Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Frida Kahlo: The Life of A Mexican Icon

Frida Kahlo
(Photograph by Nickolas Muray)
Image courtesy of:

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Above left image: | Above right image: ABC News
(The above right photograph was taken by Frida's father, Guillermo Kahlo ~ ca. 1926)

Today marks the 104th anniversary of  Frida Kahlo's birth date, one of Mexico's most enduring icons and one of the Twentieth Century's most iconic women. Viva Frida!

Distinguished by her instantly recognizable trademark, her uni-brow - and, to a certain extent, her wispy, dark moustache - Frida Kahlo was a creator who used herself as the subject matter for her own work which, at the end of her life, numbered about two-hundred paintings in all, sixty-six of which were self-portraits. (Due to their rarity, whenever they appear at auction sales, Frida's paintings now command millions.) Where other individuals use the ink at the tip of a pen to record their lives and times in words on paper, Frida charted hers on canvas by the usage a fine sable brush; oils were her "ink": the anguish and struggles of her daily existence, her inner turmoil as well as her disappointments; her works were also a testament to Frida's spirit of endurance and her exuberant love of life. It is as though she used her self-portraits as a vehicle for self-analysis, studying herself (by its very nature, self-portraiture has traditionally necessitated the need for mirrors for self-observation) - it was a method by which she looked inward, trying to make sense of herself, her life and her world.

Everything about Frida was unique; everything was an outer, distinctive expression of a woman who was, above all, proud, determined, passionate, and intensely individual. Her paintings; her chunky Pre-Columbian jewellery; the flowers and ribbons tucked and woven into her braided hair; her choice of wearing only traditional Mexican Tehuana dresses - these were all elements of her characteristic style, a style that would resurface decades later in "Kahlo-inspired" designer collections. Little was did she realize it then, but her life would become the subject of innumerable books and would, eventually, be translated into films and documentaries, prominent of which was the 2002 Oscar-winning movie, Frida. She was not only an artist who painted canvases, she was a living work of art. Like all originals, she was her own creation.

Throughout her life, although she purposely claimed her birth year to be that of 1910, thereby subtracting three years from her actual age, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was, in fact, born in 1907 in Coyoacán, a quiet suburb of Mexico City, on July the 6th. The third of her parents' four daughters, Frida grew up in the house that her adored father, Guillermo Kahlo, a German immigrant of Jewish descent who had immigrated to Mexico in 1891 at the age of nineteen, had built. (After the artist's death in 1954, Casa Azul, or Blue House, as the Kahlos' house is called, has since become the Museo Frida Kahlo.) After his first wife died, Guillermo Kahlo married his second wife, Matilde Calderón, a Catholic whose ancestry included Indians as well as a Spanish general. (Frida portrayed her ancestry in a 1936 painting entitled, "My Grandparents, My Parents, and I.") Guillermo Kahlo taught his daughter photography, including the process of retouching and colouring prints; one of his friends also gave Frida some drawing lessons. (Sources: The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,, March 23, 2005; Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"My Grandparents, My Parents, and I " ~ 1936
Image courtesy of:

After her recovery from polio, a condition she contracted at the age of six, Frida's right leg was and remained thinner than her left, and her right foot was stunted; they would trouble her for life. Her disabilities notwithstanding, Frida was a 'tomboy'; never allowing her shortcomings to hinder her, she relished and partook in such competitive sports as soccer, boxing, wrestling and swimming.  “My toys were those of a boy: skates, bicycles,” she later recalled. (Interestingly, as an adult, she collected dolls - perhaps due to her disappointment in her inability (and forlorn longing) to produce living children.) (Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

A young Frida in a boy's suit & cap
Image courtesy of:

In 1922, at the age of fifteen, Frida enrolled in the elite - and predominantly male - Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (ENP) (National Preparatory School), located close to the Cathedral in the centre of Mexico City.  Frida planned to become a doctor and, with that aim in mind, took courses in biology, zoology and anatomy. She also had a passion for philosophy. But there was a lighter side to the teen-aged Frida who displayed a bawdy sense of humour that she shared with her close friends; she had a zest for fun as well. One of those friends was her boyfriend at the time, Alejandro Gómez Arias. (Many of Frida's high-school friends eventually became leaders of the Mexican Communist Party.)
(Source: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

(Photo by Imogen Cunningham ~ 1931)
Image courtesy of:

