MFAH purchases a $4 million rediscovered Diego Rivera painting

Diego Rivera, “La Bordadora,” 1928, oil on canvas / Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited

The 1928 painting La bordadora (or The Embroiderer) by Mexican master Diego Rivera, which has never been on view publicly, will now enter the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s permanent collection, following a $4.14 million acquisition at a Christie’s auction on March 11.

As a pre-condition of the sale, the painting travels first to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the exhibition Diego Rivera’s America in July 2022, and it is also scheduled to travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas in March 2023.

The MFAH says the painting will be displayed in the museum’s Kinder Building once it arrives in Houston in coming months.

According to the MFAH in a press release:

“Rivera had gone to the region of Tehuantepec, near Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1923, and there discovered the vibrant, Indigenous culture of Mexico, with its traditions passed down by women through generations. He created drawings as well as a few paintings of weavers and artisans.

La Bordadora depicts two women in an abstracted interior at a table, with the woman in the foreground working on an embroidery panel.”

This becomes the ninth work by Diego Rivera in the MFAH’s collection.

La Bordadora relates thematically and stylistically to a beautiful Rivera cartoon already in the MFAH collection, from his iconic mural cycle at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City,” said Gary Tinterow, Director of the MFAH, in a statement.

Diego Rivera, Cartoon for “The Liberation of the Peon,” C. 1931, charcoal and graphite on paper, mounted on canvas. Museum purchase funded by Charles W. Tate in honor of Charles T. Newton, Jr. at “One Great Night in November, 1997” / Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

“Both La Bordadora and the ministry murals herald a fundamental theme of Rivera’s life’s work, to capture the dignity of the everyday,” Tinterow said.

Previously, the painting had been held in the private collection of the Feibleman family of New Orleans, dating back to its acquisition nearly a century ago by James Kern Feibleman – a businessman, philosopher, poet, and English professor at Tulane University.

Only a photograph of the painting from 1930 was known to exist, until the painting’s location was recently discovered, according to the MFAH.

Its $4.14 million price makes it one of the highest achieved by a work of Rivera at auction – the record being $9.7 million for Rivera’s The Rivals in 2018, sold to a private collector.

“The MFAH has been building our collection of 20th-century art from Latin America for the last 20 years,” Tinterow said. “With this acquisition, we will be able to build on the foundations of our extraordinary holdings of 20th-century Latin American art, making the work of the early modernists available to the public.”

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