Frida Kahlo de Rivera (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) was a Mexican painter, born in Coyoacán, and perhaps best known for her self-portraits.
Kahlo's life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home known as the Blue House. She gave her birth date as July 7, 1910, but her birth certificate shows July 6, 1907. Kahlo had allegedly wanted the year of her birth to coincide with the year of the beginning of the Mexican revolution so that her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico. At the age of six, Frida developed polio, which caused her right leg to appear much thinner than the other. It was to remain that way permanently. Her work has been celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Mexican culture and Amerindian cultural tradition are important in her work, which has been sometimes characterized as Naïve art or folk art. Her work has also been described as "surrealist", and during 1938 André Breton, principal initiator of the surrealist movement, described Kahlo's art as a "ribbon around a bomb".
Kahlo had a marriage with the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. She suffered lifelong health problems, many of which derived from a traffic accident during her teenage years. These issues are perhaps represented by her works, many of which are self-portraits of one sort or another. Kahlo suggested, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best." She also stated, "I was born a bitch. I was born a painter."
Childhood and family
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in the house of her parents, known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán. At the time, Coyoacan was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City.
Her father, Guillermo Kahlo (1871–1941), was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo in Pforzheim, Germany, the son of Jakob Heinrich Kahlo and Henriette Kaufmann. While Frida maintained that her father was of Hungarian-Jewish ancestry, one set of researchers has established that Guillermo Kahlo's parents were not Jewish, but Lutheran Germans. Carl Wilhelm Kahlo traveled to Mexico during 1891 at the age of nineteen years and, upon his arrival, changed his German forename, Wilhelm, to its Spanish equivalent, 'Guillermo'.
Frida's mother, Matilde Calderón y Gonzalez, was a devout Roman Catholic of primarily Amerindian, as well as Spanish, ancestry. Frida's parents were married soon after the death of Guillermo's first wife, which occurred during the birth of her second child. Although their marriage was quite unhappy, Guillermo and Matilde had four daughters, with Frida being the third. She had two older half sisters who were raised in the same household. Frida remarked that she grew up in a world surrounded by females. However, during most of her life, Frida remained amicable with her father.
The Mexican Revolution began during 1910, when Kahlo was three years old. Kahlo later claimed that she was born during 1910, allegedly so that people would associate her with the revolution. In her writings, she recalled that her mother would usher her and her sisters inside the house as gunfire echoed in the streets of her hometown. Occasionally combatants would leap over the walls into their backyard, and sometimes her mother would prepare a meal for the hungry revolutionaries.
Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left, which she disguised by wearing long, colorful skirts. It has been conjectured that she also suffered from spina bifida, a congenital disease that could have affected both spinal and leg development. As a girl, she participated with boxing and other sports. During 1922, Kahlo was enrolled in the Preparatoria, one of Mexico's premier schools, where she was one of only thirty-five girls. Kahlo joined a clique at the school and became enamored of the strongest personality of it, Alejandro Gómez Arias. During this period, Kahlo also witnessed violent armed struggles in the streets of Mexico City as the Mexican Revolution continued.
On September 17, 1925, Kahlo 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. Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, which seriously damaged her reproductive ability.
The accident left her in a great deal of pain while she spent three months recovering in a full body cast. Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she had relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. The pain was intense and often left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time. She had as many as thirty-five operations as a result of the accident, mainly on her back, her right leg, and her right foot. The injuries also prevented Kahlo from having a child because of the medical complications and permanent damage. All three pregnancies had to be terminated.
Career as painter
After the accident, Kahlo neglected the study of medicine to begin a painting career. She painted to occupy her time during her temporary immobilization. Her self-portraits became a dominant part of her life when she was immobile for three months after her accident. Kahlo once said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."
Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes.
Using personal experiences, including her marriage, her miscarriages, and her numerous operations, Kahlo's works are often characterized by their suggestions of pain.
Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She insisted, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."
Kahlo was influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism. She frequently included the symbolic monkey. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, but Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols. Christian and Jewish themes often are depicted by her work.
She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings. Kahlo created a few drawings of "portraits," but unlike her paintings, they were more abstract. She did one of her husband, Diego Rivera, and of herself. At the invitation of André Breton, she went to France during 1939 and was featured at an exhibition of her paintings in Paris. The Louvre bought one of her paintings, The Frame, which was displayed at the exhibit. This was the first work by a twentieth century Mexican artist that was purchased by the renowned museum.
As a young artist, Kahlo communicated with the Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, whose work she admired, asking him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He recognized her talent. He encouraged her artistic development and also began an intimate relationship with Frida. They were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Frida's mother.