Then, on September 17th, 1925, in one of those viciously cruel twists of fate, the unthinkable happened: the defining incident that irrevocably altered the course of Frida's life. The bus on which the eighteen-year old Frida and her boyfriend, Alejandro Gómez Arias, were travelling home in was rammed by a trolley-car. Several people died on site as a result. Though she survived the accident, the doctors at the hospital where Frida was transported to believed her chances of survival were minimal at best: a metal handrail broke off, piercing her pelvis, crushing it; worse, her spine had fractured in three places and her right leg and foot - the same foot and leg affected by polio in childhood - were violently broken. She spent a month in the hospital and was later fitted with a plaster corset - the first of many variations that Frida would be obliged to wear for the remainder of her life. (During her lifetime and by necessity, Frida would endure over thirty surgical procedures and twenty-eight plaster corsets, all in an effort to mend and support her damaged spine.) “In this hospital,” Frida informed Alejandro Gómez Arias, “death dances around my bed at night.”
(Sources & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002; Cummings, J.,, June 1999)

"Self Portrait In A Velvet Dress" ~ 1926
(Frida's first self-portrait, aged seventeen, painted and gifted to Alejandro Gómez Arias)
Image courtesy of:

Immobilized by her plaster corset and confined to her bed for three months at home, Frida was unable to return to school. “Life will reveal [its secrets] to you soon. I already know it all. . . . I was a child who went about in a world of colors. . . . My friends, my companions became women slowly, I became old in instants,” she tellingly wrote Gómez Arias. But it was during her months of convalescence at home, however, that Frida’s mother ordered a portable easel and attached a mirror to the underside of her bed’s canopy so that, thus encouraged, she could use herself as her own model and occupy her time by painting. “Without giving it any particular thought,” she recalled, “I started painting.” And although she was familiar with the works of old masters from reproductions, Frida assimilated certain elements of their styles into her own work. In an early painting she gave to Alejandro Gómez Arias ("Self Portrait In A Velvet Dress"), for instance, she portrayed herself with a swan neck and tapered fingers, referring to herself as, “Your Botticeli.” (This painting, her first self-portrait, was done in 1926 at the age of nineteen.)
(Source & quotes: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

Frida wearing the famous earrings given to her by Pablo Picasso
(The two photographs above are by Nickolas Muray)
Above left image: | Above right image:

I have suffered two accidents in my life,” Kahlo is quoted as saying in Malka Drucker's (1991) biography, Frida Kahlo: Torment and Triumph in Her Life and Art. “One in which a streetcar ran over me [at age 18]. The other is Diego.” It was a succinct summation of the tumultuous relationship between Frida and the incorrigibly philandering Diego Rivera - a controversial and political figure who was, for all his weaknesses, the love of her life.
(Quote: Cummings, J.,, June 1999)

The two had, if fact, first met at Frida's school, the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where, in 1922, Rivera had been commissioned to create a number of murals, the first of which was in the school’s auditorium; Frida was just fifteen years of age at the time.  As he records in his autobiography, My Art, My Life, Rivera recalled that one night, while he was  working high on a scaffold, “all of a sudden the door flew open, and a girl who seemed to be no more than ten or twelve was propelled inside. . . . She had unusual dignity and self-assurance, and there was a strange fire in her eyes.” (There was more than just fire in the young Kahlo's eyes, there was also mischief and a love of pranks: she stole Diego's lunch, for instance, and soaped the steps by the stage where he was working.)
(Sources & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002; Cummings, J.,, June 1999)

Frida & Diego
Image courtesy of:

As she slowly recuperated and grew stronger, Frida began to “participate in the politics of the day, which focused on achieving autonomy for the government-run university and a more democratic national government. She joined the Communist party in part because of her friendship with the young Italian photographer Tina Modotti, who had come to Mexico in 1923 with her then companion, photographer Edward Weston,” Phyllis Tuchman writes in the Smithsonian Magazine (Frida Kahlo, November 2002). In all likelihood, it was at a soirée hosted by Modotti that, late in 1928, Frida and Diego met again, three years after her devastating accident.

It was possibly the attraction of opposites that drew Frida and Diego together - he, more than six-feet tall and weighing around three-hundred pounds, was one of Mexico's most celebrated artists/muralists; she, at ninety-eight pounds and twenty-one years Diego's junior, stood at a diminutive five-feet three-inches tall: his heavy-set, ungainly manner contrasted sharply with Frida's alluring magnetism. But the differences between them did not hinder Rivera from courting the young - and slight - Frida. Rivera described her as having a “fine nervous body, topped by a delicate face,” and poetically compared her thick eyebrows, which met above her nose, to “the wings of a blackbird, their black arches framing two extraordinary brown eyes.” For all intents and purposes, Rivera began visiting the Kahlos' house, Casa Azul, on Sundays to critique Frida's paintings; he intuitively recognized a young woman of some talent: “It was obvious to me,” he later wrote, that this girl was an authentic artist.” The odd couple's developing courtship did not go unnoticed by Frida's parents who aptly - and wittily - described their union, which took place on August 21st, 1929, as a “marriage between an elephant and a dove.” (In 1931 and basing it on a wedding photograph, Frida painted a portrait of the couple: her right hand in her husband's left while he holds an artist's board and brushes in his right.)
(Source & quotes: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

Diego & Frida ~ 1931
(A portrait painted based on a wedding photograph)
Image courtesy of:

The couple spent nearly a year in  Cuernavaca where Rivera, commissioned by Dwight Morrow, the American ambassador to Mexico, worked on murals. Kahlo, ever the devoted young wife, cooked and bathed Rivera and brought him his daily home-cooked lunch. (Frida mothered Diego: years later Kahlo would paint a naked Rivera resting on her lap as if he were a baby.)

Communism had already taken root in Mexico and both Diego as well as Frida were both advocates. The Communist Party, however, had expelled Rivera; Frida, in solidarity with her husband, followed suit and resigned voluntarily. While still in the Communist Party, Rivera had been denied a visa to enter the United States - now that he was no longer a member and with the help and by invitation from the American art collector, Albert Bender, the Riveras obtained visas and set off for the States. It was during this time, around 1930, that Frida began to dress in her native Mexican Tehuana costume: embroidered tops and colourful, floor-length flounced skirts - a style associated with the matriarchal society of the Tehuantepec region of Mexico. Always individualistic in her appearance and style of dress, Americans had never quite seen anything of her sort - her looks caused a sensation and people stopped “in their tracks to look in wonder,” Edward Weston, the American photographer, recorded in his 1930 journal.
(Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

Frida overlooking the Rivera Court ~ ca. 1932-1933
(Detroit Institute of Arts)

With Diego's work in demand, the Riveras' stay in the States, which lasted for about three years, was a hectic one, requiring much travel to and fro. Their first stop, in November 1930, was in San Francisco where Diego worked on murals for the San Francisco Stock Exchange as well as the California School of Fine Arts. While Diego busied himself with work on the murals, Frida painted portraits of friends. New York's Museum of Modern Art held an exhibition of Diego's work and, after briefly stopping in New York City for the showing, the Riveras travelled on to Detroit, Michigan, where Diego painted an industrial-themed mural in the garden courtyard of the Institute of Arts (now known as the Rivera Court). Then back again they returned to New York City where Diego worked on a controversial mural for the Rockefeller Center. Although Frida was thrilled to be in Manhattan where she was able to see works by the old masters firsthand - as well as the farcical, comedic movies of the Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy -  she nonetheless grew lonely and homesick, observing, “I find that Americans completely lack sensibility and good taste. They are boring and they all have faces like unbaked rolls.” (Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

Frida & Diego

In Mexico (and before their three-year American sojourn from 1930 to 1933), Frida had suffered the first of what would become a long series of miscarriages and therapeutic abortions. The result, mainly due to the injuries she sustained during the trolley-car accident in 1925, left her unable to bring a child to full term; those miscarriages cost her dearly: every time she lost a baby, Frida went into a deep, dark depression. To add to her morose, her polio-afflicted right leg and foot - both also badly injured in the trolley accident - often caused her pain. During their stay in Michigan, Frida suffered another miscarriage which cut another pregnancy - and the chance for a child with Diego - short. Then, not long after that, her mother died. Up to that time she had persevered through such criseses for the simple fact that the presence of her family were a source of strength and support. As she had indicated to her doctor to whom she had written earlier, “I am more or less happy because I have Diego and my mother and my father whom I love so much. I think that is enough. . . .” Now a part of that world - and some of the stability or glue that held it together - began to disintegrate and no longer existed. (Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

Frida & her pet hawk ~ ca. 1939
(Photograph by Nickolas Muray)
Image courtesy of:

I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best,” Frida had once said and yet, she had never attended art school or occupied an artist's studio; nor had she any formal training per se. She was, indeed, her own best subject and one she knew best. But, it has been suggested, part of her informal artistic education must have been attained while watching Diego work on his murals (she would bring her husband his daily lunch). By watching him, Frida learned the fundamental principles of artisitc execution (Diego's muted palette, reminiscent of Pre-Columbian art, along with his imagery resurfaced in Frida's own work). It was also from Diego that she learned how to narrate a story, particularly hers, on canvas.

