Dolores Olmedo Museum
An extraordinary art collection in a pretty and pleasant setting. Visiting this museum is like paying a visit to former owner Dolores Olmedo in her own home. Mrs. Olmedo was the friend and patron of the painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo for many years; she collected a large selection of their works, which are now part of the museum’s holdings. This collection also includes an important selection of pre-Hispanic pieces belonging to the Olmec, Zapotec and Mayan cultures.
Most of the Olmedo collection is housed at the main building of the museum complex. This structure, known formerly as “The Hacienda de la Noria”, dates from the sixteenth century and was modified in the seventeenth, eighteenth and twentieth centuries. This generous space includes the museum, where the permanent collection is on display, as well as other temporary exhibitions from world-class local and international artists. The grounds of the museuminclude a beautiful, vast garden with a large variety of native Mexican plants and a large society of exotic peacocks
In the museum building one can appreciate what is left of its former architecture, part of which was the small chapel of Tzomoloc, dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist. This chapel is now registered as a historic monument.
This former hacienda is located at the outskirts of southern Mexico City, very near the Xochimilco Floating Gardens. This was the Xochimilcas’ land during the pre-Hispanic period. They used to call this site Tzomolco, which in Nahuatl means “the segmented hill,” referring to the hill behind the house.
Dolores Olmedo acquired the structure in ruins in 1962. After a long and dedicated reconstruction effort, which Mrs. Olmedo oversaw to make sure the basic elements and materials of the original colonial architecture were conserved, the museum opened to the public in 1994.
The museum complex and its collections were donated to the people of Mexico by Dolores Olmedo, who was their only owner. They represent the legacy of her entire life’s work of patronizing and collecting the visual arts.
Collections in this museum
The museum owns a very important portion of the work of Diego Rivera, who was one of the most significant and probably the most well-known of the Mexican painters of the twentieth century.There are also important works by Frida Kahlo, another internationally-known artist, as well as works by a third great painter, Russian- born Angelina Beloff. These paintings form a magnificent collection of three major artists whose works have never before been presented to the public in one place.
In this attractive, carefully-curated and well-kept museum can also be found other paintings; pre-Hispanic works; “estofados”, wood carved images of saints covered with gold produced during the New Spain’s Viceroyalty period; and a large gallery dedicated to the “popular” art of Mexico.
The Main Gallery, Paintings of Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera is best known for his murals. Also on view here are some of his large-format easel paintings. Born in 1886 in Guanajuato, a city in the central area of Mexico with mining and literary and artistic traditions, Rivera was one of the painters of the early twentieth-century painting movement known as the Mexican School. He died in Mexico City in 1957.
In this museum can be appreciated works from different periods of Rivera. From his childhood, when he was ten years old when he painted The portrait of María Barrientos de Rivera, 1896, his mother.
In this museum we can appreciate works from different periods of Rivera’s life, beginning with his childhood. In 1896,when he was ten years old, he painted his mother’s portrait, “The Portrait of María Barrientos de Rivera”.
When Rivera was twenty years old, he was granted a scholarship to study in Europe. In Madrid he enrolled at The San Fernando Academy; he remained in Europe for twenty years, traveling extensively and experimenting with the modern painting styles of the early twentieth century.
On view in the main Rivera gallery from his years in Europe is “El picador”, 1909, painted in a manner that would correspond to Spanish Realism. It is a large-format oil painting depicting a key member of a bullfighting team. In this early painting Rivera’s style is already in evidence.
Also on view is “The Mathematician”, from 1918. This work reflects Rivera’s experimentation with the advanced artistic trends of the moment, particularly the Post-Impressionism of Paul Cézanne. In the portrait of René Paresce, Rivera searched for a new style. Later works belonging to the style of the Mexican School include “The Flowered Canoe”, 1931; “The Family”, 1934; and the well-known “La Tehuana, Portrait of Dolores Olmedo”, 1955.
In what was the chapel of the former Hacienda de La Noria can be seen the sketches for the murals that Rivera later painted at the University of Chapingo; “The Execution of Maximilian of Habsburg”, 1935, a sketch that later was a mural at the National Palace; and Frozen Assets, 1931, the only fresco included in this collection and one of the modules Rivera produced for his retrospective exhibition in New York.
The Mayan pieces shown here are an example of this culture’s inventiveness and skill in ceramics and sculpture. Here you can also find five Rivera watercolors of Mayan motifs painted to illustrate the book The Land of the Pheasant and the Deer, 1935. Also in this gallery is one of its most-liked works, “The Watermelons”, 1957, not only because this is a subject matter often associated with the Mexican people, but also because this was the last painting that Rivera did before dying.
A typical kitchen from Mexico’s colonial period is part of the Olmedo Museum. The walls of this room are made of Talavera tiles from the state of Puebla, which were used for the Hacienda’s original structure.
Here are also exhibited silver tableware specially made for Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg, as well as plates made to commemorate the first centennial of México’s independence as a republic. These English porcelain plates are decorated with portraits of Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz, the two most relevant political figures of that time.
Portraits and Self-portraits
This room displays portraits of Dolores Olmedo and her family, drawn or painted by Rivera. The collection includes four self-portraits by Rivera, which show the features for which with candor he was called “el sapo-rana” (the toad): bulging eyes, drooping eyelids, a broad and jowly face with flaccid skin.
In 1954 Rivera’s then-wife Frida Kahlo finally died when Rivera was 68 and had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Sunsets in Acapulco
During Rivera’s stay in Acapulco after cobalt treatments for prostate cancer, he set about documenting, day by day, the ever-changing effects of the light of the setting sun over the Bay of Acapulco. The series amounts to twenty-five paintings.
