Diego Rivera's Linda Christian portrait headlines at $350,000

Diego Rivera's arresting Portrait of Linda Christian has been announced as the main attraction in Christie's Latin American sale, which will be held November 20-21 in New York.

Diego Rivera Portrait of Linda Christian auction Christie's
Allegorical figures in the painting's backdrop suggest an erotic love affair

The Mexican artist is best known for his large scale and often controversial wall murals, but is also well-regarded for his portraiture, particularly of women. His 1947 portrait of the Mexican-born actress Linda Christian is regarded as a masterpiece, yet according to Christie's remains "virtually unknown to the general public and scholars alike", having never been exhibited. It is expected to bring $250,000-350,000.

Rivera first met Christian in the 1940s and is known to have painted at least two portraits of her, both of which still survive. The image in the present auction was used on the cover of Christian's 1962 autobiography, Linda My Own Story, and is a superb example of Rivera's skill in portraiture.

Linda Christian was originally painted topless for the work, but the translucent top that the actress now wears was added later at the request of her mother, who purportedly expressed concerns over the piece. It displays the typically bright colours and use of light for which Rivera is known, with the hummingbirds in the backdrop suggesting "an erotically charged metaphor", a common feature of his work.

Rivera was married to fellow artist Frida Kahlo at the time of the painting, though he conducted frequent love affairs with his models. Rivera and Kahlo led a troubled marriage, with both tolerating numerous extramarital relationships.

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