PAULETTE GODDARD & DIEGO RIVERA

photogoddardriveraphotoriveradeuxfemmesIt was George Gershwin who gave her a passion for Mexico and who introduced her to Diego Rivera, one of the country’s most famous painters, known above all for his monumental murals.

She would be one of the reasons for the divorce, in 1939, of the mythic couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (they, however, remarried a year later in San Francisco). Supposedly, Paulette even refused a marriage proposal from Diego.

Gone to Mexico for a photo report for the magazine Look (Paulette Goddard Discovers Mexico), she met the painter while living in the San Angel Inn across from his studio. It was thanks to a telephone call from Paulette warning him that the police were preparing to arrest him that Diego was able to escape and remain hidden for several weeks (he was suspected of involvement in the May 1940 attempted assassination of Stalin opponent and communist exile, Léon Trotski (ultimately assassinated in August 1940 at which time it was Frida Kahlo’s turn to be a suspected of complicity and be briefly detained). After providing him with food in his hiding place, Paulette helped the artist leave his country for California. Diego then declared to the American press that Paulette had saved his life; the FBI then decides to put the actress under surveillance and investigate her political opinions and activities.

Paulette may have been encouraged by Diego to paint several pictures of her own.  She bought some of his paintings including some which were sold in 1984, notably The Calla Lilies. Diego also offered Paulette a drawing of Two Young Female Nudes signing it: “For the home of Paulette, 9 March 1943.” This drawing was forgotten during the divorce proceedings between Paulette and Burgess Meredith who later found the drawing rolled up in a corner of his house it thus became part of his estate.  

Diego painted a few paintings for Paulette and she is represented in two of his paintings :

 

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The first is titled Pan American Unity in which Paulette and Diego are depicted hand-in-hand planting a white tree - a symbol of unity between the North and the South. Frida Kalho appears beside them in the mural (the love triangle!). Paulette is represented three more times in the mural with Charles Chaplin (depicting their film The great dictator).

This fresco mural (done in ten sections) was painted from June to November 1940 for the San Francisco Golden Gate international exhibition (it is now situated in the City College of San Francisco Diego Rivera Theatre).

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The second painting is titled Portrait of Paulette Goddard, painted between 1940 and 1941. Diego wanted to paint her nude, but Paulette refused ! It is a double portrait depicting Paulette and an Indian; the painting has a Mexican ambiance which is reinforced by the presence of a petate (a type of bedroll) and pre-Colombian objects. The painting was finished by the artist in the United States after his hasty departure from Mexico. According to Paulette’s will, the painting would be donated to an association for either religious, charitable, scientific, or educational causes chosen by the executor of her estate. It was sold at auction in June 1999 for $552,500 by Christie’s in New York.

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