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Victor Arnautoff self portrait

Victor Arnautoff

In 1896, a brilliant painter was born, Victor Mikhail Arnautoff in Russia.  He was the son of a Russian priest, and from a very tender age, he showed interest in art.  He looked forward to joining art school once he graduated gymnasium. The First World War, however, broke out, and he went to Yelizavetgrad Cavalry School. He rose to positions of leadership within the military.

After the defeat of whites in Siberia, he moved on to the northeast of China and surrendered, he stayed for five years and began his pursuit of art while there, but he did not succeed, so he instead took a job teaching at the cavalry of Zhang Zuolin. He got married in China to Lydia Blonsky and had two sons.

He came about a student Visa and traveled to San Francisco in November of 1925 to study at the California School of Fine Arts. He studied sculpture with Edgar Walter and then took up painting. His wife and children followed him, and he then moved his whole family to Mexico in 1929. He started as an assistant muralist to Diego Rivera when he arrived in Mexico.

He worked on murals at the Palace of Cortes with Diego. When they began the paintings at the National Palace, Rivera left for San Francisco on a job to paint a mural on the stock exchange building. The move by Diego meant that Victor was left in charge of the paintings back in Mexico. During the same time, he got a third son.

Working in San Francisco and the Bay Area

Victor and his family made their way back to San Francisco in 1931 where he was able to complete his first mural commission. It was at the Palo Alto Clinic where he had been a patient in 1932. His murals were frescoes, and during the unveiling of the mural at the clinic, there was criticism because it showed a woman’s bare breasts. The day it was revealed, a traffic jam occurred in the area.

Victor Arnautoff mural

1934 brought about an appointment as the technical director of the Coit Tower and also he got a painting job where he was required to do one of the paintings for the Coit Tower. His murals mainly showed life in San Francisco during that time.

Victor became the most know Muralist in San Francisco in the 1930s; he completed murals at the clinic and the Washington High School which was about slavery and at the California School of Fine Arts where he has studied, at the library. His murals had central humanist themes that mainly focused on labors and power.

coit tower mural by victor arnautoff

He also took part in painting five post offices in the US, College Station, South San Francisco, Richmond, Linden and Pacific Grove. The 1930s were a time in his career where he held solo exhibitions and significantly promoted his painting career. He was a teacher at the California School of Fine Arts privately during breaks. He was a sculpture and fresco painting teacher. He became a regular teacher in 1936.

In 1938, he got a job at Stanford University where he taught art. While at Stanford, he taught Richard Diebenkorn. In 1947, he had some courses that he taught at the California Labor School that included painting and printmaking.

Political activity

Having come from Russia and China, he was not yet influenced by Marxism. When he moved to Mexico to work with Diego, his political views became communist. He joined the communist party, the American Artists Congress, and the San Francisco Artists and Writers Union. Politically, he was less active than Diego or any other artists’ views. Even though he was subtle in his political activities, his political affiliations were evident in his works.

mural by victor arnautoff

He made a lithograph in 1955, “DIX McSmear” that associated the then vice president Richard Nixon with McCarthyism. There was controversy surrounding this work and Stanford was even pressured to dismiss him. He was interrogated by HUAC and calls for his dismissal continued, but Stanford decided against dismissing him.

Returning to the Soviet Union

In 1961, his wife died, and Victor decided to go back to the Soviet Union. He retired from Stanford and settled in Mariupol. In his retirement, Victor worked on and published a memoir, large tile mosaics, and woodcuts for books. He also organized solo exhibitions during the time. Victor married again in 1970 and died in 1979.

Victor died as a famous Russian-American painter and art professor. San Francisco is where he set his eyes and did tremendous work there. He was a muralist who was not afraid to express his views and also incorporated political views into his works.

He had such a love for art that even after he left the US, he continued his work and art in Russia, his love for art never faded even with old age. He carried on his work as a muralist and sculpture until his death in 1970.

Although his art went through challenging circumstances, in the beginning, he never gave up on his true passion, and he did what he had to do to get to where he wanted to be. The student visa that saw him in San Francisco began his art career, and he took every opportunity that came his way since.

He held special exhibitions, but there are some of his works that are publicly displayed. His work on the post offices, frescos murals at the clinic and Roth building and even post offices and schools in Mariupol after he moved back to Russia.  His work precedes him as even today, his works are in demand, and people travel from many parts of the world to view them.

Diego Rivera

Artist Profile: Diego Rivera

His name is quite a mouthful, but he was known shortly as Diego Rivera, born on December 8, 1886, to a wealthy family in Guanajuato, Mexico. He had a twin brother named Carlos who did not live beyond two years. At the age of three years old, Diego was already drawing. His artistic talents showed themselves very early in his life.

He began painting on the walls in their house, and his parents put up chalkboards and canvas on the walls. They nurtured his talents by not punishing him but providing him a means to grow himself. He was said to be of a Judaism descent that was forced to convert into Catholic, but he said in 1935 that his Jewishness was the dominant element of his life.

