Cover image for Painting on the left : Diego Rivera, radical politics, and San Francisco's public murals
Painting on the left : Diego Rivera, radical politics, and San Francisco's public murals
Lee, Anthony W., 1960-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 264 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm
When murals become public -- Museums, murals, and municipal culture -- Allegories of California -- Making a fresco, showing another public -- Revolution on the walls and in the streets -- Federal patronizing -- Artists, unite! -- Labor and loss.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ND259.R5 L44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The boldly political mural projects of Diego Rivera and other leftist artists in San Francisco during the 1930s and early 1940s are the focus of Anthony W. Lee's fascinating book. Led by Rivera, these painters used murals as a vehicle to reject the economic and political status quo and to give visible form to labor and radical ideologies, including Communism.

Several murals, and details of others, are reproduced here for the first time. Of special interest are works by Rivera that chart a progress from mural paintings commissioned for private spaces to those produced as a public act in a public space: Allegory of California, painted in 1930-31 at the Stock Exchange Lunch Club; Making a Fresco, Showing the Building of a City , done a few months later at the California School of Fine Arts; and Pan American Unity , painted in 1940 for the Golden Gate International Exposition.

Labor itself became a focus of the new murals: Rivera painted a massive representation of a construction worker just as San Francisco's workers were themselves organizing; Victor Arnautoff, Bernard Zakheim, John Langley Howard , and Clifford Wight painted panels in Coit Tower that acknowledged the resolve of the dockworkers striking on the streets below. Radical in technique as well, these muralists used new compositional strategies of congestion, misdirection, and fragmentation, subverting the legible narratives and coherent allegories of traditional murals.

Lee relates the development of wall painting to San Francisco's international expositions of 1915 and 1939, the new museums and art schools, corporate patronage, and the concerns of immigrants and ethnic groups. And he examines how mural painters struggled against those forces that threatened their practice: the growing acceptance of modernist easel painting, the vagaries of New Deal patronage, and a wartime nationalism hostile to radical politics.

Author Notes

Anthony W. Lee is Assistant Professor of Art at Mount Holyoke College.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Lee has something for all readers. For students of history, he paints a panorama of political, social, and artistic movements in San Francisco from the 1920s to the '40s. For those interested in artistic movements, he provides two major insights: the impact that the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera effected outside his country, despite the xenophobia and racism prevalent in San Francisco at the time, and the role art had in the city's reconstruction after the 1906 earthquake and fire. This painstakingly researched study details the planning and execution of such undertakings as the Panama Pacific International Exposition and the Coit Tower mural project, and it examines the major players, which included patrons, political figures, and artists. For students of Rivera (here his contribution focuses mainly on San Francisco projects: two fixed murals, an art-as-process movable mural, and an exhibition), Lee illuminates Rivera's influential role in the development of the concept of "public art" in this city. Aside from detailed scrutiny of Rivera's work, Lee provides informative descriptions of the works and the public's reception of leftist artists such as Victor Arnautoff and Bernard Zakheim, and of obscure groups such as the Chinese Revolutionary Artists' Club. Both city and artist share the spotlight in this insightful study. General readers; undergraduates through faculty. S. T. Clark; California State University, San Marcos