- Mexican Muralism: Los Tres Grandes David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco
- Orozco, Dive Bomber and Tank
- Diego Rivera, first and second floor murals of the Secretaría de Educación Pública
- Diego Rivera, Stairwell and Third Floor “Court of Labor” at the SEP
- A brutal history told for a modern city, Diego Rivera's Sugar Cane
- Diego Rivera, Detroit Industry Murals
- Rivera, Detroit Industry Murals
- Diego Rivera, Man Controller of the Universe
- Diego Rivera, Man at the Crossroads
- Rivera, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park
- Rivera, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park
- Diego Rivera, Calla Lilly Vendor
- The History of Mexico: Diego Rivera’s Murals at the National Palace
Rivera, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park
By Dr. Doris Maria-Reina Bravo
Diego Rivera, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park (Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central), 1947, 4.8 x 15 m (Museo Mural Diego Rivera, originally, Hotel del Prado, Mexico City; photo: Fedaro, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Dream or nightmare
In Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park, hundreds of characters from 400 years of Mexican history gather for a stroll through Mexico City’s largest park. But the colorful balloons, impeccably dressed visitors, and vendors with diverse wares cannot conceal the darker side of this dream: a confrontation between an Indigenous family and a police officer; a man shooting into the face of someone being trampled by a horse in the midst of a skirmish; a sinister skeleton smiling at the viewer. What kind of dream, or nightmare, is this?
Diego Rivera, detail with rearing horse and shooting, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park (Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central), 1947, 4.8 x 15 m (Museo Mural Diego Rivera, originally, Hotel del Prado, Mexico City; photo: Garrett Ziegler, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
In the spirit of Surrealism, this is a complex dream. For Surrealists, like Salvador Dalí, dreams were the principal subject matter. Since dreams are so personal and strange, this allowed artists to juxtapose unrelated matter, like clocks and ants for Dalí. Though Rivera never officially joined the Surrealists, he uses this approach in Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park as he cobbles together a scene composed of disparate historical personages, including Hernán Cortés (the Spanish conqueror who initiated the fall of the Aztec Empire), Sor Juana (a seventeenth-century nun and one of Mexico’s most notable writers), and Porfirio Díaz (whose dictatorship at the turn of the twentieth century inspired the ).
Diego Rivera, detail of central group with four rightmost figures (right to left) being the printmaker José Guadalupe Posada (right), La Catrina (the Skeleton), the painter Frida Kahlo (behind La Catrina), and the artist as a young man (in front of Kahlo), Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park (Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central), 1947, 4.8 x 15 m (Museo Mural Diego Rivera, originally, Hotel del Prado, Mexico City; photo: Garrett Ziegler, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Perhaps the most striking grouping is a central quartet featuring Rivera, the artist Frida Kahlo, the printmaker and draughtsman José Guadalupe Posada, and La Catrina. “Catrina” was a nickname in the early twentieth century for an elegant, upper-class woman who dressed in European clothing.
José Guadalupe Posada, La Calavera Catrina, 1913, etching (zinc), 11 x 15.6 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
This character became infamous in Posada’s La Calavera de la Catrina (The Catrina Skeleton). Here, the renowned printmaker depicted La Catrina as a skeleton in order to critique the Mexican elite. In Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park, Rivera reproduces the original Posada print and adds an elaborate boa—reminiscent of the feathered Mesoamerican serpent god Quetzalcóatl—around her neck.
La Catrina unites two great Mexican artists in this mural: she holds Rivera’s hand as her other arm is held by Posada. Though Posada died in obscurity in 1913, artists later brought attention to his work and he was a significant influence on the Mexican muralists. The fourth character in this quartet is Kahlo. She stands behind a child-version of her husband, with one hand protectively on his shoulder as her other holds a Yin and Yang object.
Diego Rivera, detail with the artist as a young man (lower left), the paintier Frida Kahlo (behind him), and La Catrina (the Skeleton), Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park (Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central), 1947, 4.8 x 15 m (Museo Mural Diego Rivera, originally, Hotel del Prado, Mexico City; photo: Adam Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0)
In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang refers to opposite yet interdependent forces, like day and night. Within the name of this concept is perhaps the most fundamental duality in humanity: female (“Yin”) and male (“Yang”). Thus, this Chinese symbol becomes a metaphor for Rivera and Kahlo’s complex relationship: Rivera began as Kahlo’s mentor; they then married, separated, and got back together; they were political comrades; and they painted each other frequently. Their double-portraits often reflect the state of the couple’s relationship at that moment. In Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931) Kahlo subtly plays with the couple’s stature in order to emphasize Rivera’s influence on her. Kahlo was ill as Rivera worked on this mural and his diminished size may reflect his feelings of helplessness.
