Mexican muralists were one of the first to use acrylic as a painting technique. That material was sold for artistic purposes at the beginning of the twentieth century, and unlike oil painting, it allowed them to fashion images using more vivid colors. What’s still questionable about this material is the durability and resistance of the colors in paintings crafted with it.
Perhaps on murals oil paintings do last more than acrylic but that’s something yet to be discovered hundreds of years from now. As the paint cracks and fades, the written word will always endure. We cannot help but recall the poignant words of Angelina Beloff, who started out her memoirs with the following phrase:
"Love is more determined than memory"
Before his triumphant return to the Mexican academy of painting in the 1920s, Diego Rivera fell in love with a Russian painter who had been a pupil of Henri Matisse and a translator of painting treatises.
Both met in Bruges in 1909, when she was 29 and Diego 23. Diego Rivera didn’t speak French, and Angelina Beloff barely understood Spanish, but that was hardly a barrier for love. They gravitated towards each other and traveled around Europe together where they studied and experimented with new art techniques. Finally, when they returned to Paris they officially began a formal relationship.
Beloff states in her memoirs: “Back then [Rivera] was a poor 23-year-old student that knew little about Parisian life, but I was starting to seriously love him.”
They were inseparable, working and painting together; nowadays in the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, there’s a portrait of Diego Rivera painted by this talented Russian artist.
“When we were together we would talk about our future, about marriage. Diego argued that he was afraid that if we got married, out of unemployment we would have to be forced to live in a workshop and that if we had a son, we would have to live with the dirty diapers inside.”
While Diego Rivera has risen among the ranks of the Great Masters in the art world, Beloff –like many other great painters – has fallen into oblivion. Beloff put Diego’s craft before her own and this is perhaps the reason why she is not well known neither in Mexico, Russia, or the rest of the world.
In 1910, Diego Rivera went back to Mexico for a year, and when he returned to Paris they married. For some time both lived in different European countries but the couple soon joined Picasso’s cubist movement, and even the painter would often visit them at their apartment.
In 1914, Angelina began a friendly relationship with politician and writer Alfonso Reyes, who in later years would help her move to Mexico as a public school art teacher, a post she kept until 1945.
Beloff was a versatile and creative artist, she'd use watercolors and serigraphy for her "still life" compositions, self-portraits, and landscapes. Her work perfectly reflects the world she was living in.
Angelina Beloff made intricate artworks representing Mexico’s complex and varied way of life. One the one hand she would depict the urban developments with its modern buildings, and on the other she would luxuriate in capturing the rural scenes, with mountains and forgotten small towns. She was also interested in puppet theater and even created dolls and characters.
In the winter of 1917, many years before moving to Mexico, Diego and Angelina’s baby, Miguel Angel, died of bronchopneumonia. This tragedt forever changed their relationship and artistic creations. Diego began to distance himself from his wife and abandoned cubism while she sought refuge in herself and her creations.
In August 1921, Rivera abandoned his life in Paris and moved back to Mexico, where he created his first mural only one year afterward.
The only remnants of this love can be found in Angelina Beloff’s memoirs and Elena Poniatowska’s Dear Diego.
***The debate whether Diego Rivera is overrated holds no bearing, it is through the eyes of others and their written words that we can catch a glimpse of what lies beneath the enigmatic figure of the artist.
::Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards