|Kahlo in 1932, photographed by her father|
Pain and illness were the defining factors in Frida's short life. She was born in 1907 in Mexico city to a father who had immigrated from Germany and a mother of mixed Native Mexican and Spanish descent. Her father was a professional photographer and an amateur painter who had experienced serious illness in his own life. Her mother was a devout Catholic, who bore three other daughters. When Frida was six years old, she came down with polio, which caused her to be confined to her home for 9 months and deformed one of her legs. She spent a lot of time with her father, who introduced her to various cultural matters, including art history. Later she studied at a prestigious preparatory school, and also received private drawing instruction.
Frida recovered enough to return to school and to engage in sports, but when she was 18, her school bus collided with a streetcar in a crash that killed several people. Frida's pelvis was impaled by an iron handrail, fracturing the bone, and she also fractured several ribs, her legs, and a collarbone. Her recovery required 3 months of bedrest, wearing a plaster corset.
Frida's whole life was troubled by these injuries, and she underwent over 30 corrective surgeries. One effect was that she couldn't carry a child full term, despite several attempts. Her attitude about her ordeal was complex, and she seemed to depend on illness and hospitalization as ways to get attention and sympathy. Moreover, when she became an artist, her physical trials became one of her dominant themes.
Frida's private life also included a lot of emotional pain and suffering. When she was 20, Frida's recovery was sufficient that she was able to socialize and to hold menial jobs. She espoused and promoted all sorts of radical ideas, including Communism. In 1929, at the age of 22, she was introduced to Diego Rivera, who was well-known both as an artist and as a Communist. They were fascinated by one another, and were soon married.
Frida began painting after the bus accident when she was confined to her bed for a couple of years. Her family rigged up a portable easel that she could use in bed. She was well grounded in art history from her preparatory school and her father's influence, and she had had private instruction in drawing, but she had no formal art training. A mirror was attached to her easel so that she could make self-portraits, since she was alone so much, and she also did portraits of friends and relatives.
|Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931|
SFMOMA / Jan's photo
In 1933, when she was 26, Frida and Diego returned to Mexico, and settled in an upscale district of Mexico City in a pair of houses, one for each, connected by a bridge. Despite numerous physical crises and romantic liaisons, she continue to develop as an artist, and she began to achieve recognition in the U.S. when she was 32. Around that time she traveled alone to Europe, where Marcel Duchamp arranged an exhibition of her work that was lauded by all the major artists, and the Louvre purchased a self-portrait, its first work by a 20 C. Mexican artist.
When Frida and Diego divorced, she was determined to achieve financial independence so she painted more than ever before, and she created some of her most enduring and distinctive work. In self-portraits, she pictured herself in native Mexican dress with her hair atop her head in traditional braids. Surrounded by pet monkeys, cats and parrots amid exotic vegetation reminiscent of the paintings of Henri Rousseau, she often wore the large pre-Columbian necklaces given to her by Rivera.
Despite her productivity, Frida's health deteriorated alarmingly. When Diego heard of her condition, he arranged to take care of her. The two remarried a year after the divorce and settled in Mexico City, in the Blue House where she was raised. Frida continued to paint psychological studies of herself using graphic symbolism.
The fact that Frida was able to become an artist at all is awe-inspiring. She was one of the earliest artists to make explicit references to her own life story, thereby opening a whole new world of themes for painters.
Frida painted only about 200 paintings. A revealing chronological survey of 100 of them may be seen here: Frida Kahlo at Wikiart
|Self-portrait in a Velvet Dress, 1926|
|Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, 1932|
|Frida painting Self-Portrait on the Borderline, 1932|
|Fulang-Chang and I, 1937|
MoMA / Jan's photo
|Self-Portrait dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937|
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006
|Itzicuintli Dog with Me, c. 1938|
Dallas / Jan's photo
|The Two Fridas, 1939|
|Me and My Parrots, 1941|
|Portrait of Natasha Gelman, 1943|
|Flame Flower, 1943|
|The Love-Embrace of the Universe, 1949|
|Viva La Vida, 1954|
Kahlo came into the news in 2016 because one of her paintings was recently rediscovered in a home in Sunnyvale, where it hung for 60 years in a dark bedroom. The owner had been an assistant of Frida's, and Diego gave it to her in 1955, one year after Kahlo's death. It was set to be auctioned at Sotheby's Latin American art sale on Nov. 22 and 23. It was estimated to sell for $1.5 to $2 million.
|Self-portrait with Necklace, 1929|