Portrait of Irene Estrella by Diego Rivera

Irene Estrella, 1946.
Oil on canvas
Gift of Corliss Lamont ’20, a friend of the artist


Painted on canvas and at a small scale, Irene Estrella is not what one would expect to see from Diego Rivera, due to his reputation as a communist political figure, notoriety for his politically charged, large-scale murals, and tendency to represent groups, rather than individuals. Rivera creates a unique intimacy, which is not present in his murals, by capturing this individual child in the midst of play in Irene Estrella. Irene’s gaze unflinchingly locks with the viewer, a yellow block poised midway to her mouth in her round fingers.

Mystery surrounds Irene Estrella though– who commissioned this work? What is this child’s connection to the artist? Moreover, the sitter for the portrait, Irene Estrella, would be her in her early 70’s. Who is she and what is her story?


From 1954 to 1979, this work of art was here at Phillips Exeter Academy – from the walls of the Lamont Gallery to residing in faculty residences in the dorms. In 1979, it left the gallery to travel beyond PEA, Exeter, and New Hampshire. The painting traveled from Detroit to London with many stops in between. After its global adventure, the painting quietly settled into the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

It stayed there until it resurfaced in the fall of 2014, thanks to consistent inquiry and a persistent intern. From the spring of 2014 until the fall 2015 this painting was included in a major retrospective of the work of Henri Rousseau at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, Italy.

In September 2015, Irene Estrella arrived on campus for the first time in 36 years. This piece was included in our Hidden Treasures exhibition and was welcomed back to campus by many students, employees, and public visitors. There were even a few former faculty members who came to share their stories of how this painting intersected with their lives.

In March 2016, Irene Estrella once again left the Lamont Gallery and traveled to the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France where it remained on view through July of 2016.



See the Time Line of how Irene Estrella found her way to Exeter - from 1945-2016.

Check out the article in the Art Guide about this portrait.

Research on Irene Estrella and timeline created by Olivia Knauss, Education and Collections Intern, Lamont Gallery 2015-2016

Lamont Gallery, Frederick R. Mayer Art Center, Phillips Exeter Academy
20 Main Street, Exeter NH, 03833
603-777-3461 / gallery@exeter.edu