The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, acquired a recently rediscovered painting by Mexican artist Diego Rivera for $4 million at Christie’s auction held on Friday. The price for the work is the third highest ever for a Rivera work at auction, which fetched a record $9.6 million The rivals (1931) at Christie’s in May 2018 when it was sold from the David and Peggy Rockefeller collection.
The painting acquired by the museum La Bordadora (The Embroiderer), from 1928 shows an interior scene of two women, one of whom is seated at a table and working on an embroidery plate. It was purchased during a Latin American art auction in New York and sold by the descendants of a New Orleans businessman and professor with connections to artistic circles in Mexico. He had acquired the painting shortly after it was made, between 1928 and 1929. Prior to the auction it had never been on public display; The only record of it was a black and white photograph. At Christie’s, it sold for more than five times its estimate of $700,000.
The scene inside La Bordadora resembles one depicted in another work by Rivera held by the State Department. This other work depicts an indigenous artisan and was made for a cycle of murals that Rivera was working on between 1923 and 1928 for the Ministry of Education in Mexico City.
In a statement, the museum’s director, Gary Tinterow, said: “Both La Bordadora and the Ministry murals proclaim a fundamental theme in Rivera’s life’s work, capturing the dignity of everyday life.
“With this acquisition,” continued Tinterow, “we can build on the foundations of our exceptional holdings of 20th-century Latin American art to tell the story of modernism from its earliest chapters.”
As recognition for important Latin American modernists increases, many US museums are acquiring Rivera’s work. Last August, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles acquired Rivera’s opponents of National Socialism (1933), one of only eight surviving plates produced from the Portrait of America (1933) Mural he did for New York’s New Workers School.