DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
AN INVITATION FROM MUSSOLINI
IN THE SAME YEAR, 1936, I was invited to paint in Italy. The offer came from Mussolini himself, through a most unique envoy, Margherita Sarfatti, an acquaintance of my Paris days, who had been Mussolini's mistress.
In 1908, when I first met Margherita, she was a member of the "salon set," also frequented by Angelica Balabanova. Around these two beautiful young women clustered such men as Modigliani, Riccioto Canudo, the brothers Garibaldi, and Margherita's lover of the time, Valentine de Saint Point. One activity of the group was the publication of a magazine which was regarded as an organ of the French imperialists.
The one member of the group who differed politically from the others was Angelica. She was, in fact, a personal friend of Lenin and one of the most eminent social revolutionaries in Paris. During this period Mussolini, then an Italian Socialist leader, became Angelica's lover. Soon he was the puppet of the fiery Angelica, echoing her every word and thought; for a time in fact, Angelica was Mussolini's brain. Then one day, at the home of Saint Point, Mussolini met and fell in love with Margherita, deserted Angelica, and took Margherita as his mistress. Assuming Angelica's old role, Margherita turned his thinking completely about, nurturing the germ of fascism which had always lain dormant in Il Duce's mind.
My telephone rang at one o'clock in the morning. I picked up the receiver and heard Misrachi at the other end of the line. Apologizing for disturbing me at this late hour, he jubilantly informed me that a very lovely European lady had purchased every painting of mine in his gallery and was going to take them all back with her to Europe. Before she left, however, she wanted to speak to me personally. Misrachi urged me to grant her this favor. I had no idea then who she might be, but when I heard her voice on the telephone, I immediately recognized it as Margherita's.
She said, "Diego, you old fool, I've been thrown over by the Old Man and now even you refuse to talk to your old Parisian friend. I wanted to speak to you, not for personal reasons, but because I have a message from him which I must give you before I leave Mexico. Mussolini instructed me to tell you how much your work is appreciated in Italy, and that anytime you wish to come to Italy, you're welcome. You can paint whatever you like, and everything you need will be at your disposal. He also said this: if you ever feel there's no safe place left in the world for you to plant your feet, you'll always find a haven in Italy."
I answered Margherita politely -- my politeness based solely upon my former acquaintance with Mussolini and herself: "Thank you for your message, Margherita, and thank Mussolini for his invitation. But tell Mussolini that I am quite certain he'll have dire need for a safe place to put his feet much sooner than I."
It was my year to be prophetic. As in the case of Pani, my chance remark proved to be an augury. Ten years later my old fellow Parisian, Mussolini, was strung up with his feet high in the air.