But in spite of all that, when the Riveras arrived in America (a land that Frida always sardonically referred to as “Gringolandia” and Americans as “Gringos”) at the beginning of the 1930s, Frida was - by all standards - an amateur artist at best. One painting done during their American stay, "Self-Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States" (1932), expresses not only Frida's aching homesickness, but also her growing narrative skill and artistic expression: she has portrayed (and strategically situated) herself in the middle of the painting as a sort of pink "dividing line" between ancient Pre-Columbian ruins - including scattered temple gods - and cacti plants of her native Mexico on one side of the painting and the industrialized Ford Motor Company, with the American flag (its counterpart, the Mexican flag, is held in Frida's crossed hands), half-hidden, mistily appearing from behind the billowing, ascending smoke issuing from the Ford factory's smokestacks, on the other; she has also pictured skyscrapers in the background (symbols of American progress and prosperity) while other, modern machinery in the foreground act as a counter-balance to the corresponding Mexican cacti plants on the opposite side. It is as if Frida, torn between the two, was metaphorically designating the difference between her new, modern life in America and her old, beloved one in Mexico.
(Sources: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002; The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,, March 23, 2005)

Self-Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States ~ 1932
Image courtesy of:

The Riveras returned home to Mexico at the end of 1933. And in spite of the fact that Diego had quite a few commissions while in the States, his most important one, the Rockefeller Center mural, had created a great controversy; not surprisingly: the owners of the commission had taken issue with Diego's depiction of a somewhat heroic-looking Lenin. At first, it was requested that Diego paint over the offending figure of Lenin; when he refused, the mural was unceremoniously destroyed forthwith. Diego, then, returned to Mexico in a less than triumphant and deflated mood. (Rivera later re-created the Rockefeller mural for the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.) Frida, although glad to be back in Mexico again, was also not in the best of spirits either. As she was wont to do in times of stress, Frida became ill. (Whenever Diego became involved with another woman - as he incessantly did - for example, the stress of his womanizing ways would either send Frida into depression or she would succumb to chronic pain or illness; conversely, when he returned, she would usually recover.) Writing to a friend about Diego's unhappy mood, she intimated that Diego “thinks that everything that is happening to him is my fault, because I made him come [back] to Mexico. . . . ” 
(Quote & source: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

Above left image: | Above right image: La Casa Azul 

Hoping to put aside their differences and start anew, in 1934, the Riveras moved into an upscale district in Mexico known as San Angel. There, they bought a new, brightly-coloured, home (the house is now the Diego Rivera Studio museum). The main feature of the San Angel house were the “his-and-hers” buildings - inspired by the modernism of Le Corbusier and designed by Juan O’Gorman, an architect of Irish descent - connected by a narrow bridge. (His building was pink; hers, as was her family home, blue. And even though the plans for the house included a studio for Frida, she painted very little: she was hospitalized three times during 1934.) Frida did not do much painting in the new house for another, personal reason: ever the philanderer, when she discovered that Diego had been carrying on an affair with Cristina, her younger sister, Frida moved into an apartment on her own instead. A few months later, after a brief dalliance with the Japanese-American sculptor, designer, architect and craftsman Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), Kahlo reconciled with Rivera and returned to live with him in San Angel.
(Sources: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002; The cult of Kahlo,, July 2, 2011)

"Self-Portrait With Monkey" ~ 1940
Image courtesy of:

By the mid-1930s, Diego's sympathies were more leftist than ever. Those sympathies manifested themselves in late 1936 when Rivera took it upon himself to intercede on behalf of the Marxist, Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), with the Mexican President, Lázaro Cárdenas, to allow the exiled Russian revolutionary refuge in Mexico. In January 1937, Trotsky, along with his wife and bodyguards, took up residence at the Casa Azul, Frida’s childhood home. (The Kahlo family home was made available to the Trotskys and their retinue only because Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, had moved in with one of her sisters.) Within months of the Trotskys' arrival in Mexico, a liaison developed between Leon and Frida and the two became lovers. Like a smitten school-boy, “El viejo” (“the old man”), as she called him, would discreetly slip notes to his young paramour in books.  At the end of 1937, she painted a mesmerizing full-length portrait of herself with a posy of flowers in hand, which she dedicated and gifted to the Russian exile. But this liaison, like most of her other ones, was short lived.

The Riveras were hosts to other guests in San Angel as well.The French Surrealist and Dadaist poet André Breton - who would later offer to hold an exhibition of Frida's work in Paris - and his wife, Jacqueline Lamba, came to stay in the spring of 1938. The Bretons stayed in Mexico for several months and joined the Riveras and the Trotskys on sight-seeing tours. (At one point, the three couples - the Riveras, the Bretons and the Trotskys - even contemplated publishing a book of their conversations.) This time, it was the two wives, Frida and Jacqueline, who bonded.
(Source: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky" ~ 1937
(The inscription in the painting, which is inscripted on a piece of paper held in Frida's hand, reads: Para Leon Trotsky con todo cariño, dedico esta pintura, el dia 7 de Novembre de 1937. Frida Kahlo. En San Angel. Mexico.)
Image courtesy of:

The more she painted, the more proficient Frida's technical skills became and she began to expand her repertoire and experiment with imagery. Edward G. Robinson, the actor and art collector, visited the Riveras' San Angel home in the summer of 1938 where he paid the then princely sum of $200 for four paintings (each) by Frida; the purchase of these works were among the first business transactions of her artwork. In fact, the Robinson sale took Frida a bit by surprise as it dawned on her that the commerce of her work meant self-sufficiency and independence, prompting her to record: “For me it was such a surprise that I marvelled and said: ‘This way I am going to be able to be free, I’ll be able to travel and do what I want without asking Diego for money.’”

Not long after the Robinson sale took place, Frida travelled to New York City for her first critically  acclaimed one-woman show. Held at the Julian Levy Gallery - one of the first venues in America adventurous enough to promote Surrealist art - André Breton praised Frida's sense of “candour and insolence” in the gallery's brochure. Among the guests at the exhibition's opening night were some of the city's leading lights from the literary as well as the artistic worlds; among these were Vanity Fair magazine editor, Clare Boothe Luce, and artist Georgia O’Keeffe, a woman whose work Frida greatly admired (she later wrote a fan letter to O'Keefe). It was at the instigation of Clare Boothe Luce that Frida painted a portrait of Luce's friend who had committed suicide. Once Frida had completed the portrait, however, Luce, upset by the graphic nature of the depiction, wanted to destroy the painting but, thankfully, was somehow dissuaded from following through on her plan of destruction. Time Magazine noted of the showing, which was a success, “the flutter of the week in Manhattan was caused by the first exhibition of paintings by famed muralist Diego Rivera’s . . . wife, Frida Kahlo. . . . Frida’s pictures, mostly painted in oil on copper, had the daintiness of miniatures, the vivid reds and yellows of Mexican tradition, the playfully bloody fancy of an unsentimental child.” A little later on, following the rave reviews of  Frida's exhibition, Frida's own ring-laden hand appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine.
(Source & quotes: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

(Photograph by Nickolas Muray)
(Above left photograph is by Héctor García | Above right photograph is by Lola Alvarez Bravo)
The three images above are courtesy of: Appreciating The Details

Following her success in Manhattan, Frida set sail for France where, apparently, André Breton had promised her another one-woman show in her honour - this time in the capital and artistic centre of France, Paris. Once there, though, Frida found out - to her dismay - that Breton had done nothing to prepare for the showing. Bitterly disappointed, Frida caustically wrote to Nickolas Muray, the photographer and her latest lover, “It was worthwhile to come here only to see why Europe is rottening, why all this people — good for nothing — are the cause of all the Hitlers and Mussolinis.” Though disillusioned with the French, not all fared badly in Frida's opinion. Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the mixed-media artist who flirted with Surrealism, Dadaism and Cubism, made a favourable impression on Frida, probably because it was thanks to his efforts that she got the Parisian exhibition which Breton, for all his promises, had failed to deliver.  “The only one who has his feet on the earth, among all this bunch of coocoo lunatic sons of bitches of the Surrealists,” she wrote of Duchamp. (Source & quotes: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Self-Portrait With Monkey And Parrot" ~ 1942
Image courtesy of:

Overall, Frida was certainly disenchanted with the Surrealists who always tried to claim her as one of thier own. But not all was gloom and doom. One outcome from the Paris exhibition was a purchase made by the Louvre Museum, which purchased one of Frida's self-portraits. (The painting was the first work by a twentieth-century Mexican artist purchased by the Louvre.) The exhibition gained Frida more than a purchase by France's foremost museums; it also gained her the admiration of one of the twentieth-century's foremost artists: the Spaniard, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Picasso gave Frida a pair of earrings in the form of hands, which she wore in several photographs and, later on, she depicted in a self-portrait. “Neither Derain, nor I, nor you,” Picasso wrote to Rivera, “are capable of painting a head like those of Frida Kahlo.” Considerable praise from the considerably great Picasso.

On her return to Mexico after six months abroad, Frida came home only to find Diego involved with yet another woman. As before, when she discovered Diego's involvement with her sister Cristina, Frida moved out of San Angel and this time, into Casa Azul. By the end of 1939, the Riveras had agreed to divorce.
(Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"The Two Fridas" ~ 1939
(Frida's first large-scale work, it was painted at the time of her divorce from Diego)
The two images above are courtesy of:

To paint is the most terrific thing that there is, but to do it well is very difficult. It is necessary . . . to learn the skill very well, to have very strict self-discipline and above all to have love, to feel a great love for painting,” she would inform a group of pupils she began instructing in the mid-1940s and who would come to be known as Los Fridos. And it was at this period in her life that Frida created some of her most iconic work, especially self-portraits. Usually set amid lush vegetation and often accompanied by a variety of pets that included monkeys, parrots and cats, she often depicted herself in her native Mexican dress with her hair braided and ribboned in traditional style and wearing the Pre-Columbian necklaces given to her by Diego. Alone or surrounded by her pets, from out of her paintings, Frida always stared back at the viewer with a defying stare. (Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Self-Portrait With Monkeys" ~ 1943
Image courtesy of:

In the double portrait, "The Two Fridas" painted in 1939 at the time of her divorce, she has depicted herself twice: one Frida in traditional Mexican dress; the other Frida in European fashion. Set against a stormy backdrop, the two Fridas are joined not only in hand but by an artery from one exposed heart to the other. (Frida later wrote that this painting was inspired by a memory of an imaginary childhood friend.) Another portrait from the time of the divorce, "Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair" (1940), Frida has depicted herself in a man's suit, scissors in hand having just finished shearing her once-long hair - the evidence of which is shown strewn all around her chair. (Fully aware of Diego's love for her long hair, upon discovering Diego's betrayals in the past, she had more than once shorn  her long hair; it was her gesture of defiance and spite in the face of his infidelities.) It may be interpreted as a (mild) form of self-mutilation.
(Source: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair" ~ 1940
Image courtesy of:

In spite of their marital differences, the Riveras remained linked together. When Frida's health deteriorated, for example, it was Diego who sought medical advice from Dr. Leo Eloesser, a mutual friend of theirs living in San Francisco. In Dr. Eloesser's opinion, Frida's problem was a “crisis of the nerves,” and suggested that she reconcile with Diego. “Diego loves you very much,” Dr. Eloesser wrote her, interceding on Diego's behalf, “and you love him. It is also the case, and you know it better than I, that besides you, he has two great loves — 1) Painting 2) Women in general. He has never been, nor ever will be, monogamous.” Frida could not deny the truth of Eloesser's observation. Resigning herself to the situation, she finally agreed to a reconciliation; in December 1940, the couple remarried in San Francisco.
(Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

Above left image: | Above right image: Moj Maskarad
(The above right photograph is by Nickolas Muray ~ 1940)

Though reconciled, the Riveras' relationship was still fraught with tension as Frida and Diego battled one another over his affairs. In retaliation of her unfaithful husband's continued philandering ways, Frida sought out affairs of her own - not exclusively with men, but with women as well, several of whom were Diego's own lovers. Still, Frida enjoyed the domestic side of married life. According to her stepdaughter, Guadalupe Rivera, “Frida’s laughter was loud enough to rise above the din of yelling and revolutionary songs” at festive gatherings at the Rivera home, where elaborately prepared meals were served at beautifully-set tables and flowers picked from the garden were arranged throughout the house. (An accomplished cook, Frida's recipes were collected by Guadalupe Rivera into a cookbook .)
(Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Self-Portrait With Loose Hair" ~ 1947
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Her back, foot and leg had always given her problems, especially since her 1925 accident. In the last decade of her life, Frida suffered through painful operations in an effort to rectify her battered body and to alleviate the incessant pain. (Early in 1953, her right leg had to be amputated below the knee.) She self-medicated by turning to alcohol and drank heavily; there were days when her alcohol consumption amounted to two bottles of cognac per day. Worse, she combined alcohol with painkillers to which she became addicted. The result of her addictions became apparent in her work: her hands shook and the brushwork of her paintings, once so clear and defined, became agitated and rough. Her appearance also suffered: the once robust Frida, now looked gaunt.

Prior to 1953, Frida's work had only been exhibited in Mexico City in group shows, included among the work of other artists. But in the spring of 1953, her friend, the photographer Lola Alvarez Bravo, organized a one-woman show of Frida's work in Mexico City; the exhibition was held at Alvarez Bravo’s Gallery of Contemporary Art. Still bedridden from her leg amputation procedure earlier in the year, the indomitable Frida was determined, nonetheless, to attend the opening night of her show - the first in her native land. Arriving by ambulance, she was carried to a canopied bed, which had been transported from her home and awaited her arrival. In what has become one of the most legendary entrances to an event, Frida was carried into the gallery on her bed. (The bed's headboard was decorated with pictures of family and friends; papier-mâché skeletons hung from the canopy.) Surrounded by admirers, the elaborately costumed Kahlo held court from her bed and heartily joined in singing her favorite Mexican ballads.
(Source: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Self-Portrait" ~ 1940
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To the end of her life, Frida remained a confirmed Communist and painted portraits of Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) and Karl Marx (1818-1883). Just eight days before her passing and in a wheel-chair pushed by Diego, she took part in a march of 100,000 demonstrators in Mexico City in protest of the overthrow of the Guatemalan president by the CIA.
(Source: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Self-Portrait With Bonito" ~ 1941

