A painting by Diego Rivera. "Portrait of Enriqueta G. Dávila" is a modern portrait, oil on canvas in a palette of whites, browns, purples, and reds by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The artwork is signed in the lower left, "Diego Rivera" and dated and inscribed in the upper center, "Señora Doña Enriqueta G. de Dávila. Fue pintado el año de MCMLII".
Think of artists from Mexico and few names loom as large as Diego Rivera. He was a leading member and founder of the Mexican Muralist movement along with David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco. His works tackled artistic explorations alongside pressing themes of social inequality, politics, and Mexican history and culture. Only his wife and artist Frida Kahlo has reached similar heights of influence and impact.
Rivera asserts a Mexicanidad, a quality of Mexican-ness, in this work along with his strong feelings towards the sitter. Moreover, this painting is unique amongst his portraiture in its use of symbolism, giving us a strong if opaque picture of the relationship between artist and sitter.
Enriqueta, a descendent of the prominent Goldbaum family, was married to the theater entrepreneur, José María Dávila. The two were close friends with Rivera, and the artist initially requested to paint Enriqueta’s portrait. Enriqueta found the request unconventional and relented on the condition that Rivera paint her daughter, Enriqueta “Quetita”. Rivera captures the spirit of the mother through the use of duality in different sections of the painting, from the floorboards, to her hands, and even the flowers. Why the split in the horizon of the floorboard? Why the prominent cross while Enriqueta’s family is Jewish? Even her pose is interesting, showcasing a woman in control of her own power, highlighted by her hand on her hip which Rivera referred to as a claw, further complicating our understanding of her stature.
This use of flowers, along with her “rebozo” or shawl, asserts a Mexican identity. As seen in “Mujer con alcatraces”, Rivera was adept at including and centering flowers in his works which became a kind of signature device. The flowers show bromeliads and roselles; the former is epiphytic and the later known as flor de jamaica and often used in hibiscus tea and aguas frescas. There is a tension then between these two flowers, emphasizing the complicated relationship between Enriqueta and Rivera. On the one hand, Rivera demonstrates both his and the sitter’s Mexican identity despite the foreign root of Enriqueta’s family but there may be more pointed meaning revealing Rivera’s feelings to the subject. The flowers, as they often do in still life paintings, may also refer to the fleeting nature of life and beauty. The portrait for her daughter shares some similarities from the use of shawl and flowers, but through simple changes in gestures and type and placement of flowers, Rivera illuminates a stronger personality in Enriqueta and a more dynamic relationship as filtered through his lens.
A closer examination of even her clothing reveals profound meaning. Instead of a dress more in line for a socialite, Rivera has Enriqueta in a regional dress from Jalisco, emphasizing both of their Mexican identities. On the other hand, her coral jewelry, repeated in the color of her shoes, hints at multiple meanings from foreignness and exoticism to protection and vitality. From Ancient Egypt to Classical Rome to today, coral has been used for jewelry and to have been believed to have properties both real and symbolic. Coral jewelry is seen in Renaissance paintings indicating the vitality and purity of woman or as a protective amulet for infants. It is also used as a reminder, when paired with the infant Jesus, of his future sacrifice. Diego’s use of coral recalls these Renaissance portraits, supported by the plain background of the painting and the ribbon indicating the maker and date similar to Old Master works.
When combined in the portrait of Enriqueta, we get a layered and tense building of symbolism. Rivera both emphasizes her Mexican identity but also her foreign roots. He symbolizes her beauty and vitality but look closely at half of her face and it is as if Rivera has painted his own features onto hers. The richness of symbolism hints at the complex relationship between artist and sitter.
Enriqueta Goldbaum de Dávila
Enriqueta Dávila Goldbaum, by descent from above
Private Collection, Houston
Private Collection, acquired from the above
Geneve, Italy, Palazzo Ducale Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera, September 20, 2014 – February 8, 2015
Mexico City, Mexico, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Homenaje a Diego Rivera. Retratos, October 20, 2007 – January 2, 2008
Houston, United States, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, on short-term loan during 2007 Orizaba, Mexico, Museo de Arte del Estado de Veracruz., La brillantez previa al pincel,
May 11 – August 21, 2006
Xalapa, Mexico, Pinacoteca Diego Rivera, Los Cuatro Grandes, March - June, 2006 Mexico City, Mexico, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Diego Rivera: Una Retrospectiva, September 1986 - January 1987
García, Josefina. Homenaje a Diego Rivera: Retratos. Mexico City: Museo Dolores Olmedo, Patiño, 2007. p. 129. Print
Gutiérrez L. Cortés. Diego Rivera: Catálogo General de Obra de Caballete. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Dirección General de Publicaciones, 1989, p. 265. Print
Diego Rivera: Una Retrospectva. Ciudad de México: Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, INBA, Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1986. Print
Los Cuatro Grandes. Xalapa. Veracruz: Pinacoteca Diego Rivera, 2006. Print. Prignitz-Poda, Helga. Frida Kahlo e Diego Riera. Milano: Skira, 2014, cat. 252, pp. 146, 265