawing for a piece owned by Margarette Lopez of Fresno, California.  Mc Donald looked up Margarette Lopez and found a woman by the same name who lived and died in Fresno California.  

He then visited the Fresno Art Museum's website and saw a close up picture of a painting by Diego Rivera that appeared to correspond with the drawing.  Mc Donald contacted the museum and requested to see an image of the entire painting.  The museum sent him an image.  After seeing the image of the entire piece, Robert had no doubt that it was the painting that corresponded to the drawing. The title of the painting was Fiesta Pueblerina.

Courtesy of Fresno Art Museum

Courtesy of Fresno Art Museum

Diego Rivera's Catalogue Raisonné

Robert returned to Rivera’s catalogue raisonné to look for Fiesta Pueblerina. He found the painting in the catalogue, dated 1931.  And this time, he found the drawing as well; it was listed next to the painting also dated 1931 and in an entirely different part of the catalogue than Robert had previously looked.

However, the actual drawing by Rivera was clearly dated 1925 in the lower left hand corner and it would be very odd for rivera to create a drawing 6 years before executing the painting.

Robert asked the Fresno Art Museum if they had more information on the painting. A representative of the museum told Robert that they also had a series of letters, which corresponded between Diego Rivera and Margarette Lopez. They shared the letters with Robert and he was able to see that the painting was created in 1925 (the same year as the drawing).  

So after months of research and phone calls, Robert discovered that the drawing was in fact in Rivera’s catalogue raisonné, but mis-labeled; and he was able to verify the correct information.

Arté Mexicano at the Crocker Museum

The same year all of this took place, Robert was curating a show for the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, California.  The show was called Arte Mexicano: Legacy of the Masters and included work by Mexican masters such as Rufino Tamayo, Leonora Carrington and of course, Diego Rivera.  

Because Robert had this drawing and was in touch with the Fresno Art Museum who had the painting, he reached out to ask if they would loan the piece for the upcoming exhibition at the Crocker Museum. The museum in Fresno agreed, and Robert was able to include both the drawing and the painting in the show.

This is very unusual, to have both a painting and its working drawing side by side on the same wall, and was a terrific insight for museum goers to be able to peer into Rivera’s artistic process.

Robert also attached a photograph of the painting, Fiesta Pueblerina and Diego Rivera's original note to Margarette Lopez to the back of the drawing's frame, so that the history of Diego Rivera's lost painting will not be forgotten.  

The drawing has now sold and is in a private collection in California.