“I paint myself because I am so often alone
and because I am the subject
I know best.”
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (1907-1954) was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico to a Hungarian-Jewish father and a mother of Spanish and Mexican Indian descent. At 6, Frida developed polio. After her survival, she developed an interest in the medical field and eventually entered a pre-med program in Mexico City. At the age of 18, Frida was riding in a bus when the vehicle collided with a trolley car. She suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. The worst injury was when an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, which seriously damaged her reproductive ability. She endured more than 30 operations in her lifetime and during her convalescence she began to paint.
Her paintings, mostly self-portraits and still life, were deliberately naïve, and filled with the colors and forms of Mexican folk art. At 22 she married the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, 20 years her senior. Their stormy, passionate relationship survived infidelities, the pressures of careers, divorce, remarriage, Frida’s bi-sexual affairs, her poor health and her inability to have children.
Ms. Kahlo suffered lifelong health problems. Her work reflects her inner and outer struggles throughout her life. Including her 55 self-portraits, Frida’s 143 paintings are remembered for their depiction of “pain and passion” through intense and vibrant colors. Her work is celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
In 1953, when Frida Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico (the only one held in her native country during her lifetime), a local critic wrote: “It is impossible to separate the life and work of this extraordinary person. Her paintings are her biography.”
At the time of her exhibition opening, Frida’s health was so poor that her doctor told her that she was not to leave her bed. She insisted that she was going to attend her opening and she did. She arrived in an ambulance and her bed in the back of a truck. She was placed in her bed and four men carried her in to the waiting guests.
Both Frida and Diego were very active in the Communist Party in Mexico. In early July 1954, Frida made her last public appearance, when she participated in a Communist street demonstration. Soon after, on July 13th, 1954, at the age of 47, Frida passed away.
On the day after her death, mourners gathered at the crematorium to witness the cremation of Mexico’s greatest and most shocking painter. Soon to be an international icon, Frida Kahlo knew how to give her fans one last unforgettable goodbye. As the cries of her admirers filled the room, the sudden blast of heat from the open incinerator doors caused her body to bolt upright. Her hair, now on fire from the flames, blazed around her head like a halo. Frida’s lips seemed to break into a seductive grin just as the doors closed.
Today, more than half a century after her death, her paintings fetch more money than any other female artist. A visit to the Museo Frida Kahlo is like taking a step back in time. All of her personal effects are displayed throughout the house and everything seems to be just as she left it. One gets the feeling that she still lives there but has just briefly stepped out to allow you to tour her private sanctuary. She is gone now but her legacy will live on forever.
My personal favorites in her collection are: What I Saw in the Water Or What the Water Gave Me, 1938; My Birth, 1932 (which is a tad bit graphic as it shows her interpretation of her birth so here is a link); and The Two Fridas, 1939. In 2002, Mexican actress Salma Hayak portrayed Frida in the biopic Frida. It is a wonderful movie and shows the tumultuous life that Frida Kahlo lived. Here is a link to the movie trailer on IMDB.
“I suffered two grave accidents in my life…
One in which a streetcar knocked me down
and the other was Diego.
Diego was by far, the worst.”