- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (November 3, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679430423
- ISBN-13: 978-0679430421
- Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 7 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera Hardcover – November 3, 1998
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What confidence and ambition it requires to approach a biography of Diego Rivera, the larger-than-life Mexican muralist who in recent years has been reduced, in some circles, to being known as Frida Kahlo's evil husband. The myths and mysteries begin at his birth, in 1884. His mother seemed to die just after Diego, a firstborn twin, emerged, and her body was laid out for burial, until an old servant insisted she was still breathing. She recovered fully (Diego's twin died at age 2). This macabre event was but the first in a fabulously eventful life.
Under the brutal regime of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, whose legacy included human slavery on an unprecedented scale, Mexico City became "The Paris of the Americas," with imperial palaces, European music, and decorations by artists who had studied under Ingres. "It was in this exuberant, chaotic, and occasionally dangerous world that Diego Rivera grew up," writes Patrick Marnham, who casts a spell of such strangeness, beauty, and black humor that the reader is utterly hooked by the end of the first few pages. Marnham repeats and analyses all the fables Rivera spun about himself and his family; he describes Rivera's enchantment with Italian fresco cycles and his friendship and rivalry with Picasso in Montmartre in the 1920s; he reports Rivera's countless amorous conquests; and he presents the supposedly feminist view of Rivera as a monster of appetite, arrogance, and authority. Marnham also does an excellent job of picking apart the personal, political, and artistic threads of the disastrous brouhaha over Rivera's Rockefeller Center murals. In prose that is poetically rich and frequently tinged with not-so-gentle irony, he has written a thoroughly believable book about an all but unbelievable life. --Peggy Moorman
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
The book takes you from Rivera's childhood in Mexico to his student painting days in Paris, Moscow, and Spain to his success in Mexico as a muralist and then on to a productive, but turbulent, period in the 1930s in the United States. It ends with his later artistic life in Mexico.
Before reading the book, I had only the briefest knowledge of Rivera as a muralist and the husband of Frida Kahlo, an artist in her own right and whose life is the subject of many books. What I did not know is that he was quite a force not only in art but also as a political figure. I get the impression that he was equally as famous for his mural artwork as he was for his socialist views, many of which are portrayed in his murals. He and Frida Kahlo were members of the Communist party in Mexico and even entertained Leon Trotsky in their famed Casa Azul home in the late 1930s.
There's way too much detailed information in the book to cover in a review, but one of threads in the book is Rivera's famous and infamous infidelities. I lost count of the number of his affairs with many women, even including Kahlo's sister.
One episode I found interesting was his business dealings with the Rockefeller family and a mural commissioned for the opening of Rockefeller Center in 1933. Without going into all the intriguing details, it was ultimately destroyed before it was unveiled due to Rivera's adding a portrait of Lenin, which was not in the original design of the mural.