From Nelson Rockefeller: A Political Biography.
By James Desmond. New York: The MacMillan Company. 1964.
In the early years Nelson also stood in for his father, who conceived the project and bore the primary responsibility for it, at most of the ceremonial chores connected with Rockefeller Center which needed the presence of a Rockefeller. It was his first experience in public relations, and, in the opinion of those who watched him, he came off rather well.
Less happy was his intervention in the artistic side of the Center. The plans called for a mural in the lobby of the main building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The painting, sixty-three by seventeen feet, would be a showpiece for the tourists. Nelson and his mother, the "artistic Rockefellers" to the family, prevailed on the selection of the Mexican Marxist Diego Rivera, a muralist of worldwide reputation, to do the work. Fees and opportunities on that scale were rare in the Depression years, and Rivera, whatever his misgivings about the capitalist system, eagerly grabbed the commission. He submitted a not very imaginative sketch and synopsis for a fresco, in color, portraying American scenes. It was approved by Nelson and his mother as well as the directors.
Once the contract was signed, however, Rivera's Marxist artistic "integrity" reasserted itself. He threw away the sketch and went to work on a painting glorifying Lenin and the Russian Revolution, with such "typical" American scenes as police riding down demonstrators on Wall Street. The shock to the Rockefeller Center directors can be imagined.
Nelson was appalled. But Rivera, so charming and cooperative while negotiating the contract, wouldn't even acknowledge suggestions for a change. Nor would he stop working. On May 10, 1933, he was paid off in full-$21,500-and fired. The painting was chipped from the wall to the amusement of the general public and to the glee of the Communists who had a fine time picketing against this capitalist destruction of proletarian art.
Eventually, Jose Maria Sert did the mural, portraying various American scenes, that still decorates the lobby.
Nelson's determined respect for artistic integrity was shaken.