These Diego Rivera-inspired murals, many depicting the struggles of working class Americans, were completed in 1933-34. Rivera had recently completed two frescos in San Francisco—one, Making a Fresco, at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) and another at the San Francisco Stock Exchange. Several of the Coit Tower artists had worked with or assisted Rivera. Another Rivera Mural,Pan American Unity a 22 by 74-foot masterpiece produced on Treasure Island for the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition, is on display at City College of San Francisco.
After Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads mural was destroyed by its Rockefeller Center patrons for the inclusion of an image of Lenin, the Coit Tower muralists protested, picketing the tower. Sympathy for Rivera led some artists to incorporate leftist ideas and composition elements in their works. Bernard Zakheim's "Library" depicts fellow artist John Langley Howard crumpling a newspaper in his left hand as he reaches for a shelved copy of Karl Marx's Das Kapital with his right, and Stackpole is painted reading a newspaper headline announcing the destruction of Rivera's mural; Victor Arnautoff's "City Life" includes The New Masses and The Daily Worker periodicals in the scene's news stand rack; John Langley Howard's mural depicts an ethnically diverse Labor March as well as showing a destitute family panning for gold while a rich family observes; and Stackpole's Industries of California was composed along the same lines as an early study of the destroyed Man at the Crossroads.
The simple, stylized approach to the figures and lighting might be a good one to take for segments of "Topaz." I like the organic, "compressed" feel of the compositions as well; giving a real feel for the hustle and bustle of San Francisco in the 1930's.