Diego Rivera, 'Calla lily vendor', 1943
After completing his Detroit Institute of the Arts murals, Diego began work on the Rockefellers’ RCA Building in New York. He painted panels that depicted socialism – complete with a portrait of Vladimir Lenin – opposing the evils of capitalism.
Despite much controversy, Diego refused to paint out Lenin’s image, and work on the project was suspended.
Works Progress Administration artists protested, but to no avail: the entire mural, Man at the crossroads, was destroyed in 1934.
Before long in the US, Mexican muralism and social realism were no longer lauded as the avant-garde which, tied to a move away from the socialist left, became the domain of abstraction.Enlarge
Florence Arquin, 'Untitled (Frida Kahlo in wheel chair with sun umbrella)', c1950
After power struggles in Soviet Russia led to factional divides in the 1920s and 30s, Diego joined the Internationalist Communist League.
Having become friends with its leader, Leon Trotsky, Diego persuaded Mexican President Cárdenas to grant the Marxist leader political asylum.
Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova come to live with Frida and Diego at their home.
During his two year stay at Casa Azul, Trotsky, Diego and the visiting surrealist André Breton wrote the manifesto ‘For an Independent Revolutionary Art’.
Trotsky also, dangerously, had a brief affair with Frida that enraged Diego.Enlarge
Diego Rivera, 'Nude (Frida Kahlo)', 1930
When Diego and Trotsky fell out, it was both the result of their many disputes about Marxist ideology, and the result of Diego’s fury at discovering the affair.
After an attempt on Trotsky’s life which lead Diego to fortify Casa Azul, the Trotskys moved to their own apartment where tragically a second assassination attempt was successful: an assassin of Stalin’s killed him with an ice pick.
Frida and Diego were both implicated in Trotsky’s assassination: she was held for several days of questioning, and Diego left the country. Both were later cleared of any involvement.Enlarge
Frida Kahlo, 'Portrait of Arcady Boytler', 1947
From the 1930s to the 1950s, Diego and Frida formed the nucleus of the new liberationist political and cultural intelligentsia in Mexico.
Their countless socialist and revolutionary friends and colleagues many of whom were exiles from their own countries – included:
Russian film director, collaborator with Eisenstein, Arcady Boytler; Teresa Proenza, the Cuban Cultural Attaché in Mexico, a contact of Soviet intelligence in Moscow (and a lover of Frida’s); artist Lucienne Bloch, Rivera’s apprentice on his US frescoes; leftist Guatemalan writer Luis Cardoza y Aragón; Mexican socially-engaged architect Juan O’Gorman, and American communist scholar Bertram Wolfe (who wrote Rivera’s biography).Enlarge
Juan Guzmán, 'Frida Kahlo in hospital bed holding mirror', c1950s
For all her admiration of Trotsky, Frida never became a Trotskyist; she remained a Stalinist until her death.
Frida re-joined the communist party in 1948 and became even more passionate about politics. She wrote about Marx, Lenin and Stalin often in her diary, and struggled to make her art more broadly political: one of Frida’s last paintings was Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick.
Ever the activist, just days before her death, Frida took part in a public demonstration against the US intervention in Guatemala.Enlarge
Hector Garcia, 'Frida Kahlo in coffin and Diego Rivera at funeral', 1954
When she died in 1954, Diego ensured Frida was given a state funeral. Hundreds of prominent figures in Mexican cultural and political circles came to pay tribute as her coffin lay in state at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, covered with the hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union.
Some said her funeral had been hijacked by Diego to become a communist spectacle, but she was unlikely to have minded. Frida had always rejected ‘bourgeois’ art, once revealing her desire to create a ‘true art that the people hope for from the artist … I wish to be worthy, with my paintings, of the people to whom I belong and to the ideas which strengthen me.’Enlarge
Diego Rivera, 'Untitled (Frida Kahlo in her garden in Coyoacán)', c1930
Within a year of Frida’s death, Diego had been accepted back into the Mexican Communist Party, and once again visited the USSR, invited by the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts Moscow.
At the heart of leftist avant-gardism for over three decades, Diego’s life’s work was not just artistic, nor did he simply contribute to the Mexican revolution and the cultural renaissance that followed. Diego made a fundamental contribution to the conception of a worker’s state in both Mexico and the USSR.
His final patriotic act was, fittingly, to donate Frida’s Casa Azul and his own Anahuacalli Museum to the people of Mexico.Enlarge