March 23, 1933
The murals recently completed by Diego Rivera in the Detroit Institute of Arts will not be white-washed without provoking indignation among artists here, it appeared yesterday from comments by persons well known in the art field. Although varied points of view were expressed by individual artists and officers of organizations, the burden was in opposition to the group in Detroit that is agitating for the removal or whitewashing of the murals.
Dispatches from Detroit have reported that the frescoes recently completed by Rivera, widely known Mexican artist, have aroused the ire of Catholics, who called them irreligious and charged that one painting in particular, the "Vaccination" panel, was a caricature of the Holy Family. Rivera, who has come to New York to begin work on a mural painting for the Rockefeller Center, denied the charge in an interview here.
The "Vaccination" panel portrays a child, supported at the left by a nurse in uniform, wearing a nurse's cap which, antagonists of the picture charge, resembles a nimbus. At the right of the panel appears a physician administering vaccine to the child. This figure has been represented by opponents of Rivera as intended to caricature Joseph, as they charge, the other figure represents the Virgin. Above these figures appear three scientists engaged in research, who have been likened to the three wise men. At the bottom of the canvas are animals, said by Rivera to suggest only the source of the vaccine, but by his opponents to represent animals usually portrayed in representation of the Holy Family in the stable.
Artists Come to His Defense
The Museum of Modern Art here came to Rivera's defense with a statement. Holger Cahill, its director of exhibitions, said:
"I have not seen the Rivera murals in Detroit, but I have the highest opinion of Diego Rivera's talent and his integrity as an artist. The Museum of Modern Art has already expressed its opinion of Diego Rivera's work in giving him a one-man show, which was held in the Winter of 1931, in the catalogue of that exhibition, and in the portfolio of color reproductions of his Mexican murals, which the museum published two weeks ago."
John Sloan, president of the Society of Independent Artists, expressed the opinion that since Rivera did not intend any caricature of the Holy Family, those who read sacrilege into the work were really themselves guilty of sacrilege. To whitewash the paintings, Mr. Sloan contended, would only attract more attention to them.
"Reverence for Life."
Walter Pach, artist, critic and writer, said that he had seen the paintings and had studied the "vaccination" mural particularly.
"The statement that the paintings are irreligious is utterly absurd," he said, "The feeling that one gets from them is reverence for life. I think there is no allusion whatever to the Holy Family. If these paintings are whitewashed, nothing can ever be done to whitewash America."
Charles C. Curran, secretary of the National Academy of Design, said that although he could not speak for the academy, he felt as an individual artist that the extent of the opposition to the pictures should determine one's point of view regarding them.
"Although we cannot adjust our art standards to the average public taste, for this is a young country in which popular taste is not yet very high, I feel that if the majority of the people are offended by a painting, the painting may be wrong and not the people," he said.
Dr. William H. Fox, director of the Brooklyn Museum, said that, although he had not seen the paintings in Detroit, he knew Rivera to be a serious artist, and could not impute to him any intention of caricaturing religious sentiment. "To whitewash the paintings would be going to extremes," said Dr. Fox, "It does not seem to me that this would be the proper way for opponents to the paintings to show their grievance."
Leon Kroll, a member of the National Academy of Design and president of the American Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers, expressed the opinion that since the art commission of Detroit had accepted Rivera's designs for the murals before he started painting, there should be no ground for complaint now.
"Under the circumstances," said Mr. Kroll, "I think that our society would support Mr. Rivera."