When well-known Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 she was actually named Magdelena. She began using her middle name Frida in order to reflect the German heritage of her family, and approved of the connection with the word “Frieden”, meaning peace in German. She grew up surrounded by females; she was the third of four daughters, and had two older half-sisters from her father’s previous marriage. Growing up during the Mexican Revolution influenced Kahlo’s life greatly, as she witnessed violence and gunfire on a regular basis. Later in life she even claimed to have been born in 1910 so that she would be directly associated with the revolution. During this era Frida contracted polio, leaving her with one leg thinner than the other. After a near-fatal bus accident put her in a full-body cast, she began to paint self-portraits as a distraction from the pain. A special easel was made so that she could paint from her bed as she recovered, using her father’s oil paints.
In 1939 Kahlo became the first Mexican artist of the 20th century to have her artwork purchased and displayed by an internally renouned gallery. Frida’s artwork “The Frame” was included in Andre Breton’s exhibition in Paris which was where The Louvre saw and purchased the piece. The bright colours of Mexican culture, religious themes and symbolic portrayals of pain run throughout Kahlo’s Surrealism artwork. Even though the images she created were surreal, she always painted from her own life experiences, making each artwork appear deeply personal. Her art often reflected her struggles with health, psychological trauma and pain, hence the 55 self-portraits she painted during her career. With German and Mexican parents, the issue of national identity was also important to Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo married the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera in 1929. Both partners had affairs throughout their marriage (with bisexual Kahlo having affairs with women as well as men) and finally divorced when she discovered Rivera’s infidelity with her younger sister. They later remarried in 1940 and stayed together in their stormy marriage until Kahlo’s death in 1954, which Rivera described in his autobiography as the most tragic day of his life.
Photo by Carl van Vechten
Important painting by Kahlo
With so many self-portraits in Frida Kahlo’s portfolio, it’s clear that she used art as a way to demonstrate her own personal experiences throughout life and express her emotions. One of Kahlo’s most important artworks is “The two Fridas (Las dos Fridas)” which she painted in 1939. It shows the artist struggling with her two identities during her divorce from Rivera. One Frida is wearing traditional European clothing, just as she would have worn before her marriage. The second Frida is pictured in indigenous Mexican costume, wearing a locket containing Rivera’s image. The stormy sky and bleeding hearts reflect Kahlo’s emotions and pain at that period in her life.
“Feet what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am to be alive as long as I can paint.”
“The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”