Robert Tanitch reviews two books
Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals (Taschen) is an amazing, thrilling, very large size art book which will give enormous pleasure. One of the high spots of any visit to Mexico is seeing Rivera’s murals in the three storey courtyard of the Ministry of Public Education and elsewhere and discovering Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Almeida Park. The Mexican painter (1886-1967) was celebrated by the intellectual Left and the artistic community. He was active during the 1916-1917 revolution and his art, aimed at a largely illiterate proletariat, is always politically motivated. His murals, he said, belong to the people. His monumental crowded, turbulent frescos record and glorify the history of Mexico, yesterday, today and tomorrow, covering the golden age, the turmoil and the violence. The sheer number of people in any fresco always amazes. The blend of folk art and revolutionary propaganda has extraordinary and overwhelming power.
Cecil Beaton: Portraits and Profiles (Frances Lincoln) has all the glamour and elegance and theatricality you would expect of Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) and indeed High Society and Haute Couture. Theatregoers, living in austerity Britain in the immediate aftermath of World War 2 and still having ration books and clothing coupons, were dazzled by Beaton’s lavish costumes in a revival of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan and in particular the costumes worn by Isabel Jeans. They would be dazzled again by the black and white Ascot scene in the musical My Fair Lady. What makes this collection of portraits, which include Dietrich, Garbo, Bankhead and Monroe, so appealing are the incisive comments on the sitters drawn from extracts from his diary. In 1937 Beaton was appointed court photographer, he even persuaded the Queen Mother to pose like a model. He had an amusing time photographing the Queen. He was ordered about by Winston Churchill. He absolutely loathed Elizabeth Taylor.