At age twenty, in 1907, Rivera left Mexico and arrived in Barcelona, Spain, to study with the Spanish painter Chicharro who was regarded as the leader of the younger generation of Spanish painters. During the two years Rivera studied with Chicharro, he produced a large number of paintings, many of which he sent home to Mexico and some which he sent directly to Governor Dehesa to justify the scholarship he was receiving. Dehesa was convinced more than ever that his judgment had been correct as it related to Diego Rivera’s artistic skills.
In spite of the apparent success Rivera was experiencing , he still felt that there was something missing in his art that technical growth alone could not supply. There was still that something he had seen in Posada’s shop and in the powerful work of Aztec architecture that seemed to elude him. (3)
He left Spain for a long tour in France, Belgium, Holland and England hoping to solve a problem he couldn’t really define. He admired greatly the work of Breughel, Hogarth and Goya. He wished that his work could provoke the intense feeling got when he looked at their work. In Paris he went to a shop where he saw the work of newer painters who called themselves Cubists. He saw Picasso’s Harlequin and paintings by Braque and Derain. Rivera spent hours in Paris looking at paintings by Cezanne. (4) Rivera would become a part of this Parisian art world for a decade. He would argue, study, paint, learn so much and do so much; yet at the end of ten years he still felt that something was absent from his work. His paintings seemed only to be enjoyed by well-educated people who could afford to buy them for their homes. He thought that art should be enjoyed by everyone--especially poor,working people. (5) He was developing a growing interest in the masses and began to deepen his understanding of the folk art and ancient masterpieces of his native land. Art, Rivera felt , was never so isolated from life as when he was there in Europe.
Even after settling in Paris, Rivera returned every year to Spain to paint--often in the style of cubists such as Cezanne, Picasso, El Greco and Modigliani. During the years from 1913 to 1918, Rivera devoted himself almost entirely to cubism and found himself getting caught up in his search for new truths. Among his works during this period were Two Women on a Balcony 1914, Landscape Majorca 1914, Portrait of Ramon Gomez 1915, Still Life 1917, Eiffel Tower 1916, and The Telegraph Pole 1917. In all of these paintings and indeed of the cubist style as a whole it appeared that the artists took apart their subjects and created new objects of their own creation.
The subject of his Ramon Gomez portrait , Don Ramon , was thrilled at Rivera’s skill as a cubist painter. He said that Rivera had “not bottled me and has left me free and stretched out... In the round eye is synthesized the moment of luminous expression, and in he long shut eye , the moment of comprehension, This portrait is my most stupendous portrait. Its colors stir me.” (6)
After Rivera gave up cubist portraits, he still employed the same techniques: allowing the sitter freedom of motion, chatting with him, letting him get on with his work ( Don Ramon worked on a manuscript), and seeming hardly to look at his subject at all. Bertram Wolfe quoted a magazine article by Katherine Anne Porter in which Rivera himself said that although he often quarreled with Picasso, he acknowledged his gratitude for what he had learned from him. He said that Picasso was the only modern painter who formed a style undeniably new. But Diego Rivera felt that cubism was too intellectual , more concerned with technical skill than with the natural fluidity of design and that is why, he said , that cubism gradually disappeared from his work. (7) This departure from cubism becomes quite apparent in his Edge of the Forest , The Aqueduct, and Landscape in Arcachon all done in 1918. But, although Picasso’s presence has disappeared from these works, the influence of Cezanne is quite noticeable. (8)
During this period Rivera met Elie Faure, a doctor and a lover of the arts. Rivera’s 1918 portrait of Elie Faure seems to emphasize the man’s simplicity and at the same time his deep thoughtfulness. The time spent in making Portrait of Elie Faure was the foundation of a lifelong friendship between the two men. Faure rekindled Rivera’s enthusiasm for murals and prompted him to set off for Italy to study the works of the masters. (9) There he saw frescoes that had been painted hundreds of years earlier. They were usually painted on the walls of churches so that everyone in a town or city could enjoy them. He knew then that he would return to Mexico to make paintings for all the people to enjoy. In the frescoes of Italy he saw how the need for a popular art capable of appealing to the masses--telling them a story--could be met.