Diego Rivera

Mrs Helen Wills Moody


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Not on display

Diego Rivera 1886–1957
Pastel on paper
Support: 2277 × 1602 mm
frame: 2454 × 1772 × 88 mm
Presented by the Earl of Huntingdon 1958

Display caption

The subject of this portrait was a famous North American tennis player and artist. Rivera met her while working on a fresco for the walls of the San Francisco Stock Exchange. He included her portrait as a gigantic personification of California. She recalled: ‘He sketched in sanguine chalk before my astonished eyes, on a colossal scale, while standing on a soapbox...The likeness was unmistakable, although somewhat stylised as the fresco demanded.’

Gallery label, January 2019

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Catalogue entry

Diego Rivera 1886-1957

T00200 Mrs Helen Wills Moody 1930

Inscribed 'Diego Rivera. 1930' b.l.
Sanguine and pastel on paper, 89 3/4 x 63 1/8 (228 x 160.3)
Presented by the Earl of Huntingdon 1958
Prov: Richard Tobin (purchased from the artist); the Earl and Countess of Huntingdon, London
Exh: Lent by Viscount Hastings (later the Earl of Huntingdon) to the Tate Gallery from c.1936 until presented
Lit: Diego Rivera, Portrait of America (New York-London 1935), p.14; Helen Wills, Fifteen-Thirty (New York-London 1937), pp.183-5; Bertram D. Wolfe, Diego Rivera: his Life and Times (New York-London 1939), pp.324, 327; Bertram D. Wolfe, The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera (London 1968), pp. 290-1

Mrs Helen Wills Moody (née Wills), the famous American tennis player; she won the women's singles at Wimbledon no less than eight times between 1927 and 1938.

When Diego Rivera came to San Francisco in November 1930 to make frescoes for the Luncheon Club at the Stock Exchange and the California School of Fine Arts (his first mural paintings in the USA), Mrs Wills Moody was introduced to him by William Gerstle, President of the Art Association. Rivera made a portrait sketch of her in profile in sanguine chalk, and later asked her to sit for the head of the central figure of California for the Stock Exchange fresco. This study is T00200. As she recalled: 'He sketched in sanguine chalk before my astonished eyes, on a colossal scale, while standing on a soapbox ... The likeness was unmistakable, although somewhat stylized as the fresco demanded.'

Objections were raised, however, to her inclusion in the fresco. There were those who thought they had a better claim to be 'California's representative woman'; others demanded that the head be made 'typical of the California womanhood but not a portrait of any one individual'. The artist therefore changed the colour of the hair from blond to black, though he left the features more or less the same. The large figure of California, which dominates the fresco, is seen with one hand opening the sub-soil to the labour of the miners, and with the other hand offering the ripe fruits of the earth. (For a reproduction see Rivera, op. cit., p.33).

Mrs Wills Moody, herself a talented artist, introduced Rivera to Dr W.R. Valentiner, a meeting which was to result in the famous frescoes in the courtyard of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Earl of Huntingdon, then Viscount Hastings, worked as Rivera's assistant on the frescoes in the Stock Exchange and the California School of Fine Art, and later at Detroit.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.635-6, reproduced p.635


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