Mexican Muralism

Mexican muralism was a pictorial movement of Mexican artists promoted by the Mexican government after the effects of the Mexican Revolution. 

With great social inequalities at that time, the movement was inspired by the purpose of highlighting national identity and values so as to reach the various sectors of Mexican society.   It promoted the pre-Hispanic past and indigenous culture, Mexican Independence and the Mexican Revolution, these linked to collectivism and the modern.

Muralism in Mexico is a popular and monumental art.

History of Mexican Muralism

In Mexico, the tradition of painting murals dates back to the pre-Hispanic period. Murals were painted by cultures such as the Olmec (1200 BC).  

There was also muralist painting during the colonization period.  

In the 1800’s, the search for a nationalist art was an antecedent of Mexican muralism.

Modern Mexican muralism begins after the Mexican Revolution (1910), as part of the modernization policies of the Mexican government.  A national crusade was initiated with national funding and an overall reception by the Mexican population.

Moving forward, Mexican muralism gained momentum in the 1920’s.

Mural by Fermín Revueltas.

Allegory to the Virgin of Guadalupe

National Preparatory School Escuela


As the years followed, with the support of the Ministry of Public Education (SEP), muralism spread throughout the Mexican territory. The period of greatest activity was between 1922 and 1954. In 1923, Mexican muralism is well known inside and outside Mexico.

As a movement, Mexican muralism extends until the 1970’s.

 Mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Retrato de la burguesía. Mexican Electrician Syndicate. 1940.

In the 21st century there have been attempts to revive muralism in Mexico.

Characteristics of Mexican Muralism

Mexican muralism followed a program to achieve the purposes of the revolutionary state: first, a recovery of history, as a source of national identity, and second, a recognition of the descendants of that history as still present.


Mexican Muralism is an art that has a public scope, achieved via monumental art, i.e. a wall.  The wall is its essential support, giving monumentality to the artistic concept. Walls are present in state buildings, schools, universities, and churches. Included are vaulted ceilings, pendentives, barrel vaults, and boards.  A wall ensured that art fulfilled its public purpose.


There is also a presence of official character, as Mexican muralism from the beginning was promoted by official institutions.  


The beginning of Mexican Muralism was impregnated by the political ideas of the time, with an idea of nationalist values and a great influence of collectivism.


Often, The aesthetics of muralism oscillate between avant-garde currents such as Futurism, Cubism or Surrealism and figurative aesthetics of a social and realistic nature. It often combines both aesthetics.

Public spaces

Mexican Muralism is constituted by the walls of public spaces. These include the interior of official institutions, educational and cultural centers, such as the Palace of Fine Arts, the National University, offices of the Ministry of Public Education, the National Preparatory School, and the National Museum of History, among others.


Mexican Muralism served to communicate with the great majority of Mexicans about their history, their struggles, and to rescue cultural values.

Art of collective participation

Mexican Muralism involves a large number of participants.

Techniques in Mexican Muralism

In Mexican muralism, two predominant techniques have been used: fresco and encaustic.

Initially the most used was fresco painting: pigments of mineral origin mixed with water, applied on walls freshly covered with plaster.

The fresco technique was initially the most used. It consists of painting with pigments of mineral origin dissolved in water on a wall freshly covered with lime plaster.  The lime drying process causes the pigments to clump together and fix. This increases durability. Drying time is quick, such that those artists using this technique are true masters.

In the encaustic technique, the binding material is hot wax mixed with pigments. It is applied with a brush or hot spatula, then polished. This technique has been used since ancient times.

The muralists also experimented with mosaics, cement, prefabricated slabs, sand, and marble dust.

Themes of Mexican Muralism

The political and social vocation with which Mexican muralism was born was the frame of reference for the selection of themes, which were at the service of the State. Let’s know the most important ones.

Universal Values and Political Propaganda

Initially republican and libertarian principles were represented. Left-wing ideologies were in full expansion and stood as a promise. Thus, class struggle, freedom, oppression, peasant life, the working class, and political leaders, were represented.

Knowledge and Progress

The tendency of the muralist movement was to subscribe to modernization and progress. Therefore, they also advocated knowledge, science and technology, including industrialization and the machine. All this represented the cult of progress as a horizon from a Marxist logic.

Pre-Hispanic Past

Through the arts, Mexican Muralism presented an image to heirs of an indigenous past.Mexican Muralism focused on the representation of the history and mythology of pre-Hispanic cultures, with the used of symbols, customs, historical accounts.

History of Mexico

Different passages of Mexican history would become part of the thematic repertoire. The conquest and colonization, the war of independence, the Mexican revolution, the abolition of slavery, literacy promotion campaigns, etc. Some representations would show the triumphs of the nation, others the contradictions against which it was necessary to fight.

Mural by Diego Rivera

Crossing the Amanalco Ravine

Photo credit:

New iconography

The iconographic repertoire of art was renewed, with the iconography of workers and peasants portrayed with Christian allegories, occult signs, symbolism and synthetism.  

Indigenous iconography developed later.  

Indigenist style

The indigenous style began in 1923.  Indigenous iconography and plastic style were incorporated.

To many Mexicans, this art style is the best expression.

Principal artists of Mexican Muralism

Listed below are principal artist representatives who stand out in Mexican Muralism.

Dr. Atl (1875-1964)

Juan Cordero (1824-1884)

Jean Charlot  (1898-1979)

Ramón Alva de la Canal (1892-1985)

Fernando Leal (1896-1964)

Roberto Montenegro (1887-1968)

José Clemente Orozco (1883- 1949)

Fermín Revueltas (1902- 1935)

Diego Rivera (1886–1957)

David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)