Lot 6
  • 6

Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Diego Rivera
  • Portrait of Jonathan Kandell
  • signed and dated 55 upper left
  • oil on canvas
  • 29 1/4 by 21 3/4 in.
  • 74 by 55 cm


Commissioned from the artist
Thence by descent to the present owner 


This work is in very good condition overall. The canvas is unlined and well-stretched. The media layer is stable. Light frame abrasion is present along the extreme left edge of the work. Minor spots of paint loss measuring less than 1/8 inch in diameter are present in the extreme upper left and lower right corners.They are also present in the lower right quadrant on the arm of the chair, and in the lower left quadrant below the chin of the cat. The work is ready to hang.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Diego painted my portrait when I was a child in Mexico City. My parents were American expats who moved to Mexico in 1950. Diego’s studio was two blocks from our home in San Angel, then a sleepy southern neighborhood of the capital, and I have vivid memories of sitting for hours while the great artist traced my likeness on canvas. In early 1955, my parents commissioned my portrait. I would arrive at the studio about 9 a.m. and spend an hour or two. I wore the formal boy’s attire of the day: white shirt, red tie, yellow wool vest and gray flannel pants. Diego was over six feet tall, close to 300 pounds and had wild, bulging eyes. But, nearing 70, he was frail from cancer and took about two weeks to finish the portrait. Only eight years old, I was restless, so Diego placed his black cat on my lap. It pacified the cat, which fell asleep. But I tilted leftwards, trying to see the artist’s work in progress. And in the end, Diego painted me that way. We talked about anything that came to mind. I would return home with stories Diego told me about wilder days during the 1920s, a few years after the Mexican Revolution ended. He and his friends would get drunk and shoot out the lights on the street lamps. When I asked Diego where his paints came from, he told me they were made of cactus juice and crushed beetles and thinned with tequila—mild fibs, as I realized years later, for Diego was a notorious fabulist…

-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
Art Historian