DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
Portrait de Messieurs Kawashima et Foujita. 1914. Oil and collage on canvas. 31 x 29" (78.5 x 74 cm)
IN MY ONE-MAN SHOW at the Galerie Weill, at the beginning of 1914, I showed both Spanish and French landscapes, still lifes and portraits, including those recently completed of Fujita and Kawashima, "Young Girl with Artichokes," and "Young Girl with a Fan." This, my first European one-man show, was an emphatic declaration that Rivera had become a cubist.
Two works I
painted about this time, in which I still feel some
pride, are a large canvas called "The Girl Friend" and a portrait of
the sculptor Jacques Lipschitz, commonly known as "The Man in
the Sweater." Though I had still not mastered the cubist idiom, the
latter painting, in particular, was well received. Even today it is admired. Not long ago it was included in an exhibit of modern portraits
in the New York Museum of Modern Art. It is a well-constructed canvas, done with warmth and grace.
At the end of my show, in the pre-war months of 1914, Angeline and I made a trip to the Mediterranean island of Majorca, the largest and most beautiful of the islands off the coast of Barcelona. Among the friends who accompanied us were the beautiful dancer Varmanova and her Russian poet husband; the sculptor Jacques Lipschitz; a student friend of his named Landau; and an English painter whom we called Kenneth. Myself excepted, no one in our group believed that war would come. Angeline and our friends were all pacifists. Unable to conceive of violence on a large scale, they dubbed me "The Wild Cowboy" for believing that the "civilized" nations of Europe would soon fall upon one another in mass orgies of killing.
Despite my conviction that war was inevitable, I had joined my friends when they risked their necks in workers' demonstrations against war, and now I wished with all my heart that I would be proved wrong. It was not, however, long before they began to see how events were tending. On French Independence Day, July 14, 1914, we were all drinking and making merry when the news of the Austrian Archduke's assassination reached us, and it was reported that fighting was already going on in the Balkans.
Soon after, we took the ferry to Barcelona, where we heard the ominous report that Russia had just declared war upon Austria. However, Russia's allies, England and France, had not yet acted. Our company could not decide what to do, and it was with a feeling of helplessness that we reembarked for Majorca. As we neared the coast, we saw an English destroyer firing at a German submarine.
We stayed three months longer on the wonderful, isolated island, feeling as remote from the conflict on the continent as if we were in the South Seas. Finally, mobilization orders came for the Russian poet and the English painter, both of whom were reserve officers. The rest of us, Lipschitz who had tuberculosis, Landau who simply didn't want to be killed, and myself, citizen of a noncombatant country, huddled together in Barcelona for several days.
We had run out of money. We had expected to go back to Paris and there sell some of our work, but that was now impossible. Landau, whose father was a banker, succeeded in getting some cash, which he divided with the rest of us.
It didn't amount to much. My subsidy from the Veracruz government had vanished with the downfall of Madero in 1913, and Angeline and I had only one other source of money we could count on. Angeline had been commissioned to paint the Russian national emblem on the wall of the Russian consulate in Barcelona. The payment she received made it possible for us to exist a few more days.
Our situation was further aggravated by the surprise arrival of my mother and my sister from Mexico. Fearing that I might go off to the front, they had come to see me for what they thought might be the last time. So great had been their concern that they had not thought to arrange for passage back nor did they have the money to do so. Angeline and I now had to sell everything we owned to pay for their return tickets.
No sooner were they gone than another unexpected guest arrived, my cousin Juan Macias. He suddenly appeared one day in the doorway of our flat. He had been studying in Germany, where he had been the pet, not only of his tutors, but apparently, also, of many beautiful young frauleins. Juan was short but well built and exceptionally strong, and his favorite amusement was to have me punch him hard in the stomach, with all my might.
"Harder," he would say. "That didn't hurt at all."
