The painter Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who was married to Diego Rivera and is still admired as a feminist icon.
Who was Frida Kahlo?
Artist Frida Kahlo was considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists and began painting primarily self-portraits after she was seriously injured in a bus accident. Later, Ella Kahlo became politically active and married fellow communist artist Diego Rivera in 1929. She exhibited her paintings in Paris and Mexico before her death in 1954.
Family, Education and Early Life
Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón on July 6, 1907, in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico.
Kahlo’s father, Wilhelm (also called Guillermo), was a German photographer who immigrated to Mexico where he met and married his mother, Matilde. He had two older sisters, Matilde and Adriana, and his younger sister, Cristina, was born a year after Kahlo.
At around the age of six, Kahlo contracted polio, forcing her to be bedridden for nine months. While she was recovering from the disease, she limped when she walked because the disease had damaged her right leg and foot. Her father encouraged her to play soccer, swim, and even wrestle (very unusual moves for a girl at the time) to aid her recovery.
In 1922, Kahlo enrolled in the renowned National Preparatory School. She was one of the few students to attend the school and she became known for her jovial spirit and her love of colorful and traditional clothing and jewelry.
While at school, Kahlo hung out with a group of politically and intellectually like-minded students. Becoming more politically active, Ella Kahlo joined the Union of Young Communists and the Mexican Communist Party.
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The life of Frida Kahlo in photos
Frida Kahlo’s accident
On September 17, 1925, Kahlo and Alejandro Gómez Arias, a school friend with whom she was romantically involved, were traveling together on a bus when the vehicle collided with a tram. As a result of the collision, Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which entered her hip and exited the other side. As a result, she suffered several serious injuries, including fractures to her spine and pelvis.
After staying at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City for several weeks, Kahlo returned home to further recover. She began painting during her recovery and finished her first self-portrait of him the following year, which she gave to Gómez Arias.
Frida Kahlo’s marriage to Diego Rivera
In 1929, Kahlo and the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera married. kahlo and rivera they met in 1922 when he went to work on a project at his high school. Kahlo often watched as Rivera created a mural called The creation in the school auditorium. According to some reports, she told a friend that one day she would have Rivera’s baby.
Kahlo reconnected with Rivera in 1928. He encouraged her artwork, and the two began a relationship. During their early years together, Kahlo often followed Rivera based on where the commissions Rivera received were. In 1930 they lived in San Francisco, California. They then went to New York City for the Rivera show at the Museum of Modern Art and then moved to Detroit for Rivera’s commission with the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Kahlo and Rivera’s time in New York City in 1933 was surrounded by controversy. commissioned by nelson rockefellerRivera created a mural titled man at the crossroads in the RCA building at Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller halted work on the project after Rivera included a portrait of the communist leader. Vladimir Lenin on the mural, which was later painted over. Months after this incident, the couple returned to Mexico and went to live in San Ángel, Mexico.
Never a traditional union, Kahlo and Rivera maintained separate but adjoining homes and studios in San Ángel. She was saddened by her many infidelities, including an affair with her sister Cristina della. In response to this family betrayal, Kahlo cut off most of her trademark long dark hair. Desperately wanting a child, she again experienced heartbreak when she miscarried in 1934.
Kahlo and Rivera went through periods of separation, but came together to help exiled Soviet communists. Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia in 1937. The Trotskys came to stay with them at the Casa Azul (Kahlo’s childhood home) for a time in 1937 as Trotsky had received asylum in Mexico. Once a rival of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Trotsky feared being assassinated by his old nemesis. Kahlo and Trotsky reportedly had a brief affair during this time.
Kahlo divorced Rivera in 1939. They did not remain divorced for long, remarrying in 1940. The couple continued to lead largely separate lives. both become involved with other people over the years.
Rivera reads while Kahlo works beneath her famous 1939 painting, “The Two Fridas.”
