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Portrait of Marevna was completed by Diego Rivera in around 1915 and at the time was working within a Cubist style as a direct influence from his time in Europe. He would also produce another painting of the same title which was auctioned off by Phillips Auctioneers in 2016.
The version displayed here displays the fusion between Rivera's influences at this time along with his own creative expression. A lady sits on a large armchair, with her face angled to our right hand side. The nature of Cubism means that there is no real expression upon her face and the purpose of the piece is more about re-arranging and re-imagining the various elements of the composition, rather than attempting to precisely re-create the model on canvas. One requires a careful study in order to decipher the different parts of the painting but we can confidently identify a fireplace to the right hand side in a combination of green and grey, with classical European shutters across the window directly behind her. Part of her clothing is also patterned and her legs appear to be crossed, though in that regard it is hard to be entirely sure. Cubism was all about bending and tweaking reality, restructuring the rules of art and this appealed to many in the early 20th century, even if most would then move on to other styles shortly afterwards.
It would be no coincidence that Piet Mondrian would follow a similar path after he relocated from the Netherlands to Paris, just as Rivera would do. They also shared time in the company of Amedeo Modigliani who himself was a highly expressive and unique artist. Rivera would count Picasso amongst his friends eventually, and so an exposure to Cubist art was entirely inevitable. The likes of Braque and Gris would continue within this movement for the rest of their careers, but most others would exhaust their interest within a few years and then push forwards to find other realms of contemporary art that could bring about new bodies of work. Mondrian himself completed a number of Cubist paintings before then pushing deep into the abstract world. Paris was a true melting pot of creativity at the time, and that is precisely why artists such as these had moved there in the first place.
Marevna Vorobëv-Stebelska was the model for this painting, which now resides in the Art Institute of Chicago in the USA. She was a Russian painter and author who was dating Rivera at the time. He would regularly paint his lovers in this manner, though it is unclear as to whether she appreciated being reproduced in the Cubist style. Photographs of her sitting for him have been uncovered since this painting was produced and they give us a better understanding of her own appearance, which included a strong facial structure and long blond hair. The rectangle around her lap is believed to have been a book that she was pretending to be reading for this composition. The overall piece is regarded specifically as an example of Synthetic Cubism, and several other strands appeared within the movement over time as new exponents attempted to incorporate their own ideas within this groundbreaking movement.