Their marriage was often troubled. Kahlo and Rivera both had irritable temperaments and numerous extramarital affairs. The bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men and women, including Josephine Baker; Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. For her part, Kahlo was furious when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage was as troubled as the first. Their living quarters were often separate, although sometimes adjacent.
Later years and death
Active communists, Kahlo and Rivera befriended Leon Trotsky after he gained political asylum in Mexico from Joseph Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union during the late 1930s. During 1937, Trotsky lived initially with Rivera and then at Kahlo's home (where he had an affair with Kahlo). Trotsky and his wife then relocated to another house in Coyoacán where, in 1940, he was assassinated.
Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47. A few days before her death she wrote in her diary: "I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida". The official cause of death was given as a pulmonary embolism, although some suspected that she died from an overdose that may or may not have been accidental. An autopsy was never performed. She had been very ill throughout the previous year and her right leg had been amputated at the knee, owing to gangrene. She had a bout of bronchopneumonia about that time, which had left her quite frail.
In his autobiography, Diego Rivera would write that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic day of his life, adding that, too late, he had realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her.
A pre-Columbian urn holding her ashes is on display in her former home, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán, which since 1958 has been maintained as a museum housing a number of her works of art and numerous mementos and artifacts from her personal life.
Aside from the 1939 acquisition by the Louvre, Kahlo's work was not celebrated widely until decades after her death. Often she was remembered only as Diego Rivera's wife. It was not until the early 1980s, when the artistic style in Mexico known as Neomexicanismo began, that she became known well. It was during this time that artists such as Kahlo, Abraham Ángel, Ángel Zárraga, and others became publicized and Helguera's classical calendar paintings became famous.
During the same decade of the 1980s other factors helped to make her better known. The first retrospective of Frida Kahlo’s work outside Mexico (exhibited alongside the photographs of Tina Modotti) opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London during May 1982, organized and co-curated by Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey. The exhibition also was shown in Sweden, Germany, Manhattan, and Mexico City. The movie Frida, naturaleza viva (1983), directed by Paul Leduc with Ofelia Medina as Frida and painter Juan José Gurrola as Diego, was a great success. For the rest of her life, Medina has remained in a quasi-perpetual Frida role. Also during the same time, Hayden Herrera published an influential biography, Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo, which became a worldwide bestseller. Raquel Tibol, a Mexican artist and personal friend of Frida, wrote Frida Kahlo: una vida abierta. Other works about her include a biography by Mexican art critic and psychoanalyst Teresa del Conde and texts by other Mexican critics and theorists, such as Jorge Alberto Manrique.
From 1990–91, Kahlo's "Diego on my Mind" (1943), oil on masonite, 76 by 61 centimeters piece was used as the representative piece on the post for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries art exhibit. During 1991, the opera Frida by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, which had been commissioned by the American Music Theater Festival, premiered in Philadelphia.
During 1994, American jazz flautist and composer James Newton released an album inspired by Kahlo titled Suite for Frida Kahlo on AudioQuest Music (now known as Sledgehammer Blues).
On June 21, 2001, she became the first Hispanic woman to be honored with a U.S. postage stamp.
During 2002, the American biographical movie Frida, directed by Julie Taymor, in which Salma Hayek portrayed the artist, was released. The movie was based on Herrera's book. It grossed US$ 58 million worldwide.
During 2006, Kahlo's 1943 painting Roots set a US$ 5.6 million auction record for a Latin American work.
The 2009 novel The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver features Kahlo, her life with Rivera, and her affair with Trotsky.
On July 6, 2010, to commemorate the anniversary of her birthday, Google altered its standard logo to include a portrait of Frida, depicted in her style of art.
On August 30, 2010, the Bank of Mexico issued a new MXN$ 500-peso note, featuring Frida and her 1949 painting entitled Love's Embrace of the Universe, Earth, (Mexico), I, Diego, and Mr. Xólotl on the back of the note while her husband Diego was on the front of the note.
An international exhibition of Kahlo's work was presented during 2005 in London. It brought together eighty-seven of her works for the display.
A play based on Frida Kahlo's life was premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2008. 'Frida Kahlo: Viva la vida!", written by Mexican Humberto Robles and performed by Gael Le Cornec, received an Artistic Excellence Award and a best female performer nomination at the Brighton Festival Fringe in 2009.
An exhibition of works by Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957, 'Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from the Gelman Collection', will be shown at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, West Sussex from 9 July to 2 October 2011. This major touring exhibition, which comes to Chichester for its only UK showing, brings together the iconic paintings of the two central figures of Mexican Modernism, for the first time in this country.