The Flower Carrier (1935) by Diego Rivera displays a Mexican peasant man, painfully struggling on his knees, while he is carrying a basket of flowers on his back. A woman stands behind, trying to help him with the weight. At first glance, one could wonder how these pink, delicate flowers could weigh so much. But the emphasis given by the artist to the oversized bucket, the boldness of its colors, the asymmetrical balance, leave no room for doubt: the man is carrying an unbearable burden, not a bouquet of flowers.
The Flower Carrier represents one of Rivera’s favourite subjects and his affection to underclass people, campesinos, and vendors of Mexico. The artist openly supported with his public murals the cause of Mexican Revolution, and he always expressed his solidarity to common people, proudly identifying himself with them and their unfair struggles. In this painting, painted into the Masonite, Rivera celebrates an archetype, not a real person with his own individual features. The cargador wears white, traditional clothes, and a recognizable sombrero, but we cannot see his face because the hat covers it. He is the symbol of the bigger cause of humble persons, and the aim of the Mexican painter is to elevate their status, bringing justice to their dignity and pride.
Rivera certainly romanticized them, with their yellow, straw hats and sandals, but the Flower Carrier is not a mere manifesto of a simple way of living, it is a denunciation of Mexican intolerable working conditions. The choice of the flowers confirms that: they represent a luxury for the wealthiest people, a graceful and pretty metaphor of their privilege. The worker cannot enjoy their beauty, flowers for him are only goods to be traded.
And the painter is incredibly able to depict this contrast. The background is dark, with gloomy shadows, while the flowers are strikingly bright. The two figures, outlined with thick, black contours, stand out against the surface, strong despite their difficulties. The element of vibrant, gradated, pink is unforgettable, and it lights up the composition.
The disproportion between the size of the working man and the woman is another curious choice. Rivera, with this large female figure -a mother, a wife, a daughter? -, seems to remind us the importance (and the evolution) of the role of women in the 30s Mexican world.
The Flower Carrier incarnates all the inequalities of the capitalistic and modern society at the very beginning. His flowers are not what we could expect as hard work, but they are oppressive precisely because of their lightness, their frivolous superficiality.
Despite his anti-capitalist intentions, Diego Rivera was an extremely contradictory figure, who was sponsored by the biggest businessmen of his age; suffice it to say that Flower Carrier entered San Francisco MoMA collection thanks to the donation of Albert M. Bender, a rich broker and philanthrope.
Rivera knew very well the burden of workers under capitalist rules, he knew the laws of the game enough to make himself compromises with them.