” data-full-height=”2000″ data-full-src=”https://www.biography.com/.image/c_limit%2Ccs_srgb%2Cfl_progressive%2Ch_2000%2Cq_auto:good%2Cw_2000/MTYwNTE0NjgzNDQ1NDUzOTk1/2_diego-rivera-and-frida-kahlo-1907—1954-read-and-work-in-a-studio-kahlos-self-portrait-the-two-fridas-1939-hangs-in-the-background-with-other-works-photo-by-hulton-archivegetty-images.jpg” data-full-width=”1569″ data-image-id=”ci023a4341500124ab” data-image-slug=”2_Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) read and work in a studio. Kahlo’s self-portrait, ‘The Two Fridas’ (1939), hangs in the background with other works. (Photo by Hulton Archive:Getty Images)” data-public-id=”MTYwNTE0NjgzNDQ1NDUzOTk1″ data-source-name=”Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images” data-title=”Working side by side”/>
” data-full-height=”2000″ data-full-src=”https://www.biography.com/.image/c_limit%2Ccs_srgb%2Cfl_progressive%2Ch_2000%2Cq_auto:good%2Cw_2000/MTYwNTE0NjgzNzEzODg5ODM4/4_diego-rivera-1886—1957-and-frida-kahlo-1907—1954-walk-on-a-path-through-their-garden-which-is-filled-with-stone-statues-and-a-bird-cage-mexico-kahlo-is-holding-a-monkey-photo-by-wallace-marlyhul.jpg” data-full-width=”1622″ data-image-id=”ci023a43416000262e” data-image-slug=”4_Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957) and Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) walk on a path through their garden, which is filled with stone statues and a bird cage, Mexico. Kahlo is holding a monkey. (Photo by Wallace Marly:Hulton Archive:Getty Images)” data-public-id=”MTYwNTE0NjgzNzEzODg5ODM4″ data-source-name=”Photo: Wallace Marly/Hulton Archive/Getty Images” data-title=”An easy stroll through the garden”/>
” data-full-height=”2000″ data-full-src=”https://www.biography.com/.image/c_limit%2Ccs_srgb%2Cfl_progressive%2Ch_2000%2Cq_auto:good%2Cw_2000/MTYwNTE0NjgzNzE0MDIwOTEw/6_frida-kahlo-1907—1954-and-diego-rivera-1886—1957-stand-together-with-a-pet-dog-in-front-of-thatchted-roof-hut-which-houses-a-number-of-archeological-artifacts-mexico-city-mexico-1940s-photo-by-h.jpg” data-full-width=”1567″ data-image-id=”ci023a43417001262e” data-image-slug=”6_Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957) stand together with a pet dog in front of thatchted-roof hut which houses a number of archeological artifacts, Mexico City, Mexico, 1940s. (Photo by Hulton Archive:Getty Images)” data-public-id=”MTYwNTE0NjgzNzE0MDIwOTEw” data-source-name=”Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images” data-title=”Embracing history”/>
” data-full-height=”2000″ data-full-src=”https://www.biography.com/.image/c_limit%2Ccs_srgb%2Cfl_progressive%2Ch_2000%2Cq_auto:good%2Cw_2000/MTYwNTE0NjgzNzEzOTU0OTg3/8_frida-kahlo-1907—1954-and-diego-rivera-1886—1957-stand-together-with-a-pet-monkey-in-front-of-thatchted-roof-hut-which-houses-a-number-of-archeological-artifacts-mexico-city-mexico-1940s-photo-b.jpg” data-full-width=”1794″ data-image-id=”ci023a43417000262e” data-image-slug=”8_Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957) stand together with a pet monkey in front of thatchted-roof hut which houses a number of archeological artifacts, Mexico City, Mexico, 1940s. (Photo by Graphic House:Getty Images)” data-public-id=”MTYwNTE0NjgzNzEzOTU0OTg3″ data-source-name=”Photo: Graphic House/Getty Images” data-title=”Admiring the artifacts”/>
PHOTOS: The colorful love story of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Although she never considered herself a Surrealist, Kahlo became friends with one of the leading figures of that artistic and literary movement, Andre Breton, in 1938. That same year, she had a major exhibition at a New York City gallery, selling about half of the 25 paintings displayed there. Kahlo also received two commissions, including one from famed magazine editor Clare Boothe Luce, as a result of the show.
In 1939, Kahlo went to live in Paris for a while. There he exhibited some of his paintings and became friends with artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso.
Kahlo received a commission from the Mexican government for five portraits of important Mexican women in 1941, but was unable to finish the project. She lost her beloved father that year and continued to suffer from chronic health problems. Despite her personal challenges, her work continued to grow in popularity and she was included in numerous group shows around this time.
