Birth Date: 6 July 1907
Date of Death: 13 July 1954
Place of Birth: Coyoacán, Mexico
Place of Death: Coyoacán, Mexico
Nationality: Mexican
Occupation/Field of Study Mexican Painter and arguably the most important self-portrait artist of the 20th Century.

 

KEYWORDS: Mexico, Artist, Painter, Surrealism, Self-Portraits, Communism

 

SHE THOUGHT IT

Frida Kahlo is one of – if not the – most important Mexican artists of the 20th century. She is particularly revered for her intense self-portraits. While some reviewers and critics celebrated her as a surrealist, she defied this categorization and did not let herself be pushed into one direction exclusively1 (p. 2). Her inspirations were manifold and ranged from Mexican folk art and Catholic imagery and symbolism via Socialist Realism to European and American Art2, 3 (p. xiv). While Frida’s work was well-known in Mexico and the tiny circles of the Avant-garde during her lifetime, her influence increased in the decades after her death and, today, she is one of the most renowned and celebrated female artists that has inspired multiple movies, two operas, and countless exhibitions2, 4, 5, 6 (Schaefer p.xiii).

 

SHORT BIOGRAPHY

Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, then a suburb of Mexico City, three years prior to the start of the Mexican Revolution.2 (p. xix). Her family reflected the numerous facets and challenges of modern Mexico, since her father was a rather liberal German immigrant while her mother was a devout Catholic with mostly native Mexican ancestors2 (p. xvii). The revolution that overthrew the autocratic government of Porfirio Díaz made a major impression on Frida as a child and catalysed a cultural renewal in Mexico2, 3, 7 (Schaefer p. xii; xix; 2).

When she was 15 years old and in recognition of her intellect, her father supported his daughter’s education and sent her to the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, Mexico City’s most renowned high school2 (p. xx). Originally, Frida planned on attending university and becoming a doctor.7

An accident, however, would change the course of her life forever and leave her stuck at home for almost a year2 (p. xxi). During the long time she lay in bed, she started to paint.2 After the accident, Frida’s body was altered beyond recovery and she had to undergo surgeries up until her death in 1954.8 Her infirmity would have a significant impact on both her work and her mental health; some even describe her painting as a means of trauma therapy.3, 8 

Source: Museo Frida Khalo

At the start of the 1920s, the Mexican government commissioned the renowned artist Diego Rivera to paint the murals of the Secretariat for Education in Mexico City, and Frida Kahlo, who was  interested in both the artwork and the political ambitions of Senior Rivera, watched him work9 (pp. 21-22). According to one of her stories, one day she took some of her paintings to Rivera so that he  could evaluate their artistic merit9 (p. 47). Diego was fascinated by such an outspoken and talented young woman and they soon became a couple,  much to the chagrin of Frida’s mother –  9 (p.49). Frida and Diego got married on 21 August  1929, divorced in 1939 and remarried in 19402, 9 (Schaefer p. xi, xiii; Souter p. 53). Their marriage remained troublesome for the rest of Frida’s life as both had multiple affairs and Diego’s outbursts continued to strain their relationship.7

Since Diego Rivera was a celebrated artist, the couple travelled together to the United States in 1930, as Rivera had been  commissioned to paint murals in San Francisco9 (p. 57). It was the first time Frida had travelled abroad. In 1931, she accompanied her husband to the opening of his exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York9 (p. 66). Frida disliked American society and was often lonely while Diego was working, so she turned towards her own art9 (p. 59, p. 75). During the couple’s stay in Detroit, where Diego painted murals for the Ford factory, Frida suffered a miscarriage and was left emotionally and physically devastated9 (p. 79). After this caesura, Frida painted some of her most tragic, revealing, personal and haunting art works, such as  My Birth and Henry Ford Hospital in 19329, 10, 11 (p. 79).

After the couple’s return to Mexico, their life continued to be among the artists, intellectuals, and revolutionaries of the country and the city. When Leon Trotsky was forced to leave the Soviet Union, Diego pleaded for him with the Mexican government and eventually Trotsky and his wife came to Mexico and lived with the Riveras for some time2 (p. xii-xiii). In 1938, Frida was invited to Paris by André Breton, who cherished her art2 (p. xiii). The exhibition of her works in Paris is one of the three she had during her life13 (p. 2). Two years later, Frida started to teach at La Esmeralda art school in Mexico City2 (p. xiii). While having endured considerable pain throughout her life, her health deteriorated even more in 19502 (p. xxiv). In 1954, at the age of 47, Frida died in her childhood home in Coyoacán, Mexico. Her importance for Mexico and its art history was already visible when she was mourned by many Mexican officials and artists in the Palacio Bellas Artes in Mexico City2 (p.xxiv). Frida Kahlo left behind works of art that would inspire fellow artists and scholars around the world2 (p. xxiv).

 

ARTISTIC COLLABORATION AND RECOGNITION

When Frida Kahlo began to paint, she focused mainly on objects immediately within the reach of her bed. As such, she drew portraits of her family members and of herself.7 The latter would remain her main focal point. Even though she was surrounded by modernist artists during most of her life, she is best known for her relentless exploration of the self, of inner identities, and the continuous depiction of the struggle and pain she had to endure throughout her life.8, 14, 15 While Frida was influenced by a variety of themes and diverse imagery – Mexican Folk Art, Catholic Art and imagery, pre-Columbian Mexican symbols – the themes of sickness, pain, and tumultuous love(s) recur in many of her works.3, 8, 16 Because of the circles she moved in and her striking appearance and personality, she also served as a model for friends, lovers, and her husband (p. xii, xxiii).2, 19 Diego Rivera painted her in  his fresco En el arsenal20; Frida painted Diego and herself numerous times18, and she was photographed by Edward Weston19 and Nickolas Muray.17 Her friends and family served as a constant source of inspiration26 – she painted her sisters22 and her father23 and in one of her best-known works she included her grandparents on both sides to portray her Mexican and European heritage and to position herself as a traveller between worlds.21

In the early stages of her artistic work, Frida was not taken seriously, since Diego’s widely publicised career and large scale paintings were always in the spotlight. However, she managed to establish herself as a significant artist during her lifetime, and later her work gained even more importance and eventually outshone Diego’s because of the timelessness and intriguing originality of her portraits.24 As an artist, Frida Kahlo managed to create something unique from a conglomerate of personal, political, artistic and religious influences that marked her daily life and time.8 She inspired her audience by a continuous representation of strength and weakness. Her specific artistic merit lies in the intense “dissect[ing] [of] the private, hidden aspects of her life[,] [that] [s]he found visible images for an invisible interior”3 (13:39-13:50). The importance of her work cannot be pinned down to one specific artistic movement since her inspiration was manifold, her training mostly informal, and even though she was considered to be a “natural Surrealist” by André Breton, this movement does not succeed in capturing the unique aesthetics of Frida Kahlo’s paintings.2, 25 Decades after her death, the interest in her work is greater than ever; exhibitions of her art enjoy enormous popularity, confirming the appeal of the raw, mysterious, and multifaceted portraits that form one third of Frida Kahlo’s oeuvre.1,4,15,17,19,24

 

SHE SAID IT

A little while ago, not much more than a few days ago, I was a child, who went about in a world full of colors. Everything was mysterious and something was hidden. If you knew how terrible it is, to know suddenly, as if a bolt of lightning elucidated the earth, now, I live in a painful planet.

Cited in Stechler, Amy (2005), “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo“, Rita Moreno, Public Broadcasting Service, PBS (19:23-19:47).

 

Every tic-tac is a second of life which goes by, flees, and never comes back. And there is so much intensity to it, so much interest, that the problem lies in not knowing how to live it. Everyone should solve it however they can. (my translation)

Cited in “Frases”, Museo Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo (museofridakahlo.org); (my translation)

 

THEY SAID IT 

The only artist in the history of art who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings.

Rivera, Diego. “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun – 23 Oct 2016. Self and identity”, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection (www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au)

 

Neither Derain, nor you or me, can paint a head quite like Frida Kahlo.

Pablo Picasso cited by Adriane von Hoop, “Frida Kahlo”, FemBio, fembio e.V. (www.fembio.org); (my translation)

 

Everything about Frida Kahlo has become a symbol: her immigrant father, her childhood sickness, her near death in the accident, her early marriage to the strong-willed Rivera, her romances at home and abroad, her identity between cultures, her artistic expression, and even her open sexuality all mean more than meets the eye.

Claudia Schaefer, (2008), Frida Kahlo, edited by Claudia Schaefer, ABC-CLIO, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, p. xiv.

