CM: While in Paris with Malvina Hoffman between September 1933 and March 1935, Frances Rich studied drawing under Ángel Zárraga (1886-1946), who had decorated the Mexican embassy there. From Zárraga, Rich heard about Diego Rivera, who had left Paris to return to Mexico before she arrived. Rivera was an active communist and husband of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). He was already known for his painted murals in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit and New York City. The retrospective exhibition of his works held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1931 gave him a reputation for brilliantly reinterpreting Mexican history from a revolutionary and nationalistic point of view.
On 5 June 1940, he visited the United States for the last time, in order to paint a 10-panel mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. That is where Frances Rich met Rivera, introducing herself as a student of Zárraga (1886-1946). Seeing Rivera working on a mural, Rich's mother, Irene, commissioned him to do a fresco of her daughter. He agreed and asked if he could stay at the Rich Studio in Santa Barbara. Rivera arrived there, with assistants, in late December. An anonymous Hollywood photographer was invited by Irene Rich to record the commission. The Seated Portrait of Frances Rich in her Studio was painted al fresco by Rivera after a preliminary cartoon recorded as having been drawn on 9 January 1941. The fresco was executed on a prepared frame on a background of hardware cloth and other reinforcement that was covered with a thick layer of white cement. Framed securely, the top layer served as a contained small wall, on which the layers of marble dust and slaked lime mix were daily plastered for the painting of the fresco with dry lime proof colors mixed with purified water. In keeping with the fresco technique, Rivera painted directly "alla prima", without having any further chance to revisit the painting. This special medium obliged Rivera to use a very soft brush on a very sensitive material, and to execute the picture quickly and at once. The fresco itself was set in the wall of the studio-home at Hope Ranch, California, in October 1941, nine months after Rivera completed it. However, in March of 1941 a small earthquake threw the fresco, as yet not mounted in the wall, to the floor, damaging it irrevocably, although Rich reset it in plaster of Paris. After completing this fresco portrait of Rich, Rivera painted the first of two oil self-portraits, the first of which was bought by Irene Rich, while the second was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund and Barbara Firestone.
[Megakles Rogakos 01/2009]
ARMITAGE, MERLE The Sculpture of Frances Rich 1974 Manzanita Press, Ramona, CA., p.59-60
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Frances Rich - La Gazelle 2010 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens