Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Nickolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
|Born||Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón.
July 6, 1907
Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico
|Died||July 13, 1954
Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico
|Notable work(s)||in museums:
|Movement||Surrealism, Magic realism|
Frida Kahlo de Rivera (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈfɾiða ˈkalo]; born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón; July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) was a Mexican painter who is best known for her self-portraits.
Kahlo's life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home known as the Blue House. 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 in 1938 André Breton, principal initiator of the surrealist movement, described Kahlo's art as a "ribbon around a bomb". Frida rejected the "surrealist" label; she believed that her work reflected more of her reality than her dreams.
Kahlo had a volatile marriage with the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. She suffered lifelong health problems, many caused by a traffic accident she survived as a teenager. Recovering from her injuries isolated her from other people, and this isolation influenced 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
Kahlo's father, Guillermo Kahlo (1871–1941), was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo in 1871, in Pforzheim, Germany, the son of Jakob Heinrich Kahlo and Henriette Kaufmann. During Kahlo's lifetime and subsequently, media reports stated that her father was Jewish. However, genealogical research indicates that her father was not of Jewish heritage, but was from a Lutheran family.
Kahlo's mother, Matilde Calderón y González, was a devout Roman Catholic of mixed Amerindian and Spanish ancestry. Her 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; Kahlo was the third. She had two older half sisters who were raised in the same household. She remarked that she grew up in a world surrounded by females. However, during most of her life, she remained on amicable terms with her father.
The Mexican Revolution began during 1910, when Kahlo was three years old. She later gave her birth date as July 7, 1910, allegedly wanting her birth to coincide with the beginning of the revolution so her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico. 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.
Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left; she disguised this later in life by wearing long, colorful skirts. It has been conjectured that she was born with spina bifida, a congenital condition that could have affected both spinal and leg development. She participated in boxing and other sports.
In 1922, Kahlo was enrolled in the Escuela Nacional 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 its strongest personality, Alejandro Gómez Arias.
On September 17, 1925, Kahlo was riding in a bus that 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, compromising her reproductive capacity.
The accident left her in a great deal of pain, and 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 35 operations as a result of the accident, mainly on her back, her right leg, and her right foot. The medical complications and permanent damage also prevented Kahlo from having a child; though she conceived three times, all of her pregnancies had to be terminated.
Career as painter
After her accident, Kahlo abandoned the study of medicine to begin a painting career. She painted to occupy her time during her temporary immobilization. Her self-portraits were 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. Kahlo spent the time after her accident in bed, where she was able to spend her time painting as a way to entertain herself and express her pain. Her 1926 painting, titled Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress, she is shown with a long and narrow face and neck, reflective of Italian Renaissance ideals. 
Kahlo's accident made it impossible for her to have her own children, resulting in a miscarriage when she became pregnant. Because of this, many of her pieces reference reproduction failure. Her 1932 painting, Henry Ford Hospital was painted right after her miscarriage. In this work, Frida is shown on a bed bleeding, with the cold and industrial feeling she got from being in Detroit behind her. Because of this, she chose to paint on a sheet of metal to convey a more industrial feel. 
Kahlo created at least 140 paintings, along with dozens of drawings and studies. Of her 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."
Diego Rivera had a great influence on Kahlo's painting style. Kahlo had always admired Rivera and his work. She first approached him in the Public Ministry of Education, where he had been working on a mural in 1927. She showed him four of her paintings, and asked whether he considered her gifted. Rivera was impressed and said, "You have got talent." After that, he became a frequent welcomed guest at Kahlo's house. He gave her many insights about her artwork while still leaving her space to explore herself. There is no doubt that the positive and encouraging comments made by Rivera strengthened Kahlo's wish to pursue a career as an artist.
Kahlo was also influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors, dramatic symbolism and primitive style. 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 are often depicted in her work. She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings.
In 1938, Kahlo had her first and only solo gallery showing in the United States at the Julien Levy Gallery. The works were well received and the event was attended by several prominent artists. At the invitation of André Breton, she went to France during 1939 and was featured at an exhibition of her paintings in Paris. She made the aquaintance of Wolfgang Paalen and Alice Rahon, whom she invited to come to Mexico. 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 to be 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 and encouraged her artistic development. They began an intimate relationship and were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Kahlo'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 Isamu Noguchi and 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 during the late 1930s, after he fled Norway to Mexico to receive political asylum from the Soviet Union, where he was expelled and sentenced to death during Joseph Stalin's leadership. During 1937, Trotsky lived initially with Rivera and then at Kahlo's home (where he and Kahlo had an affair). Trotsky and his wife then relocated to another house in Coyoacán where, in 1940, he was assassinated. Both Kahlo and Rivera broke with Trotskyism and openly became supporters of Stalin in 1939.
Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47, and was cremated according to her wishes. 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 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 widely acclaimed until decades after her death. Often she was remembered only as Diego Rivera's wife. It was not until the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s, when the artistic style in Mexico known as Neomexicanismo began, that she became well-known to the public. It was during this time that artists such as Kahlo, Abraham Ángel, Ángel Zárraga, and others gained recognition, and Jesus Helguera's classical calendar paintings became famous.
