Nieves Orozco Diego Rivera Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This nude portrait captures Nieves Orozco from the chest upwards. The painting was completed by Diego Rivera in 1939, at which point he would have been approaching his mid-fifties. The artwork can now be found in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA.

The model here looks directly at us, with a serious and confident expression. Her eyes are wide and open, and her hair neatly platted. Her cheeks are reddened and her general features are plump, such as her lips. She is depicted entirely nude, and this allows us to connect with her, just as the artist would have done at the time. Nieves Orozco's posture suggests she was sitting for this portrait and is placed in front of a simple, neutral background. According to its current owners, the piece measures 50.8 x 61 cm) and was produced using gouache (opaque watercolor) on canvas, which was then later mounted onto a panel in order to better protect it. Albert M. and Etelka S. Greenfield originally owned this piece before choosing to gift it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of their will. Its connection to Rivera makes it an important part of the collection, helping to increase its diversity beyond just American and European art.

Nieves Orozco would model several times for Diego Rivera and was considered a particularly beautiful woman, more so than might be suggested by this painting. She also featured in many photographs at around that time, and clearly was a professional model rather than just someone acquainted to the artist. Many of the photographs would come about in the following decade, covering across the 1940s, and most tend to be from the same waist or chest up style of portrait composition. Rivera himself was a highly skilled portrait painter though he normally worked within a less formal context, where natural behaviour was observed. He would have clearly arranged this sitting, where as normally he would be focusing on Mexican peasants, going about their daily lives such as working or celebrating during festival season. He would also produce a nude portrait of his wife, Frida Kahlo, in charcoal.

Rivera was passionate about Mexicans and loved to include them within his work. He enjoyed studying people, and learned much from portraits such as this, though he would rarely create self portraits of himself. Politics would play a key role in his work as well, and socialist values started to appear within his large murals. This portrait of Nieves Orozco, though, is devoid of any connection or message in that regard, and just follows a standard compositional technique used by artists from different regions for many centuries. That said, portraiture in western art was not common until towards the end of the Renaissance, with religious themes dominating before that.