In this gallery are shown the lithographic works that Diego Rivera produced from 1930 to 1932. A considerable number of these works represent scenes from his murals, in particular “Agrarian Leader Zapata”, “The Boy with a Taco”, and “The Dream, the Night of the Poor”. There are also portraits, among them nudes of Dolores Olmedo and Frida Kahlo and sketches of Emma Dunbar, a friend of Rivera.
These drawings reflect Rivera’s special gift for the medium; they are executed with extreme ease and liberty. Some, such as “The Portrait of Pita Amor”, 1957, were conceived as drawings from the very beginning and are named “conclusions”. Other drawings are simply skeletons of ideas that would be developed later.
Rivera created a floral icon unavoidably associated with his own work, which has been appropriated in the work of his followers. The Alcatraz or Calla Lily, of African origin, has become identified with Mexico. Rivera chose the Alcatraz flower for its erotic associations. These flowers rarely appear alone in his works; generally they appear in his portraits of women or those scenes involving women.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 in Coyoacán, which was then at the outskirts of Mexico City. At the edge of six she contracted polio and began her life-long struggle to survive, a struggle which apparently gave direction to her indomitable spirit. In 1925 she also suffered a terrible bus accident, which left her a virtual invalid for the rest of her life. Part of her pain and desperation are expressed in “The Bus”, 1929 and “Portrait of Alicia Galant”, 1927.
Her immense will and endless curiosity convinced her mother to let Kahlo study at the National Preparatory School, which in those days was uncommon for women. To get there she had to travel daily from the city’s outskirts to the center of downtown México City.
She was a member of the Mexican Communist Party, where she may have had contact with Diego Rivera, one of the pillars of the party. By then Rivera was painting the mural “The Creation”, 1922, in the Simón Bolivar Amphitheater of the National Preparatory School. There are two versions of the story of how they met. The first version is that the Italian photographer Tina Modotti introduced them in a meeting of the Mexican Communist Party. The second version describes a casual meeting at the Ministry of Public Education when Rivera was working on the mural “The Political Perception of the Mexican People”, 1923-28. Rivera and Kahlo married in 1929. They had a tempestuous relationship that in some form is expressed in Kahlo’s self-portrait, “Just a Few Little Pricks”, 1935.
Due to her semi-invalid condition and periods of confinement, Kahlo had much time for introspection and contemplation of her own emotions. Her despair is evident in her work “The Broken Column”, 1944. In this oil painting she is seen standing, partly nude, her exposed body open from her chin right down to her pelvis.
In almost all Kahlo’s paintings she herself is the main subject. She explained that, as she spent so much time alone, she knew herself the best. Frida Kahlo died, at the age of 47, in the Blue House, now known as the Frida Kahlo Museum.
This room is dedicated to works of Rivera done during the twenty years he spent in Europe. In Spain he painted works such as “Self-portrait with Chambergo”, 1907, “In the Outskirts of Toledo (The Old Men)”,1912, and “Near the Fountain of Toledo”, 1913.
In 1909 Rivera arrived in France. During his time of study there he discovered the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Among his works of this period are “Alquerías”, 1914, “Landscape of Normandy”, 1918 and “Landscape of Midi”, 1918. Each of these reflects the influence on Rivera of the landscape subjects and colors of Post-Impressionism, and remind us of the work of Paul Cézanne.
Rivera’s venture into Cubism is evident in “The Sun Breaking the Mist”, 1913. Rivera studied the two variations of Cubism, Analytic and Synthetic. Works from his period of Analytic Cubism include “Young Man With Stylograph”, 1917. In this composition elements are broken into geometric fragments, and then re-arranged within the assigned space.
Probably one of the most-liked paintings of Rivera’s Cubist period is“Knife and Fruit in Front of the Window”, 1917. It was finished three days after the death of the child Rivera had with Angelina Beloff. The scene looks outside, in the grey of winter, over the cityscape of Montparnasse, part of Paris. This work is a mix of Rivera’s two more important early stylistic veins, Cubism and Post-Impressionism.
Fernando Gamboa Gallery
The Dolores Olmedo Museum’s Popular Art collection is one of the most important in the world. It is a representative selection, made mostly when Mexico’s roots were rural. In the 1920s the popular arts and crafts movement became widespread, and was part of the new definition of “national identity”. The best pieces of Mexican popular arts and crafts were considered museum pieces.
The gallery that houses this collection is named for the well-known curator Fernando Gamboa. On view are masterworks in glass, ceramic, paper maché, wood and tin, among other materials. The spectator may decide the artistic merits of these pieces of popular art.
Angelina Beloff was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1879. In 1909, after graduating from the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts, she moved to Paris and continued her study at the Henri Matisse Academy. That same year she met Diego Rivera in Brussels, Belgium. Five years later, in Paris, she gave birth to a child called Diego, who died fourteen months later during the cold winter of 1917. Several years after Rivera’s return to Mexico, in 1932, Beloff decided to follow him there. After some time, they had a casual meeting at a concert in The Palace of Fine Arts at which Rivera was unable to recognize her.
Angelina Beloff’s interpretations of Mexico’s countryside are her most moving works, including The Watering Place” and “The Factory”. Especially memorable is her oil painting “Tepoztlán”, that features the country side from 1949-50 .
Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00
How to get there
Metro Line 2 to Taxqueña Station, then the Light Train (tram) to La Noria Station, after that walk two blocks south.
For further information:
Av. Mexico 5843, la Noria, Xochimilco, México D.F. 16030
Telephones: (52) 55551642, (52) 55551016, (52) 55550891, (52) 55550516