-Excerpt from Jonathan Kandell, “Diego and Me: Recalling Rivera,” Arts & Antiques, November, 2016, p. 72
Diego Rivera’s fame as the greatest Mexican muralist has at times obscured the merits of his small-format painting and his remarkable talent as one of the greatest portraitist of the twentieth-century. The master had a fascination for exploring the human condition, and dedicated hundreds of watercolors and drawings to illustrating the dignity of Mexico’s indigenous people who far from being depicted as anonymous caricatures, were often captured by the artist’s brush in their greatest individuality. Such regard for personality is particularly evident in Rivera's portraits of children, one of his favorite themes from the 1920s onward. His marriage to Guadalupe Marín Preciado gave him two children: Guadalupe and Ruth, who he lovingly called “Pico” and “Chapo,” and who he painted numerous times throughout his life.
Painted in in 1955, and until now unknown to collectors and scholars, the present work is a lovely example of Rivera’s keen interest in capturing the restlessness of childrens’ personalities, a quality aptly demonstrated in this portrait of Jonathan Kandell. Far from the conventions of his time, Rivera preferred to underline the contradictions between the education of the bourgeoisie and the free spontaneity of children. Against the accepted notion of a well-behaved child, correctly dressed in a vest, a red tie and impeccable white shirt - as if he were an adult in formation – Rivera depicts the inquisitive look of the child, who gazes analytically out at the painter, as if to understand the great personality of the master and, eventually, that of any spectator who views his portrait.
The artist seats Kandell in a Mexican equipal chair, symbolically contrasting with his American identity. As he leans towards his left side, the boy finds comfort in the soft fur of the cat he caresses with his little hands and that partially hides him from the scrutiny of the viewer. The compositional artifice recalls the mastery of the cubist portraits Rivera painted between 1912 and 1917. Here, too, the composition is marked by a diagonal that breaks the verticality of the painting. This serves as an axis for the artist to play with the position of the arms, elbows and hands of little Jonathan, creating convex angles and eloquent dynamics, cleverly portraying the personality of a restless, sensitive and intelligent child.
Professor Luis-Martín Lozano
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