It is not worthwhile,” she once said, “to leave this world without having had a little fun in life.” And although her life was racked by physical ailment and emotional turmoil, Frida's passionate love of life and her delight in beautiful things (as well as her sense of humour) is clearly expressed in her very last painting, a still-life of watermelons. Painted in 1954, she included the words "Viva La Vida" on a slice of watermelon just a few days before her death.
(Source & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

"Viva La Vida" ~ 1954
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I hope the exit is joyful,” she wrote in her last diary entry. “And I hope never to come back.” She never did. Frida Kahlo died on July the 13th, 1954 - exactly one week after her forty-seventh birthday. The official cause of death was stipulated, at that time, to have been due to pulmonary embolism brought on by pneumonia; others, however, believe that her death was caused by an overdose on pain medication. All but ignored as an artist during her lifetime, Frida is now studied, analyzed and idealized.(Source: Katz, N.,, July 6, 2010; quote: The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,, March 23, 2005)

Frida Kahlo on her deathbed ~ July 1954
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"Frida Kahlo in New York"
(Photograph by Nickolas Muray ~ 1946)
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Fifty-seven years after her death in 1954, Frida Kahlo's persona, her life, her diary, her letters, and her art have all inspired what can only be termed as Fridamania. Since her death, countless one-woman shows and retrospective art exhibitions have been held in her honour. (In 2001-2002, a major traveling exhibition showcased her work alongside that of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe and the Canadian, Emily Carr. Frida's works were also been included in a  2002 landmark Surrealism show in New York and London.) (Source: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002)

(Photograph by Nickolas Muray)
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Another exhibition, from October 7th, 2005 to May 14th, 2006, was held at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA). On public display for the first time in the United States after a brief showing in Europe, “Her spirit is stranger than the angels: Frida Kahlo through the Lens of Nickolas Muray,” was an exclusive photographic exhibition of twenty-four photographs by Nickolas Muray (1895-1965) that also featured excerpts from letters between Kahlo and Muray. The exhibition, courtesy of a loan through Muray’s daughter, Utah-resident Mimi Muray Levitt, who accidentally came across her father’s rare photographic negatives in 1993 while rummaging through a suitcase that had been in storage for many years. Ms. Levitt vaguely recalled a visit to Mexico in which she briefly met the ailing Kahlo. During her adolescence, Ms. Levitt had been shown Kahlo's love letters to her father and which he had kept. But it was not until years later when the negatives were discovered that the many layers of Muray’s relationship with Kahlo were fully understood. (Photographer and artist had met in 1931 through a mutual friend, the artist Miguel Covarrubias. A passionate affair ensued and which lasted, on and off, for over a decade; the fruition of which was a number of portrait sittings.) Additionally, select pieces of Pre-Columbian objects from the UMFA’s collection - similar to those seen with Frida in her portraits - were also included in the exhibit.

Nickolas Muray was able to capture and reveal the many complicated layers of Kahlo’s life: her ambivalent passion with Muray contrasted with her dependence and obsession with husband Diego Rivera,” states UMFA Curator, Bernadette Brown. “Kahlo’s loyalty to her Mexican heritage and love for her native land are also manifested in the portraits.” (Source & quote:, 2011)

(Photograph by Nickolas Muray)
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Today, thousands of website are devoted to her life and her life's work; copies of some of her most iconic work can be found on such innocuous items as postal-cards, calendars, notepads, posters, computer mouse-pads, refrigerator magnets, pins and paper cards and book-marks.

Frida has also been an endless source of inspiration for innumerable imitators and emulators as well as numerous fashion collections, including that of the world-renowned Frenchman, Jean-Paul Gaultier. For his Spring/Summer 1998 collection, Gaultier paid homage to Frida by basing the entire collection on Kahlo's uniquely personal, intangible sense of style.

