Jacques Gelman, an émigré who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, moved to Mexico from Eastern Europe in 1941 and became a movie mogul who produced many films with Mario Moreno, who was best known as the actor Cantinflas. Mr. Gelman and his wife, Natasha Zahalka Gelman, a Czech immigrant from Moravia, became avid art collectors. Jacques Gelman died in 1986 and his widow died in 1998 leaving 85 classic modernist works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including fourteen paintings of Picasso, nine paintings of Henri Matisse, nine paintings of Joan Miro, five paintings of Bonnards, four paintings of Georges Braque, three Legers, three Grises,three Tanguys, Two Balthuses, two Vlamincks, and works by Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Giacometti, Piet Mondrian, Renoir and Vuilllard.
The first work by Diego Rivera that Jacques Gelman acquired was a large portrait of his elegant wife, commissioned from Rivera. The glamorous Mrs. Gelman is clad in a white gown and reclines on a divan against a background of large bouquets of calla lilies. The calla lily, a sensual, sculptural flower - and a quintessential example of Mexico's exuberant flora - was celebrated by Rivera many times, particularly in frescoes depicted peasants with indigenous features carrying bundles or offerings of them.
In 1943, Rivera produced some of his most sumptuous reveries, among them such lavishly constructed works as Sunflowers, Calla Lily Vendor and Portrait of Mrs. Natasha Gelman