Man at the Crossroads
Portrait of America
Diego Rivera Working
The next time you walk into Rockefeller Center
in New York City, try to imagine an enormous
mural in the lobby area, painted by Diego Rivera.
Imagining the mural is all one can do.
In 1932, after seeing some of Rivera’s
murals, Nelson Rockefeller asked if he would
be interested in painting a mural in the Radio
Corporation Arts Building in Rockefeller Center.
Interestingly, Picasso and Matisse were also
asked but both refused the offer. Rivera himself
initially rejected the invitation. But Rockefeller
finally persuaded Rivera to accept
In 1933, Rivera began his work. The painting,
Man at the Crossroads, was to depict the social,
political, industrial, and scientific possibilities
of the twentieth century. In the painting, Rivera
included a scene of a giant May Day demonstration
of workers marching with red banners with the
clear portrait of Lenin leading the demonstration.
Rockefeller showed his concern over Rivera
including a portrait of the Russian revolutionary
leader in his mural. Nelson Rockefeller told
Rivera that while the portrait was beautifully
painted, it might easily offend a great many
people. He asked the painter to remove Lenin’s
face and substitute it with some unknown man.
Rivera’s assistants told him that if he
removed the head of Lenin, they would go on
strike. Rivera agreed with his assistants and
told Rockefeller that Lenin’s head would
stay but that he would be glad to add the head
of some great American leader, such as Lincoln,
to another section of the mural.
As both sides could not reach an agreement,
he was ordered to stop and the painting was
covered and destroyed in February of 1934. That
same year, Rivera used the money from the Rockefellers
to create a mural for the Independent Labor
Institute that had Lenin as its central figure.
Rivera was still determined to complete a
version of his Rockefeller mural, but in a different
place. His new version of the painting, entitled
Man, Controller of the Universe, was done in
Mexico City upon his return. The painting included
both Lenin and Leon Trotsky.
Rivera also went on to paint his “Portrait
of America” murals in the New Workers
School in New York City. The work symbolized
the heroes of American history and included
such figures as Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine,
Emerson and Thoreau, Walt Whitman and John Brown.