Liberation of the Peon

José Diego María Rivera, Mexican, 1886 - 1957

Date:
1931

Medium:
Fresco

Dimensions:
73 x 94 1/4 inches (185.4 x 239.4 cm)

Copyright:
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
Modern and Contemporary Art

Object Location:

* Great Stair Hall, first floor

Accession Number:
1943-46-1

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris, 1943

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Label:
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.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    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.

  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    This portable fresco panel was painted by Rivera in New York on the occasion of his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, which opened in December 1931 and later traveled to Philadelphia. A leading figure in the Mexican mural movement, Rivera sought to illustrate Mexican history, before and after the revolution of 1911-17, in a direct and straightforward way that could be understood by the masses. To achieve this aim, the muralists had revived the Italian Renaissance fresco tradition of applying pigments ground in water to a moist lime plaster wall surface. Rivera wanted the North American public to see the art form for which he was most famous, and since his murals were permanently situated on the walls of public buildings in Mexico, he decided to paint a series of movable frescoes. The artist was given a spacious studio in the Museum of Modern Art building and completed eight fresco panels during his stay there. Liberation of the Peon is adapted from a mural cycle in the Ministry of Public Education building in Mexico City, painted in 1923.

    Liberation of the Peon symbolizes the struggle to free peasants from a life of unremitting toil, as four revolutionary soldiers release a man who has been severely flogged and left for dead. Rivera designed his composition to echo scenes of Christ's descent from the cross and the Lamentation. The soldiers attend the naked, lacerated peon and prepare to wrap him in a red robe, while the burning hacienda in the background heralds the end of colonial exploitation. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 67.


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