Frida Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera, 1931, oil on canvas, 100 x 78.75 cm (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; photo: Lluís Ribes Mateu, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Reading Mexican history
Stepping away from the center, if one reads the mural like a text, a chronology emerges: the left side of the composition highlights the conquest and colonization of Mexico, the fight for independence and the revolution occupy the majority of the central space, and modern achievements fill the right. For some art historians the central area is a snapshot of bourgeois life in 1895—as refined ladies and gentlemen promenade in their Sunday best, under the watchful eye of Porfirio Díaz in his plumed military garb. One gets a sense of the inequality that stirred average Mexicans to overthrow their dictator and initiate the Mexican Revolution which lasted from 1910 until 1920.
In this light we can appreciate the dreams and nightmares within each epoch. To the left of the balloons the nightmares of the conquest and religious intolerance during the colonial-era give way to the dream of a democratic nation during the nineteenth century, represented by the over-sized figure of Benito Juárez, who restored the republic after French occupation and attempted to modernize the country as president. On the right of the composition, beyond the bandstand, the battles of the revolution give way to a society where “land and liberty,” as championed by the workers’ flags, becomes a tangible reality.
Diego Rivera, detail with Benito Juárez top center, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park (Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central), 1947, 4.8 x 15 m (Museo Mural Diego Rivera, originally, Hotel del Prado, Mexico City; photo: Fedaro, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Histories normally edited out
More often than not history is written by the victor and thus reflects an incomplete story. Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park is an antidote to this: Rivera guarantees that histories normally edited out (the stories of Indigenous peoples and the masses) have a place in this grand narrative. The artist reminds the viewer that the struggles and glory of four centuries of Mexican history are due to the participation of Mexicans from all strata of society.
William Stockton, "Rivera Mural in Mexico Awaits Its New Shelter" in The New York Times, Jan. 4, 1987.
Alejandro Anreus, Robin Adèle Greely, and Leonard Folgarait, eds. Mexican Muralism: A Critical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).
Jean Charlot, The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925 (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1979).
Leonard Folgarait, Mural Painting and Social Revolution in Mexico, 1920–1940: The Art of a New Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
Laurance P. Hurlburt, The Mexican Muralists in the United States (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989).
Desmond Rochfort, Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993).
Essay by Dr. Doris Maria-Reina Bravo
Want to join the conversation?
- I wonder if these early Mexican revolutionaries would have been pleased with the Mexico of today...?(8 votes)
- In terms of the painting, it matters little what the early Mexican revolutionaries would have felt about the Mexico of today. In the painting, it is only a question of what the painter, at the time he did the work, thought of the persons and personages he was depicting.(9 votes)
- How would the populace at the time have reacted to this image? Would they have liked it and celebrated it as a depiction of their heritage or hated it for the surreal, almost terrifying way it portrays that heritage?(5 votes)
- Why would the populace have one reaction?(6 votes)
- Does anybody know who the intended audience was and how they reacted? I can't find it anywhere.(4 votes)
- its the upper class people of Mexico who would have been staying in the Hotel Del Prado. This was a political manifesto.(5 votes)
- Of the two elegant women to the left of Diego and Frieda, which is Carmen Romero Rubio, the one in red or the one in blue? And who is the other?(2 votes)
- The one in red is Carmen Romero Rubio. The other one is Lucecita Diaz(4 votes)
- what is this mural made of?(2 votes)
- This is a fresco. a painting on limestone that hardened(2 votes)
- How did the original viewers respond to the mural(1 vote)
- One could also mention that contrasting this Sunday Afternoon in the Park to Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte could also be appropriate in an ironic way. In many of Rivera's and Frieda's paintings there seems to be tension between European characteristics and the Indian traits of Mexico's past history.(1 vote)
- Who is the woman sitting in a tree on the far right?(2 votes)
- How did viewers initially respond to the mural? Why?(1 vote)
- The response of original viewers to this mural would likely depend on their social class and familiarity with the situations and persons portrayed in the work. In short, original viewers had all kinds of responses.(1 vote)
- what are the formal qualities of this work?(1 vote)
- What did Dream of sunday meant?(1 vote)
- This being a course on art history, and a unit on modernisms, I ask whether or not it HAD TO mean anything at all?(1 vote)