During the recently aired PBS’s Antiques Roadshow filmed in Corpus Christi, Texas in August 2012, a local man was amazed to find that a painting purchased by his great-grandparents was actually a lost painting by famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera worth up to $1 million. The owner claims that the painting was purchased in Mexico by his great-grandparents in 1930 and has remained in his family for generations, recently hanging behind the door of his home office.
Rivera who was the lover of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was well know for his socially charged murals along with his tumultuous relationship with Kahlo. The painting El Albañil (The Bricklayer) of 1904 turns out to be an early painting done by Rivera while he was still a student at the Bellas Artes academy in Mexico City. Appraiser Colleene Fesko states,
My understanding of the painting’s history is that it was painted in 1904 by Diego Rivera. And at that point, Diego Rivera, who was arguably one of the most important Latin American 20th century artists, was only 18 years old. And this was only, I think, three or four paintings by the artist that are known from that early time. It’s a wonderful period, early 20th century painting. But it also gives hints of his mural style, his technique. And even more so, in a way, his subject matter, which were the workers of Mexico. A really terrific image. The painting is oil on canvas. It’s signed and dated lower right, Diego Rivera, 1904. And what’s interesting about the signature is it’s a very young man’s signature. It’s one of his school signatures rather than the more formal, mature signature that we’ll see later…
The research that we found in the authentication process of it is that it had been missing. In the records in Mexico City, it was unknown. Where’s the painting? Where is El Albañil? Which is the laborer. It was an important painting for him in 1904 and then disappeared from 1930 to roughly 1995 or ’96, when it was exhibited and authenticated. Now they have done some restoration on it.
Given the last two sentences, it does appear that the “discovery” could not have been that much of a surprise as the restoration, attribution, and exhibition of the work had already taken place in the 1990s as the painting was exhibited in the show Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and in 1998 at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Interestingly enough, it was Nelson Rockefeller who comissioned Diego Rivera to do a mural for Rockefeller Center in 1932. The mural Man at the Crossroads contained a portrait of Lenin which the Rockefeller’s could not tolerate, so when Rivera refused to paint over the image, the mural was destroyed.
In a statement by Antiques Roadshow, they admitted that the man was well aware that it was indeed an original Rivera; he believed it was only worth half the appraised value and was merely seeking more information.
Watch Interview: 1904 Diego Rivera “El Albañil” Oil Painting on PBS. See more from Antiques Roadshow.