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In 1953, Kahlo received her first solo exhibition in Mexico. While she was bedridden at the time, Ella Kahlo did not miss the opening of the exhibition. Arriving by ambulance, Kahlo spent the evening speaking and celebrating with event attendees from the comfort of a four-poster bed set up on her verandah just for her.
After Kahlo’s death, the feminist movement of the 1970s generated renewed interest in her life and work, as Kahlo was considered by many to be an icon of female creativity.
Frida Kahlo’s most famous paintings
Many of Kahlo’s works were self-portraits. Some of his most notable paintings include:
‘Frieda and Diego Rivera’ (1931)
Kahlo showed this painting at the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the Society of Women Artists in San Francisco, the city where she lived with Rivera at the time. In the work, painted two years after the couple married, Kahlo gently holds Rivera’s hand while he clutches a palette and brushes in the other, a stiffly formal pose that hints at the couple’s future tumultuous relationship. The work now lives in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
‘Henry Ford Hospital’ (1932)
In 1932, Kahlo incorporated graphic and surreal elements into her work. In this painting, a nude Kahlo appears in a hospital bed with various elements (a fetus, a snail, a flower, a pelvis, and others) floating around her and connected to her by red, vein-like cords. As with her previous self-portraits, the work was deeply personal and told the story of her second miscarriage.
‘The Suicide of Dorothy Hale’ (1939)
Kahlo was asked to paint a portrait of Luce and Kahlo’s mutual friend, actress Dorothy Hale, who had committed suicide earlier that year by jumping from a high-rise building. The painting was intended as a gift to Hale’s grieving mother. However, instead of a traditional portrait, Kahlo painted the story of Hale’s tragic jump. While the work has been heralded by critics, his patron was horrified by the finished painting.
‘The Two Fridas’ (1939)
One of Kahlo’s most famous works, the painting shows two versions of the artist sitting side by side, with both hearts exposed. A Frida is dressed almost all in white and has a damaged heart and blood stains on her clothes. The other wears brightly colored clothes and has an intact heart. These figures are believed to represent “unloved” and “loved” versions of Kahlo.
‘The Broken Column’ (1944)
Kahlo shared her physical challenges through her art again with this painting, which showed a nearly nude Kahlo split down the middle, revealing her spine as a shattered decorative column. She also wears a surgical brace and her skin is studded with studs or nails. Around this time, Kahlo underwent several surgeries and used special corsets to try to fix her back. She would continue to seek a variety of treatments for her chronic physical pain with little success.
The death of Frida Kahlo
About a week after her 47th birthday, Kahlo died on July 13, 1954 in her beloved Casa Azul. There has been some speculation about the nature of his death. It was reported that he was caused by a pulmonary embolism, but there have also been stories about a possible suicide.
Kahlo’s health problems became almost overwhelming in 1950. After being diagnosed with gangrene on her right foot, Kahlo spent nine months in the hospital, having several operations during this time. He continued to paint and support political causes despite having limited mobility. In 1953, part of Kahlo’s right leg was amputated to stop the spread of gangrene.
Deeply depressed, Kahlo was hospitalized again in April 1954 due to ill health or, as some reports indicated, a suicide attempt. She returned to the hospital two months later with bronchial pneumonia. Regardless of her physical condition, Kahlo didn’t let it get in the way of her political activism. Her last public appearance was a demonstration against the July 2 overthrow of US-backed President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala.
Film about Frida Kahlo
Kahlo’s life was the subject of a 2002 film titled Fridastarring Salma Hayek as the artist and Alfred Molina as Rivera. Directed by Julie Taymor, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Makeup and Original Score.
Frida Kahlo Museum
The family home where Kahlo was born and raised, later known as the Casa Azul or Casa Azul, opened as a museum in 1958. Located in Coyoacán, Mexico City, the Museo Frida Kahlo houses artifacts by the artist along with important works. included Live life (1954), frida and caesarean section (1931) and Portrait of my father Wilhelm Kahlo (1952).
Book about Frida Kahlo
Hayden Herrera’s 1983 book on Kahlo, Frida: a biography of Frida Kahlo, helped arouse interest in the artist. The biographical work covers his childhood, the accident, his artistic career, his marriage to Diego Rivera, his connection to the communist party, and Kahlo’s love affairs.