The life and work of Frida Kahlo – one of the greatest painters in Mexico – was characterized by both pain and perseverance. Getting to know Kahlo’s life offers a better insight into her masterful paintings, which are rich in details and personal iconography.
1. Frida Kahlo was born in the same house where she died.
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in a building nicknamed “La Casa Azul” for its bright blue exterior. There she was raised by her mother Matilde and encouraged by her photographer father Guillermo. Years later, she and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, also made it their home. And on July 1
2. Frida Kahlo’s beloved home is now a museum.
Casa Azul is also known as the Frida Kahlo Museum. As a tribute to Kahlo, Rivera donated the house in 1958 and all of the works of art it contained, which were created by both him and Kahlo. Much of the interior has been preserved as Kahlo had it in the 1950s, making the space a popular tourist attraction that gives visitors a glimpse of their work, life, and personal artifacts, including the urn in which their ashes are.
3. One third of Frida Kahlo’s paintings were self-portraits.
Kahlo folded symbols from her Mexican culture and allusions to her personal life to create a series of 55 surreal and uniquely revealing self-portraits. Of these she said famously: “I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject that I know best.”
4. A surreal accident had a major impact on Frida Kahlo’s life.
On September 17, 1925, an 18-year-old Kahlo got on a bus with her boyfriend Alex Gómez Arias to be permanently damaged when he crossed the path of a train. Arias remembered the tragedy and described the bus as “bursting into a thousand pieces,” with a handrail tearing through Kahlo’s torso.
He later said: “Something strange had happened. Frida was totally naked. The collision had loosened her clothes. Someone on the bus, probably a painter, had a packet of gold powder with them. This package broke and the gold fell all over Frida’s bleeding body. When people saw them, they shouted: ‘The dancer, the dancer!“With the gold on their red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer.”
5. Frida Kahlo’s path to painting started with this collision.
The accident broke Kahlo’s spine, collarbone, ribs and pelvis, broke her right leg in eleven places and put her shoulder. These serious injuries left her with pain for the rest of her life and were often bedridden. But during that time, Kahlo picked up her father’s brush. Her mother helped organize a special easel that she could work from the bed with. Kahlo once proclaimed the needs of her life: “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think.”
6. Frida Kahlo once dreamed of becoming a doctor.
As a child, Kahlo contracted polio, which withered her right leg and aroused interest in the healing properties of medicine. Unfortunately, the injuries from the train accident forced the teen to abandon her plans to study medicine.
7. Frida Kahlo’s poor health shaped her art.
In the course of her life, Kahlo underwent surgery 30 times, including possible amputation of her foot due to a burn. She explored her frustrations with the weakness of her body in paintings like The broken pillarwho focuses on her broken spine, and Without hope, which was a dramatic time when her doctor prescribed force-feeding. On the back of the latter she wrote: “I have no hope whatsoever … everything moves in time with what the belly contains.”
8. Frida Kahlo did not see herself as a surrealist.
She refused the label and said, “You thought I was a surrealist, but it wasn’t me. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
9. Frida Kahlo’s tumultuous marriage triggered more pain and painting.
When Kahlo met Rivera, she was a student and he already had four children and was on the way to his second divorce. Despite an age difference of 20 years, the two quickly fell in love and spurred Rivera to leave his second wife and marry Kahlo in 1929.
From then on, they were each other’s biggest fans and supporters when it came to their art. But their 10-year marriage was marked by fits of temper and infidelity on both sides. They divorced in 1939 to marry again a year later. Like paintings Self-portrait with chain of thorns and hummingbird, The two fridas, and The love hug of the universe boldly illustrates their relationship from Kahlo’s point of view.
10. Frida Kahlo mourned privately and publicly for the children she never had.
Modern doctors believe that the bus accident had irreparably damaged Kahlo’s uterus, making it impossible to end pregnancies. She painted in 1932 Henry Ford hospital, a provocative self-portrait that is one of several devastating miscarriages she has suffered.
The piece would be shown to the world in a 1938 gallery show. But Kahlo wrote private personal letters to her friend, Doctor Leo Eloesser, in which she wrote: “I was so looking forward to having a little Dieguito that I cried a lot, but it is over, there is nothing else than endure being done. ‘”This letter was published in 2007 along with others from their decades of exchange, after being hidden for nearly 50 years by a user who was concerned about its content.
11. Frida Kahlo once came to an art exhibition in an ambulance.
In 1953, towards the end of her short life, the painter was overjoyed about her first solo exhibition in Mexico. But a hospital stay threatened her presence. Against the orders of the doctors, Kahlo made an incredible appearance and stopped in an ambulance like in a limousine.
12. Frida Kahlo is said to have had several famous lovers.
When she wasn’t recovering from surgery or tied to a recovery bed, Kahlo was full of life and enjoyed the opportunity to dance, socialize, and flirt. While the American sculptor Isamu Noguchi was in Mexico City to create his History seen from Mexico in 1936He and Kahlo started a passionate affair that developed into a lifelong friendship.
Three years later, when the bisexual painter visited Paris, he started a romance with entertainer Josephine Baker from “Black Pearl”. And many have speculated that the artist and activist also bedded the Marxist revolutionary Leo Trotsky while he and his wife Natalia stayed in Kahlo’s family home after being granted asylum in Mexico in 1936.
13. Frida Kahlo was very proud of her legacy.
Although she had lived in New York, San Francisco and Paris, Kahlo was always drawn to her hometown of Mexico City. She preferred traditional Mexican robes, the long, colorful skirts for which she was known, and the Huipile blouses of the Tehuantepec matriarchal society in Mexico. Perhaps most meaningfully, she told the press that she was born in 1910 and shortened her age by three years so that she could claim the same year of birth as the Mexican Revolution.
14. Frida Kahlo had several exotic pets.
Casa Azul has a beautiful garden where Kahlo had her own animal kingdom. Along with some Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintli (a breed of dog that goes back to the ancient Aztecs), Kahlo owned a pair of spider monkeys called Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal that you can watch Self-portrait with monkeys. She also looked after an Amazon parrot named Bonito who would do tricks if he promised a piece of butter, a deer called Granizo and an eagle nicknamed Gertrudis Caca Blanca (also known as Gertrude White Shit) as a reward.
15. Frida Kahlo has developed into a feminist icon.
Although some dismissed this passionate painter in her day as “the wife of the master muralist (Diego Rivera)”, Kahlo’s imaginative art was celebrated by Pablo Picasso and film star Edward G. Robinson. After her death, the rise of feminism in the 1970s sparked renewed interest in her work. Kahlo’s reputation darkened that of Rivera and she became one of the most famous painters in the world.
Feminist theorists use Kahlo’s deeply personal portraits to gain insight into the female experience. Likewise, her refusal to be defined by the definitions of others and the self-love that she shows in her proud grasp of her natural unibrow and mustache speak for modern feminist concerns about gender roles and body positivity.
16. Frida Kahlo’s personal style has become a living part of her legacy.
Frida’s art and influence did not simply arise from the color she brought to canvas. Her distinctive personal style has proven to be influential in the fashion world and has inspired designers such as Raffaella Curiel, Maya Hansen, Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana. (In 2019, Vans even launched a shoe collection with their work.)
17. Frida Kahlo’s work is record-breaking.
On May 11, 2016, at the first auction at which a significant Frida work had been on sale for six years, her painting from 1939 Two acts in the forest (Earth itself) sells for over $ 8 million – the highest auction price paid for the work of a Latin American artist.
This story was updated in 2020.