For the mere pleasure of seeing the lovely boulevards of Barcelona, Juan accompanied me when I went painting street scenes. The girls of the town would sometimes gather round us in the belief that we were carnival artists. I, of course, wore my Mexican costume. Juan, having left Germany in a hurry, had brought along only the formal clothing he had been wearing -- a derby hat, a long jacket, a fancy dark-gray waistcoat, striped pants, and dapper shoes. It was easy to mistake him for a circus manager or a minor diplomat who had gone astray on his way to a consular reception.
Juan's tutor and other German friends had convinced him that Germany had become his second fatherland and that he owed some service to that nation. As his first assignment, he had been requested to return to Mexico and buy lemons, used in the manufacture of citric acid, important in war chemistry. A German-American electrical concern had given him a large sum of money to carry out this task.
Juan decided that he could act more effectively with a title of nobility, and that had been his reason for coming to see me. He knew I could revalidate my family title before the Spanish court simply by paying the required taxes. Through my paternal grandfather and father, I was entitled to the rank of marquis under the then existing Spanish monarchy.
Though I ridiculed the scheme, I paid the taxes from money Juan gave me and then renounced the title in his favor for a further sum.
With this latter money, Angeline and I were able to leave Barcelona. We journeyed to Madrid, where we decided to remain awhile and work. It was now impossible to paint in France, and many other artists had already left Paris to work in Madrid. Among these were Robert Delaunay, the remarkable colorist, a man full of vitality and pretension; his Russian wife, also a talented artist; Marie Laurencin and her husband, a gifted and wealthy German painter who had refused to fight against France for the German bankers; and our old friend Maria Gutierrez Blanchard, who was now doing original and beautiful work. We also met two of my countrymen, the writer Alfonso Reyes and the architect and art critic Jesus Guizo y Acevedo, whom a turn of Mexican politics had forced to remain in Madrid.
While in Majorca, I had continued my experiments with cubism. I had attempted to achieve new textures and tactile effects by mixing substances like sand and sawdust in oils. Utilizing the results, I had done several interesting landscapes. In Madrid, I now painted some portraits with unusual textures, the most notable being ones I did of Guizo and Ramon de la Serna. All of these paintings contained innovations later employed by the surrealists. At that time, however, they were part of my cubist experiments.
Portrait of Ramon Gomez de la Serna
I also did a painting of a Madrid bull ring which still interests me today. This canvas and a landscape of Majorca are in the collection of Alfonso Reyes. Another Majorca landscape is owned by my first Mexican wife, Lupe Marin.
During my stay in Madrid, Serna arranged a showing of the works of some of the refugee artists. He dubbed our group Los Integros, because of our wish to express ourselves with complete integrity. The peculiar subject matter of our paintings was thus also given a certain moral varnish, always necessary in Madrid.
The public of Madrid, however, accustomed to a diet of pre-cooked academicism, responded coldly to Serna's exhibit. The reaction of the native artists and intellectuals veered between indulgent pity and outright contempt; the ordinary people laughed openly and made jokes about our subjects and techniques.
Just after this unfortunate experience, I completed my portrait of Serna. The stir it created was quite unlike anything I might have imagined.
Placed in the window of the gallery which had housed the exhibition of Los Integros, it immediately attracted crowds of arguing and jeering people. Men and women fought and pushed to get a closer view. Traffic on the boulevard came to a virtual standstill. Three days later, the Mayor of Madrid himself ordered the painting removed from the window.
The portrait showed the head of a decapitated woman and a sword with a woman's hair on its point, plainly the weapon which had beheaded the woman. In the foreground was an automatic pistol. Beside it and in the center of the canvas was a man holding a pipe in one hand, in the other a pen with which he was writing a novel. He had the appearance of an anarchistic demon, inciting crime and the general overthrow of order. In this Satanic figure everyone recognized the features of Serna, notorious for his opposition to ever conventional, religious, moral, and political principle. But the Spanish people, I believe, responded to something more than an effective caricature. The portrait of Serna caught the prevailing spirit of violent disintegration. It gave a presence to their deepest fears with an intensity which their own academic painting had not prepared them for.
After the spring
of 1915, I left Madrid for Paris. I took with me
all the paintings I had done in Spain except the Serna portrait,
which I had given to Serna himself.