Also during the 1980s, additional factors helped to make her better known. The first retrospective of Kahlo's work outside Mexico (exhibited alongside the photographs of Tina Modotti) opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 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 Kahlo and painter Juan José Gurrola as Diego, was a great success. For the rest of her life, Medina has remained in a quasi-perpetual Kahlo role. Also during the same time, Hayden Herrera published an influential biography, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo (1983), which became a worldwide bestseller. Raquel Tibol, a Mexican artist and personal friend of Kahlo, wrote Frida Kahlo: una vida abierta (2003). 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. In 1991, the opera Frida by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, which had been commissioned by the American Music Theater Festival, premiered in Philadelphia.
In 2008, a play based on Kahlo's life premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 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.
During May 8 to July 5, 2009, Nickolas Muray's photographs of Kahlo were featured alongside her Self-Portrait of Monkey (1938), in an exhibition at the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.
On August 30, 2010, the Bank of Mexico issued a new MXN$ 500-peso note, featuring Kahlo and her painting entitled Love's Embrace of the Universe, Earth, (Mexico), I, Diego, and Mr. Xólotl (1949) on the back of the note while her husband Diego Rivera was on the front of the note.
In February 2011, soprano Dawn Upshaw and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra premiered La Centinela y La Paloma (The Keeper and the Dove), composed by Latin Grammy composer Gabriela Lena Frank with texts by Pulitzer Prize playwright Nilo Cruz. The orchestral song cycle imagines Frida Kahlo as a spirit who returns to visit with Diego Rivera during El Día de los Muertos.
From July 9 to October 2, 2011, an exhibition of works by Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) and Diego Rivera (1886–1957), Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from the Gelman Collection, was shown at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, West Sussex.
From October 20, 2012 to January 20, 2013, Kahlo's paintings, as well as photographs of the iconic Mexican painter, were featured in a dual retrospective with partner Diego Rivera, entitled Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. This exhibition later traveled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, February 14 to May 12, 2013.
In late April 2014, a musical play written and composed by Los Angeles, California playwright Rita Ortez Provost, entitled Tree of Hope, was in West Hollywood, California at the Macha Theatre.
Kahlo's 100th birthday was commemorated with the largest exhibit ever held of her paintings at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Kahlo's first comprehensive exhibit in Mexico. Works were on loan from Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Nagoya, Japan. The exhibit included one-third of her artistic production, as well as manuscripts and letters that had not been displayed previously. The exhibit was open June 13 through August 12, 2007, and surpassed all previous attendance records at the museum. Some of her work was exhibited in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and moved during September 2007 to museums in the United States.
In 2008, a Frida Kahlo exhibition in the United States with more than 40 of her self-portraits, still lives, and portraits was shown at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and other venues.
A "Frida Kahlo Retrospective" exhibit at the Walter-Gropius-Bau, Berlin from April 30 to August 9, 2010, has brought together more than 120 drawings and paintings, including several drawings never before displayed publicly. Regarding Kahlo's "preferred" birth year (she claimed to be born in 1910 during the Mexican Revolution), the Berlin show is also being touted as a "centennial" exhibition.
La Casa Azul
Casa Azul ("Blue House") in Coyoacán, Mexico City, also referred to as Museo Frida Kahlo since it became a museum in 1958, is the family home where Frida Kahlo grew up and to which she returned in her final years. Her father, Guillermo Kahlo, built the house in 1907 as the Kahlo family home. Leon Trotsky stayed at this house when he first arrived in Mexico in 1937. Trotsky's final site of residence in Mexico City is located in close proximity to the Casa Azul.
Kahlo and Rivera lived together in the Blue House between 1929 and 1954. The home was donated by Diego Rivera upon his death in 1957, three years after that of Kahlo, and the house is now a museum housing artifacts of her life. Her beautiful former home is a popular destination for tourists.
- Image—full description and credit: Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, oil on canvas on Masonite, 24½ × 19 inches, Nikolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, ©2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D.F.
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|Library resources about
- Aguilar, Louis. "Detroit was muse to legendary artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo." The Detroit News. April 6, 2011.
- Espinoza, Javier. "Frida Kahlo's last secret finally revealed." The Observer at The Guardian. Saturday August 11, 2007.
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- de la Garza, Armida. Adapting Frida Kahlo: The Film-Paintings, in: Lucia Nagib and Anne Jerslev (eds.) Impure Cinema. I.B.Tauris, 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Frida Kahlo.|
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- Frida Kahlo at the Open Directory Project.
- The official Frida Kahlo Site
- The complete works of Frida Kahlo
- Frida Kahlo at the Museum of Modern Art
- "Frida Kahlo & contemporary thought" contains an extensive bibliography
- Gallery of Frida Kahlo self-portraits
- Frida nudes photos by Julien Levy, 1938
- Frida Kahlo Retrospective at Bank Austria Kunstforum, 2010 Frida Kahlo Retrospective at Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna, Austria 2010
- For a selection of documents on Frida at the ICAA Museum of Fine Arts Houston