Skip to main content


Introducing the Brutons

The three Bruton sisters, Margaret, Esther, and Helen, were prolific and inventive artists working in California from the 1920s through the 1970s. Together, and separately, they experimented with modernism in a wide variety of styles and mediums, collaborated with important artists and architects, were lauded by the press, and won countless art prizes, frequently besting male artists who went on to have more successful careers. Known as the “gifted sisters from Monterey” or the “three amazing Bruton sisters,” they were called “geniuses” who “impress by the intelligence of their art.”  They earned commissions for important public art projects funded by the WPA, culminating in their masterful execution of a bas relief mural for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. The Brutons were paid $20,000 for the mural (more than $350,000 in today’s dollars), an astounding sum to earn in the final year of the Depression.   Despite their prominence in the early twentieth
Get new posts by email:

Diego Rivera's America

Last night I attended the opening party for Diego Rivera's America at SFMOMA.  It was a wonderful event, with amazing food and drink, live music, and a preview of this much-anticipated exhibition which opens to the public on Saturday (July 16).  

Lately I have been focused on Rivera as a mural painter, and it's undeniable that his large-scale works are powerful, complex, and masterful. You get a sense of this in the exhibition, where several of Rivera's frescoes are recreated digitally in their full-size glory. The experience of viewing one of his murals involves stepping back as you attempt to take in all the details and layers of meaning. You are challenged by the complexity. But last night I also saw a different side of Rivera, the gentler side you might say.  Viewing Rivera's paintings -- his smaller works -- is a totally different experience; you move in closer to participate in an intimate moment he has invited you to share. His depictions of everyday men and women at work and in repose are powerful and emotional. Here are just a few of my favorites:

I also thought this piece was fascinating, if a bit creepy:

The exhibition covers many of Rivera's murals and projects in the Bay Area. For example, when Diego and Frida Kahlo visited San Francisco in 1930-31, they lived with the Brutons' good friend Ralph Stackpole.  I was pleased to see Rivera's portrait of Stackpole and his wife in the exhibition:

Also on view is Frida Kahlo's Portrait of Dr. Leo Eloesser, the work that appears in the background of Margaret Bruton's portrait of Kahlo.  In fact, it's fascinating to view these works side by side.  I see so many similarities, such as the way the subjects are positioned, how they hold their arms, and the expressions on their faces:


But the similarities don't end there. Kahlo's portrait includes a drawing by Rivera in the background (on the wall to the right), while Margaret's portrait includes a painting by Kahlo in the background (leaning on a wall to the left). It almost feels as if Margaret's portrait of Frida is an homage to Frida's portrait of Dr. Eloesser. Could it be?  

Finally, I was interested to learn about a project Rivera proposed for Oakland's Paramount Theatre in 1930.  He created sketches for a 100-foot tall mosaic to decorate the facade of the theater.  Although his proposal wasn't accepted and another artist created the mosaics for the theater, I was surprised to read this quote by Rivera: "There is only one form of painting superior to fresco -- it is mosaic."  This is especially interesting given Helen Bruton's difficulty working with Rivera during the "Art in Action" program (see my blog post about this). I wonder if she was aware of Rivera's respect and admiration for a medium that she had mastered and was so central to her art career?  

In conclusion, I can't recommend Diego Rivera's America highly enough.  We all know Rivera as a figure who was larger than life, a huge talent who created complex, immensely powerful murals.  But in this exhibition you will see a different side of this renowned artist, and you will love what you see.  The show runs at SFMOMA through January 2, 2023.


Popular Posts