 

ACHIEVEMENTS AND HONOURS

 The following is a brief selection of the many honours attributed to Frida Kahlo:

1958:    Opening of the Casa Azul in Coyoacán, Mexico as Museo Frida Kahlo
1982:    Exhibition of Kahlo’s Work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London
1985:    Park in Coyoacán named after Frida Kahlo
2001:    The US and  Mexico issue stamps with a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo
2005:    Exhibition of Frida’s works sponsored by the Tate Modern
2010:    Mexico issues  Peso bills with an image of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
2012:    A Plaque on the Legacy Walk that commemorates homo-, bi-, trans-, and intersexual people in Chicago was dedicated to Frida Kahlo

Streets named after Khalo:

Rua Frida Kahlo, Serpa (Portugal)
Rua Frida Kahlo, Criciúma (Brasil)
Avenida Circuito Frida Kahlo, San Pedro Garza García (Mexico)
Calle Frida Kahlo, Madrid (Spain)
Frida-Kahlo-Straße, Bocholt (Germany)

Scholarships and Foundations:

Frida Kahlo Scholarship in Ministry and the Creative Arts (Graduate Theological Foundation, Mishawaka, IN, USA)

The Frida Kahlo Foundation for Culture and the Arts (Texas, USA)

 

INTERTEXTUAL MATERIALS

This is by no means a complete list but a selection of some of the most relevant intertextual artworks inspired in Frida Kahlo:

 Pena, Juan Carlos, Frida y Diego, bronze sculpture, Reyes Heroles Cultural Center, Coyoacán, Mexico.

Taymor, Julie, Director. (2002), Frida. Written by Hayden Herrera. Perf. Selma Hayek. Miramax. Film.

Stechler, Amy, Director. (2005) The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo. Rita Moreno, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Cibani, Tia (designer) (2014) “Spring/Summer 2014”, performance, fashion show, https://vimeo.com/74295941 (last accessed 16 Mar 2017).

Werchau, Undine (choreographer) (2014) “Frida Kahlo”, Music cellorazade, Staatsttheater Cottbus, Cottbus, https://vimeo.com/107611954 (last accessed 16 Mar 2017).

Lopez Ochoa, Annabelle (choreographer) (2016) “Broken Wings”, perf. Tamara Rojo, As Frida Kahlo, English National Ballett, London, http://www.ballet.org.uk/whats-on/shesaid/ (last accessed 16 Mar 2017).

Rodríguez, Robert Xavier (music) (2017) “Frida”, Long Beach Opera, Long Beach, CA, performance, opera, http://www.longbeachopera.org/2017-season/frida#about (last accessed 16 Mar 2017).

 

MOST IMPORTANT WORKS BY FRIDA KAHLO

 This list is based on a small sample of Frida Kahlo’s oeuvre. The works included here are the ones most frequently referred to by her biographers and art critics.

Source: Museo Frida Khalo

Self-portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States (1932) oil on tin, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel Reyero.

Henry Ford Hospital (1932) oil on metal, Collection of Museum Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico.

My Dress Hangs There (1933) oil, collage, Masonite, 55 x 46 cm, Hoover Gallery, San Francisco, CA.

Mis abuelos, mis padres y yo (1936) oil and tempera on zinc, Banco de Mexico Fundacion de Museos Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo.

The Two Fridas (1939) oil on canvas, 173 x 173.5 cm, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City.

The Dream (The Bed) (1940) oil on canvas, 98.5 x 74 cm, Nesuhi Ertegun Collection, New York City.

 Self-portrait with Cropped Hair (1940) oil on canvas, 40 x 27.9 cm, Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust.

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) oil on canvas on Masonite, 61,25 cm x 47 cm, Nickolas Muray Collection, The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Self Portrait As A Tehuana (1940-1943) oil on Masonite, 61 x 76 cm, Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection, Mexico City.

 

FURTHER READING

Felten, Uta (editor) (2008) Frida Kahlo. Körper, Gender, Performance, Berlin, Ed. Tranvía, Frey.

Fuentes, Carlos (editor) (2005) The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait, New York, Abrams, Harry N. Inc.

Herrera, Hayden (2002) Frida. A Biography of Frida Kahlo, Harper Perennial, London.

Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino (2004) Frida Kahlo: um homenaje, writ. Carlos Monsiváis, Mexico, Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino.

Souter, Gerry (2015) Frida Kahlo, New York, Parkstone International.

Wynne, Christopher (2005) Frida Kahlo, Munich, Prestel.