Frida-inspired fashion from the 1998 Spring/Summer Collection of Jean-Paul Gaultier
(Photographs by Pierre Vauthey & Stephane Cardinale/Corbis Sygma, October 17, 1997)
 The above four images are courtesy of:

Video courtesy of: FashionChannel

Frida's fame has so eclipsed that of Diego's that reproduction of her image even appears on the Mexican 500 pesos banknote. In 2001, the United States Postal Service honoured one of Mexico's most beloved and original artists by issuing a 34-cent stamp with Frida's image on it - a self-portrait she had painted in 1933 - making her the first Hispanic woman to receive such an honor.
(Sources & quote: Tuchman, P.,, November 2002; The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,, March 23, 2005; The cult of Kahlo,, July 2, 2011)

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"Self-Portrait With Necklace of Thorns" ~ 1940

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In 2002, the critically acclaimed film, Frida - based on Hayden Herrera's (1983, 2002) book, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo - directed by Julie Taymor and starring the Mexican-born actress Selma Hayek (who was also one of its producers), was a worldwide success. (The film also starred Alfred Molina, Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd and Geoffrey Rush.) In addition to the various international awards for which it was nominated and accorded, in 2003, Frida was nominated for six Academy Awards and won two Oscars: Best Make-up (John E. Jackson and Beatrice De Alba) as well as Best Music, Original Score (Elliot Goldnethal). (Source:, 2011)

"Self-Portrait" ~ 1948
(In Tehuana headdress )

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Video courtesy of: ProjectDystopia

Video courtesy of: Canal del Profr. Leo Sierra
(All videos included are courtesy of YouTube)

"Io e i miei pappagalli" ~ 1941
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I recommend her to you, not as a husband but as an enthusiastic admirer of her work. Acid and tender, hard as steel and delicate and fine as a butterfly's wing, lovable as a beautiful smile, and profound and cruel as the bitterness of life. ”
~ Diego Rivera to Pablo Picasso

"Self-Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser" ~ 1940
(Frida wears the earings that Picasso gave her in Paris)
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Suggested readings:

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo (1983, 2002), by Hayden Herrera: Harper & Row; HarperCollins/Harper Perennial

Frida Kahlo: The Paintings (1993), by Hayden Herrera: Perennial

Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish (1993), by Martha Zamora: Chronicle Books

The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas (1995), by Fridad Kahlo & Martha Zamora: Chronicle Books

Frida Kahlo: Portrait of A Mexican Painter (1996), by Bárbara Cruz: Enslow Publishers

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait (1998), by Frida Kahlo, Sarah M. Lowe & Carlos Fuentes: H.N. Abrams

Frida Kahlo: An Open Life (1999), by Raquel Tibol: UNM Press

Kahlo (2000), by Andrea Kettenmann: Taschen

Frida Kahlo: The Artist in the Blue House (2003), by Magdalena Holzhey: Prestel

Frida Kahlo: The Artist Who Painted Herself (2003), by Margaret Frith & Tomie DePaola: Grosset & Dunlap

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (2005), by Isabel Alcántara, &Sandra Egnolff: Prestel

Casa Azul: An Encounter with Frida Kahlo (2005), by Laban Carrick Hill: Watson-Guptill

Frida Kahlo: Beneath the Mirror (2005), by Gerry Souter: Parkstone

Frida Kahlo: A Modern Master (2005), by Terri Hardin: New Line Books

Frida Kahlo: Painter of Strength (2006), by Lissa Jones Johnston: Capstone Press

I Will Never Forget You: Frida Kahlo and Nickolas Muray (2006), by Salomón Grimberg, Frida Kahlo & Nickolas Muray: Chronicle Books

Frida Kahlo (2006), by Adam G. Klein: ABDO

Frida Kahlo (2007), by Claudia Bauer: Prestel

Frida Kahlo: A Biography (2008), by Claudia Schaefer: Greenwood Press

Frida Kahlo: The Still Lifes (2008), by Salomón Grimberg: Merrell

Self Portrait In A Velvet Dress: Frida's Wardrobe (2008), by Denise Rosenzweig, Carlos Phillips Olmedo & Magdalena Rosenzweig: Chronicle Books

Frida Kahlo: Mexican Artist (2009), by Emma Carlson Berne: ABDO

Frida Kahlo: Her Photos (2010), by Frida Kahlo: Editorial RM


  1. Excellent account of a remarkable artist's life and wonderful collection of her art with such passionate description. I just saw "Frida", the movie and have clambered the internet looking for more and it is here. Thank you.

  2. Dear Anonymous:

    Thank you so much for your comment - it's appreciated. I am always open to & enjoy feedback. Indeed, Frida was a remarkable, fascinating woman. So glad you liked the posting as well as the movie.

    Best regards,
    ₵. Ð.

  3. I've never knew how strong her impact was. Very great post!

    Thank you.

    1. De rien, Mademoiselle:

      Frida was - in my opinion - one of the great icons of the Twentieth Century. A true original in so many ways. Glad you liked the post.

      With warm regards (et pour toujours),
      ₵. Ð.