Diego Rivera

Doctora Mexicana (Retrato de Irma Mendoza), 1950

Oleo / tela
71 x 50 cm

Actresses Columba Domínguez and María Félix, bullfighter Helen N. Starr, dancer Ana Mérida, philosopher and civil rights advocate Corliss Lamont, and pioneering surgeon Irma Mendoza: these diverse personalities share little except that in the early 1950s, each had his or her portrait painted by Diego Rivera. From the early 1930s until his death in 1957, Rivera's San Angel studio was a leading destination for foreign visitors and leading Mexican socialites with the means to commission a work from the country's most famous artist. In many of Rivera's portraits, the sitters simply occupy one of the equipales that decorated his studio, with a woven petate or pre-Columbian sculpture from his collection added to provide some local atmosphere. Although poet John Dunbar holds a book (1931), milliner Henri de Chatillón models a woman's hat (1944), and collector Chester Dale examines an art monograph (1945), in most of the portraits there is little indication of the sitter's occupation or passions. In his images of women, Rivera tended to exaggerate the model's sensuality (the most famous example, perhaps, is his highly eroticized 1943 portrait of Natasha Gelman), whether she appears in traditional costume or more fashionable couture. The straightforward portrait of Mendoza is thus exceptional: the doctor is shown as a professional, wearing her white surgeon's scrubs, her powerful hands and eyes emphasized above all else. Indeed, the Mendoza portrait is simpler than Rivera's Hands of Dr. Moore [Las manos del Doctor Moore] (1940; San Diego Museum of Art), a surrealist-inspired work in which the surgeon holds a sponge and scalpel, preparing to slice into a stylized anatomical image of veins, recast as a "tree of life." Both portraits, however, should be seen in the context of Rivera's long interest in medical practice and especially surgery, which he related to his own "practice." Images of operations appear in his work of the early 1920s, and medical imagery obviously dominates his The History of Cardiology [Historia de la cardiología], originally commissioned for the Instituto Nacional de Cardiología (1943-44), and The History of Medicine in Mexico [Historia de la medicina en México], in the Hospital de la Raza (1953).

Vide James Oles, Arte moderno de México. Colección Andrés Blaisten. Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005.

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