Soviet Harvest Scene

In September, 1927 Diego Rivera went to the Soviet Union as part of the official Mexican delegation invited to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution. Soon after his arrival, Rivera received a government commission to paint a mural for the Red Army Club. Although the project was eventually halted, the artist remained in Russia until June, 1928 producing a remarkable set of drawings, watercolors and oils based on the May Day parade and on his observations of the Soviet people. This unpublished watercolor of a Soviet Harvest Scene is unusual both for its size (most of the studies are small format sketchbook works) and for its fresh appearance.

In Moscow, Rivera found himself at odds with the two prevailing art tendencies, social realism and the Russian avant-garde. Searching for an alternate style, Rivera became associated with October, a group of artists who shared his disapproval of the elitist art of the avant-garde and his mistrust of the academic and propagandist social realists. October’s members believed that art should exist to serve the proletarian struggle by educating the masses and by forging a new “mode of life” for them. They conceived of a public art that was not propagandistic, yet was designed to expound political messages using forms that the proletariat would understand.

Rather than adopt October’s ideology completely, Rivera extracted from it what he found useful in developing his own ideas. Rivera’s farmers are not depicted as tragically heroic, nor is this a rendition of how a Soviet actually looks while harvesting. We see instead Rivera’s utopian vision of labor, which excludes the harshness of Soviet reality. The female worker is liberated by the advent of farm machines and the old order, represented by the wealthy kulák at left, is set aside in favor of collective farming. This concept of the glorified worker becomes crystallized soon after and we see it full-blown in his next great fresco cycle, Man and Machine, commissioned by Edsel Ford in 1932 for the Detroit Institute of Arts. [Thanks to Olivier Debroise for the information on Eisenstein and Rivera.]

Provenance:
Acquired from the artist
By descent to the present owner