Diego_Rivera,_c.1916,_Maternidad,_Angelina_y_el_niño_Diego,_oil_on_canvas,_134.5_x_88.5_cm,_Museo_de_Arte_Carrillo_GilWhen he grew up, he got married in 1911 to his wife, Angelina Beloff. She gave birth to a son Diego. Maria Stebelska gave birth to a daughter, Marika in 1918 when Diego was still married. In 1922, he married Guadalupe Marin and had two daughters, Ruth and Guadalupe. He met Frida Kahlo when he was still with his second wife.

They later got married in 1929; she was only a 22-year-old student while he was 42. They both stepped out on their marriage which led to a divorce in 1939. December of 1940, he remarried Frida in San Francisco. He married his agent, Emma Hurtado a year after the death of Frida.

Diego studied at the Academy of San Carlos since he was ten. He got sponsorship to study abroad by Teodoro Mendez, the then governor of Veracruz. Diego arrived in Europe, 1907 and went to study with Eduardo Chicharro in Madrid. He then went to Paris where he set up shop and worked with the artists of Montparnasse, mostly La Ruche where Amedeo Modigliani, his friend made a portrait of him in 1914. Marie Vorobieff’s painting honored him and his close friends, a very exclusive group in 1962, the homage to friends from Montparnasse.

Amedeo_Modigliani_038

Paris was just starting to see cubism sprout in paintings with painters like Picasso, Braque, and Gris. Rivera studied art at his new school in 1913-1917. He drew inspiration from Paul Cezanne’s work and began focusing on post-impressionism which was pure art forms with bright colors. The bold step started getting him noticed. He was able to show several of them in various exhibitions.

Rivera died in 1957 November 24, still an atheist. He said that he found religion to be a form of collective neurosis. His atheist nature came into question when his Mural, Dreams of a Sunday in the Alameda had Ignacio Ramirez holding a sign that stated God does not exist. The sign became an issue, but Rivera stood his ground and refused to remove the sign. Diego’s painting was kept out of any exhibitions or public showings until he finally removed the sign which was nine years later.

Diego Rivera Career in Mexico

During the Mexican Revolution, when the government began calling back artists to work on Murals depicting Mexican culture, Diego was among the chosen artists. In 1920, he traveled from Paris to Mexico through Italy where he made a quick stop to learn their art. He arrived in Mexico in 1921 and became part of the mural movement together with the two other members of Los tres grande and other artists.

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In 1922, he experimented with encaustic, his first mural of significance in the Bolivar Auditorium in the National Preparatory School, Mexico. He was guarding himself with a pistol during the work from the right wing students. In the same year, he took part in starting the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors. He also joined the Communist party in 1922.

He did his murals using the fresco technique more and more, and he centered his works on the Mexican society and the revolution that had taken place. He grew his unique style complete with bold colors and Aztec influence. Murals in the secretariat of public education had the Aztec influence evident on them.

His art was on the walls of universities, schools and even public buildings. In 1923 and 1927, he was working on Tierra Fecundada, meaning fertile land in Chapingo Universty. The mural shows the struggles and pains of the lower class and the working class. The mural also had his then wife Guadalupe as a fertile, naked goddess together with their daughter Guadalupe as a cherub. An earthquake damaged the painting, but after renovation, it was better.

AMORC Membership

AMORC (Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) was a cult whose founder was Harvey Spencer Lewis. Diego joined the cult in 1926 and was among its founders. AMORC Mexico City Lodge, known as Quetzalcoatl began and he painted an image of the lodge for the local temple.

His support of Trotsky had seen him tossed out of the communist party. He tried to rejoin the party in 1954 where he had to explain his involvement with AMORC. The party turned him away, and he became a full member of the cult.

After Mexico

Diego worked in many regions of the world. He, in fact, traveled to Moscow in 1927 where he took part in the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution. Rivera met Alfred Barr Jr in Russia, and soon became his mentor and friend. He was also the director of the Museum of Modern Art.

1024px-Diego_Rivera_-_Street_in_Ávila_(Ávila_Landscape)_-_Google_Art_Project

Diego received orders from the Russian government to paint a mural for the Red Army. It was because he had gotten entangled in anti-Soviet politics. He returned to Mexico in 1929. The same year, the first English language book in Mexico was about Diego was published in New York. It was titled the frescoes of Diego Rivera.

He accepted a job by the American ambassador to Mexico to paint murals in the Palace of Cortes in Cuernavaca. Shortly after, in 1930, he accepted an invitation from an architect Timothy L to paint in San Francisco. He arrived in the US with his then wife Kahlo, and he painted a mural for the City Club for $2500. He made a fresco for the California school of fine art that later became the Diego Rivera gallery.

In 1931 November, Diego and his wife were at the museum of modern art where Diego’s works were on display. In 1932-1933, he was able to complete his very famous series of 27 fresco panels that were called Detroit Industry.

He began working on Man at the crossroads in 1933 for the Rockefeller Center in New York. The painting brought controversy and saw to Diego’s return to Mexico the same year. He repainted the man at the crossroads. In 1940 June, Pflueger invited Diego back, and he came back to the US for the last time. He got the task of painting a ten-panel mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.