Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s art is rich with symbolism, frequently referring to the history of the region where a given painting was installed. His Detroit Industry murals, commissioned by automobile magnate Edsel Ford in the 1930s, depict automotive workers and their machines. The 27 frescoes on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Rivera Court show the importance of manufacturing to the history of Detroit, imagery that is as relevant today as when it was painted.
On April 21, Swann Galleries is bringing to auction a manuscript that provides a privileged view into the symbols of Rivera’s creative world. In April 1933, shortly after completing the Industry murals, Rivera wrote an essay for publication in an American art journal that details his own interpretation of the frescoes. This signed and dated manuscript, written entirely in his hand, includes discussion of the principle he used to organize the paintings: “the undulating movement which one finds in water currents, electric waves, stratification of the different layers under the surface of the earth, and, in a general way, throughout the continuous development of life . . . .” He wrote the essay in French, to later be translated by an assistant into English, probably because he was less confident writing in English—but his fluency in images is undeniable. Rivera claimed the Industry murals to be his greatest work, and this manuscript goes some distance toward explaining why.