Diego Rivera, ‘Liberation of the Peon’, Philadelphia Museum of Art

This is one of eight "portable" fresco panels that Rivera made for his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1931. Rivera based the panel on another of the same title that he painted in 1923 for the Ministry of Public Education building in Mexico City.
During the revolution in Mexican society in the 1920s and 1930s, Diego Rivera was a leader among the core group of artists dedicated to creating a radical public art. Monumental murals for government buildings, designed for the public, were ideally suited to these artists' socialist commitment to presenting a visual "people's history" of Mexico. For his mural commissions, Rivera revived the Italian Renaissance fresco tradition of applying pigments ground in water to a moist lime plaster wall surface. Liberation of the Peon is one of eight moveable frescoes that he created for his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1931, which traveled to Philadelphia. Based on an image in the large decorative scheme Rivera painted for the Ministry of Public Education in Mexico City in 1923, it shows four revolutionary soldiers releasing a dying peasant from the stake where he had been tied and flogged. In an allusion to Christ's descent from the cross the soldiers lower the naked, lacerated body and prepare to wrap it in a red robe. The tragedy is made more stark by the staring eyes of the horses, innocent witnesses to oppression. John B. Ravenal, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 322.

Image rights: © 2014 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris, 1943

About Diego Rivera

Inspired by Renaissance frescoes and motivated by a conviction in the value of public art, Diego Rivera found his calling as a muralist. A visit to the Soviet Union informed his signature earth-toned, Social Realist style. In accordance with his Marxist views, he “made the masses the heroes of monumental art,” painting narrative scenes championing indigenous Mexican culture and workers who toiled in the name of progress. Detroit Industry (1932-3), a 27-panel tribute to the city’s labor force, reveals Rivera’s interest in the form and function of industrial technology. While his concern for the working class resonated in the United States, his inclusion of a portrait of Lenin in Man at the Crossroads (1933), a mural commissioned for Rockefeller Center in New York City, proved highly controversial.

Mexican, 1886-1957, Guanajuato, Mexico, based in Mexico City, Mexico