In a time when famous artists' paintings sell for millions of dollars, it is difficult to understand that the same artworks were ever considered so worthless that they could have completely disappeared from the world. We can better understand this loss if it occurs before an artist gains fame. But it is baffling that any piece executed by a renowned living artist could be so carelessly handled as to be misplaced or lost.
It seems that both mishaps, those of lost artworks before and after lifetime fame, have occurred to Diego Rivera's artworks. Again, in the case of this artist's work, it seems that not only have a multitude of paintings and drawings been lost, but we have even managed to misplace a couple of murals.
There is a fascinating story that tells the absurdity of just such an event. In 1978, the Detroit Institute of Arts decided to have the first exhibition in Detroit devoted to Rivera's work since the completion of his Detroit Industry murals, fifty years earlier. In the course of preparation for this exhibit, files within major museums were located that were filled with extensive daily work journals and photographs of Diego's Detroit frescos.
The photographs showed full-size cartoon drawings that were used in the execution of the murals. They had been intended as a gift to the Institute, but information in the files indicated that the drawings had been lost.
Gratefully, this extraordinary tale had a happily-ever-after-ending.
About six month later, when the Institute was searching for its original building blueprints, the cartoons were discovered in the back of a dark storage closet. To the art world it was like finding a national treasure. The Institute received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to restore and mount the drawings. They worked diligently for over three years to prepare these masterpieces for a 50th Anniversary celebration of the completion of the Detroit Industry frescoes, painted by Diego Rivera.
Shown in the next picture is the floor of the Detroit Institute of Art where the cartoons were unrolled, examined and photographed after their story book discovery.
Photograph Detroit Industry Cartoons
Photograph Detroit Industry Cartoons
Detroit Industry, Making of a Motor Cartoon
If there is one fact that is undeniable, it is the constancy of Diego's sketching and drawing. During his years in Europe, sitting in the sidewalk cafes, it was often joked that Diego was always ready to make a masterpiece. He even carried different sized sketch pads in every pocket of his jacket to fit any type of image he might want to capture. Therefore, it is quite puzzling that no drawings can be found from the years 1910 to 1912, his first two years in Europe. It is believed that because he was unknown in Europe in the first two years of his career, that his drawings simply drifted into obscurity.
Even stranger, there are only fifteen known drawings from 1913 to 1917, the years in which he was becoming quite well recognized as one of the major avant-garde artists of Paris. There is no doubt that Rivera would have executed multiple drawings during this time as studies for each of his Cubist paintings. It can only be presumed that all his drawings from these six years are scattered throughout Europe, probably mostly unrecognized today.
The next picture illustrates one of the fifteen drawings from the year 1913.
Paris Cityscape 1913
Sleeping Woman 1921
When Diego was invited to return to Mexico to participate in the Art Renaissance of large scale mural painting, he took a detour through Italy to study the great Italian fresco painters of the 14th Century. He spent seventeen months in Italy, completing over 300 sketches of the Italian Renaissance. Most of these sketches have also disappeared, believed to be scattered throughout Europe, Mexico and the United States. Thankfully, his common-law wife, Angeline Beloff, kept thirty-one of them bound in a portfolio which she entrusted to Jean Charlot in Paris, or we would have no drawings from this lengthy period of time either.
The next picture illustrates one of his drawings executed during this time period.
One of the most unusual sources of multiple quantities of artworks is the miniature watercolors that Diego drew on small slivers of cigarette paper. They are considered quite rare today, but it is not known if that is because there were not very many of them produced or whether, due to their smallness, they could easily be lost. Shown in the next picture is an example of one of these miniatures with a posted appraisal value of $10,000.00 to $12,000.00. Size: 3-7/8 inches by 5-1/2 inches
Lago Patzcuaro 1948 Cigarette Paper Miniature
In 1931 the newly formed Museum of Modern Art invited Rivera to be their second One-Man Exhibition in which he was asked to include seven portable fresco concrete and plaster panels as representational of his wall mural art. He painted eight panels of which three were displayed in the exhibit that opened on December 23, 1931. The location of the number two panel, Indian Fighting, is completely unknown today. The number eight panel, Pneumatic Drilling, was sold by Sotheby Parke Bernet on May 26, 1977 but its location is also unknown.
In 1952, the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes commissioned Rivera to paint a mural-sized painting to be part of a Mexican art exhibition to tour Europe. The name of the piece is The Nightmare of War and the Dream of Peace which he produced in 1952. The present location of this painting is completely unknown. Below are two pictures regarding this work. The first is a photograph showing Diego working on the large scaled artwork and the second is a photograph of the pencil drawing study depicting the intended composition.
Photograph of Rivera working on missing painting
The Nightmare of War and the Dream of Peace 1952 Pencil Study
One of the largest art thefts in Los Angeles history took place on August 23, 2008 in Encino, California. On a Saturday morning when the maid stepped out and the elderly owners were in the back of their estate, a thief stepped in through an unlocked side door. An art collection that took over half a century for this wealthy real estate investor to compile was dismantled in less than one hour. The collection valued in the multiple millions, with a $200,000 reward offered, included the famous painting, Mexican Peasant, by Diego Rivera.