 

WORKS CITED

  1. “Biografía de Frida Kahlo.” Museo Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo, http://www.museofridakahlo.org.mx/assets/files/page_files/document/39/Biografia.pdf (last accessed 10 Mar. 2017.
  2. Schaefer, Claudia. Frida Kahlo, edited by Claudia Schaefer, ABC-CLIO, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/leip/detail.action?docID=3001296.
  3. Margolyes, Miriam, Narrator. Frida Kahlo & Tina Modotti. Directed by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, Concord, 1984, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsq2umalJbw&t=830s (last  Accessed 6 Mar. 2017).
  4. Best, Tamara (13 July 2016) “Frida Kahlo, Whose Self-Portraits Spoke to the ” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/obituaries/archives/frida-kahlo (last accessed 10 Mar. 2017).
  5. McMillan, Tracie. (25 Feb 2015), “A Detroit Opera Celebrates Frida Kahlo’s Life and Cooking.” National Public Radio, NPR, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/02/25/389039737/a-detroit-opera- celebrates-frida-kahlo-s-life-and-cooking (last accessed 10 Mar. 2017).
  6. “Sibelius Academy opera: Frida y Diego.” musiikkitalo, Musiikkitalo, Helsinki, https://www.musiikkitalo.fi/en/node/1084 (last accessed 10 Mar. 2017).
  7. Stechler, Amy, Director. (2005) The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo. Rita Moreno, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4gkhUDofKY&t=1248s, (last accessed 16 Mar 2017).
  8. “About Frida Kahlo.” (2012) Surrealist Women Artists, Hope College, Great Lakes Colleges Association, http://faculty.hope.edu/andre/artistPages/kahlo_bio.html (last accessed 10 Mar. 2017).
  9. Souter, Gerry. Frida Kahlo, edited by Gerry Souter, Parkstone International, ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/leip/detail.action?docID=4731723 (last accessed Mar 16 2017).
  10. Kahlo, Frida. Henry Ford Hospital. 1932, Collection of Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico, http://www.high.org/Popup/HotSpotPopup.aspx?hostId=%7BD8070519-408B- 4546-82BC-228B9B738F80%7D&loi=cuijuan (last accessed 13 Mar 2017).
  11. Kahlo, Frida. My Birth. 1932, Private Collection, Madonna. https://www.wikiart.org/en/frida-kahlo/my-birth-1932 (last accessed 13 Mar 2017).
  12. Daniels, Robert V. (2016) “Leon Trotsky.” Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leon-Trotsky (last accessed 13 Mar 2017).
  13. “Biografía de Frida Kahlo.” Museo Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán, Mexico,http://museofridakahlo.org.mx/assets/files/page_files/document/39/Biografia.pdf (last accessed 13 Mar. 2017).
  14. “Frida Kahlo”, MMoCA Collect, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, http://www.mmoca.org/mmocacollects/artists/frida-kahlo (last accessed 15 Mar 2017).
  15. Baker, Kenneth (14 June 2008), “Review: ‘Frida Kahlo’ at SFMOMA”, SF GATE, http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Review-Frida-Kahlo-at- SFMOMA-3209721.php (last accessed 14 Mar 2017).
  16. “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun-23 Oct 2016. Mexicanidad”, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artboards/frida-kahlo-diego-rivera/mexicanidad/ (last accessed 15 Mar 2017).
  17. “Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray” (2017), MOLAA, Museum of Latin American Art and Schulzman-Neri Foundation, https://www.molaa.org/exhibition/frida-kahlo-lens-nickolas-muray/ (last accessed 15 Mar 2017).
  18. “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun -23 Oct 2016. Roots of Connection”, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artboards/frida-kahlo-diego-rivera/lines-of-connection/ (last accessed 15 Mar 2017).
  19. “Mirror, Mirror…Portraits of Frida Kahlo”, Harn Museum of Art, University of Floria, http://harn.ufl.edu/fridakahlo (last accessed 15 Mar 2017).
  20. Rivera, Diego. En el arsenal (1928), Banco de Mexico Fundacion de Museos Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo. https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2011/rivera/es/chronology.php, (last accessed 15 Mar 2017).
  21. Kahlo, Frida. (1936) Mis abuelos, mis padres y yo. (1936), oil and tempera on zinc, Banco de Mexico Fundacion de Museos Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78784 (last accessed 15 Mar. 2017).
  22. Kahlo, Frida. (1928), Portrait of Cristina, my Sister, oil on canvas, Private Collection, thecityreview.com/s01slat.html, (last accessed 15 Mar. 2017).
  23. Kahlo, Frida. (1951) Portrait of Don Guillermo Kahlo, oil on canvas, museumsyndicate.com/item.php?item=2934, (last accessed 16 Mar. 2017).
  24. “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun -23 Oct 2016. Self and identity”, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artboards/frida-kahlo-diego- rivera/self-and-identity/ (last accessed 16 Mar 2017).
  25. “Frida Kahlo. Mexican 1907-1954”, MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, https://www.moma.org/artists/2963 , (last accessed 16 Mar 2017).
  26. “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: from the Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun-23 Oct 2016. Home”, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artboards/frida- kahlo-diego-rivera/at-home/ (last accessed 15 Mar 2017).
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