The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston acquired a recently rediscovered painting by Mexican artist Diego Rivera for $4 million at Christie’s auction held on Friday. The price for the work is the third-highest one ever achieved for a work by Rivera at auction, whose record of $9.6 million was paid for The Rivals (1931) at Christie’s in May 2018, when it sold from the collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller.
The painting that the museum acquired, La Bordadora (The Embroiderer), from 1928, depicts an interior scene of two women, one of whom is seated at a table working on an embroidery panel. Bought during a Latin American art auction in New York, it was sold by the descendants of a New Orleans businessman and professor with ties to artistic circles in Mexico. He had acquired the painting between 1928 and 1929, shortly after it was produced. Prior to the auction, it had never been exhibited publicly; the only record of it was a black and white photograph. At Christie’s, it sold for more than five times its $700,000 estimate.
The scene in La Bordadora is similar to one depicted in another work by Rivera held by the MFA. That other work shows an Indigenous craftsman, and was produced for a mural cycle that Rivera worked on between 1923 and 1928 for the Ministry of Education in Mexico City.
In a statement, the museum’s director, Gary Tinterow, said, “Both La Bordadora and the ministry murals herald a fundamental theme of Rivera’s life’s work, to capture the dignity of the everyday.
“With this acquisition,” Tinterow continued, “we will be able to build on the foundations of our extraordinary holdings of 20th-century Latin American art to tell the story of modernism from its earliest chapters.”
As recognition for key Latin American modernists rises, many U.S. museums are acquiring Rivera’s work. Last August, Los Angeles’s Lucas Museum of Narrative Art acquired Rivera’s Opponent of Nazism (1933), one of only eight surviving panels produced from the Portrait of America (1933) mural he made for New York’s New Workers School.