Entrance to the Museo Dolores Olmedo

Entrance to the Museo Dolores Olmedo. Photo by Betty Walton.

You can travel thirty-two kilometers from the zocalo (town square) to the quaint canals of Xochimilco and still be in Mexico City.

Just short of this is a retreat, the sixteenth century monastery/hacienda/Museo Dolores Olmedo, home to the largest private collection of original Diego Rivera paintings, Frida Kahlo works and the largest private collection of pre-Colombian artifacts.

Well-educated and astute businesswoman, Dolores Olmedo Patiña used her wealth to benefit others. Art collector, lifelong friend to Diego Rivera and philanthropist, she donated this property (her home) with its art to Mexico amongst other generous acts.

You walk through pristine, well-maintained grounds with a duck pond, statuary, and roaming peacocks everywhere to the first gallery, which was once her personal living space. This area is full of antiques, paintings and collectibles, some in cases and some exposed like furnishings. Eastern influences show up in carved ivory tusks and a statue of the twenty-four armed Hindu goddess, Kali. Adjacent is the bedroom with sultry crimson accessories and a balcony opening onto gardens. One can easily visualize how easy it was to wake up to this paradise.

A pleasant stroll outside, turning the corner takes you to rooms around a courtyard; including the Rivera gallery with oils, impressive etchings for his murals, work from as early as 1907 and a sampling of his cubism. Interspersed with his paintings are pre-Colombian artifacts: anthropomorphic figures with disfigured craniums and smiles showing filed teeth, delicate sculptures from northern Mexico, and wooden Xoloitzquintles (Mexican hairless dogs), a favorite pet of Dolores Olmedo. A statue on the grounds with a Xolo at her side indicates her love of the dogs. There are still many kept on the premises.

Another small but precious collection in its own room is Rivera’s prescient sunset series, small-sized oils he painted a year before his death, overlooking the sea from Dolores Olmedo’s vacation estate in Acapulco where Rivera spent his final years.

From the courtyard into Frida Kahlo’s gallery, you are graced with some of her most famous paintings amongst a small but powerful collection. Frida fearlessly exposes herself with paintings such as The Broken Column. Capturing dead eyes of The Deceased Dimas speaks volumes of her affinity with death during her life.

Stroll along a walkway to the Popular Arts Gallery. A delightful collection of groups of contemporary crafts from all parts of Mexico include regional dress from Chiapas, masks from Guerrero, blown glass from Jalisco, finely painted geometric designs on vases from Chihuahua, and life-size skeletons by the famous don Pedro Linares, creator of alebrijes.

You will not find a lovelier way to spend a half-day in the big city. Not only will you see world famous art in an idyllic setting, you can relax with lunch at the charming café and stay for the 1 p.m. performance of music or dance on the nearby outdoor stage. You won’t forget your visit.

The museum is situated 20 miles south of the historic center of D.F. easily accessible by metro and light rail (6 pesos). Admission: 55 pesos for tourists.

-April 2011