“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.”
Painter Frida Kahlo was a Mexican self-portrait artist who was married to Diego Rivera and is still admired as a feminist icon.
Artist Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyocoán, Mexico City, Mexico. Considered one of Mexico's greatest artists, Frida Kahlo began painting after she was severely injured in a bus accident. Kahlo later 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.
Artist Frida Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón on July 6, 1907, in Coyocoán, Mexico City, Mexico. Considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists, Frida Kahlo began painting after she was severely injured in a bus accident.
Kahlo grew up in the family’s home where she was born -- later referred as the Blue House or Casa Azul. Her father, Wilhelm (also called Guillermo), was a German photographer who had immigrated to Mexico where he met and married her mother Matilde. She had two older sisters, Matilde and Adriana, and her younger sister, Cristina, was born the year after Frida.
Around the age of 6, she contracted polio, which caused her to be bedridden for nine months. While she did recover from the illness, she limped when she walked because the disease had damaged her right leg and foot. Her father encouraged her to play soccer, go swimming, and even wrestle -- highly unusual moves for a girl at the time -- to help aid in her recovery.
Art and Self-Portraits
While she never considered herself a Surrealist, Kahlo befriended one of the primary figures in 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 shown there. Kahlo also received two commissions, including one from famed magazine editor Clare Boothe Luce, as a result of the show.
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 for Hale's grieving mother. Rather than a traditional portrait, however, Kahlo painted the story of Hale's tragic leap. While the work, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (1939), has been heralded by critics, its patron was horrified at the finished painting.
In 1939, Kahlo went to live in Paris for a time. There she exhibited some of her paintings and developed friendships such artists as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. She divorced Rivera later that year. During this time, she painted one of her most famous works, The Two Fridas (1939). The paintings shows two versions of the artist sitting side by side, with both of their hearts exposed. One Frida is dressed nearly all in white and has a damaged heart and spots of blood on her clothing. The other wears bold colored clothing and has an intact heart. These figures are believed to represent “unloved” and “loved” versions of Kahlo.
Oddly, Kahlo and Rivera did not stay divorced for long. They remarried in 1940, and yet the couple continued to lead largely separate lives. And both became involved with other people over the years.
Kahlo received a commission from the Mexican government for five portraits of important Mexican women in 1941, but she 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 was included in numerous group shows around this time.
In 1944, Kahlo painted The Broken Column, which depicted a nearly nude Frida split down the middle revealing her spine as a shattered decorative column. She also wears a surgical brace and her skin is studded with tacks or nails. Again, Kahlo shared her physical challenges through her art. Around this time, she had several surgeries and wore 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.
Since her death, Kahlo’s fame as an artist has only grown. Her beloved Blue House was opened as a museum in 1958. The feminist movement of the 1970s led to renewed interest in her life and work, as Kahlo was viewed by many as an icon of female creativity. In 1983, Hayden Herrera’s book on the artist, A Biography of Frida Kahlo, also helped to stir up interest this great artist. More recently, her life was the subject of a 2002 film entitled Frida, starring Salma Hayek as the artist and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. Directed by Julie Taymor, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won for Best Makeup and Original Score.