Frida Kahlo Painting: The Life of Suffering and Fame

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Frida Kahlo is a famous Mexican painter who was able to challenge her disability when she was infected with polio at a young age. It is not the only disease Frida Kahlo suffers from, as she also had an accident where a car collided with her.

Frida Kahlo de Rivera is a Mexican painter, born in Coyocan, Mexico, on 6 July 1907 as Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon, and died on 13 July 1954 in Coyocan. She is best known for her brilliantly coloured self-paintings that deal with topics such as identity, the human body, and death. Although she denied this quality, she is often considered a surrealist artist.

Kahlo was also known for her tumultuous relationship with muralist Diego Rivera, marrying in 1929, divorcing in 1939, and remarrying in 1940. One of her famous sayings is, “Why do I need my feet if I have wings to fly?”

Although Frida Kahlo is often very sick, she has a firm will within her that she can challenge her disability and exploit her talent in drawing and embody the most beautiful paintings. In the world.

Frida Kayla Artist
Frida Kayla Artist

Early years

Frida was born to a German father of Hungarian descent and a Mexican mother of Hispanic and Native American descent. She belongs to a simple middle-class family, her father immigrated from Germany, but his origins go back to Mexico. At the beginning of her childhood, Frida immigrated with her family to Mexico when she was only six years old.

During her later artistic career, Frida rediscovered her identity by often portraying her ancestry as twin opposites of the colonial European and indigenous Mexican sides. As a child, Frida suffered a bout of polio that left her with mild claudication, an ailment she endured her entire life.

Frida was close to her father, a professional photographer who often assisted him in his studio, earning her a keen eye for detail. Although she took some lessons in painting, Kahlo was more interested in the sciences and entered the National Preparatory School in Mexico City in 1922 with a desire to eventually study medicine, where she met Rivera, who was working on a mural for the school hall.

Bus accident

Frida Kahlo had a severe bus accident in 1925 that injured her so severely that she had to undergo more than 30 surgeries during her life. Her recovery was really slow, during which Frida taught herself to paint, constantly reading and studying the art of the Old Masters.

This particular accident significantly impacted Frida’s life, as the doctor put many splints on her body, which made her lose her ability to move for a long time. The room so she could see herself.

What Farida’s mother did may not have been intended, but after Frida stared at herself for several long days, she asked her mother for colours and paper to draw. Indeed, Farida drew many paintings for herself, and then she realised how much she loved this feather and the colours.

In a self-portrait in a velvet dress (1926), one of her earliest paintings, Kahlo painted a waist-length regal portrait of herself against a dark background with turbulent yet flowery waves. Although the painting is somewhat abstract, Kahlo’s soft depiction of her face shows her interest in realism, and the steady, steadfast gaze prevalent in her later art is indeed evident.

Her interest in the stylistic artist Il Bronzino was revealed through the exaggeratedly long neck and fingers. After her recovery ended, Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) to meet Rivera again, showing him some of her work and encouraging her to continue painting.

Farida got out of this problem, realising her love for drawing and her talent, so she completed her studies and got to know other painters who helped her, the most important of them all was Diego Rivera, whom she then married.

Her Marriage to Diego Rivera

After her marriage to Rivera in 1929, Kahlo changed her personal and painting style. She began wearing the traditional Tehuana dress that became her trademark, consisting of a headpiece made of flowers, a loose-fitting jacket, gold ornaments and a long, ruffled skirt. Her painting Frida and Diego Rivera (1931) shows her new dress and her newfound interest in Mexican folk art.

The themes became flatter and more abstract than those she dealt with in her previous work. The prominent Rivera stands to the left holding a palette and brushes (materials he uses in his craft with the guise of a vital artist), while a petite and demure Frida Kahlo appears next to him with her hand in his. In this painting, her complexion seemed darker than in her earlier works, conveying the role she assumed he wanted a “Traditional Mexican Wife”.

Travelling to the United States of America

Kahlo travelled to the United States of America, where she painted this painting while travelling in the USA with Rivera (1930-1933), who received several commissions for murals he painted in several cities. During this time, Frida had two complicated pregnancies that ended prematurely.

After suffering a miscarriage in Detroit and her mother’s death, Frida painted her most harrowing works. In (1932), Kahlo depicted herself bleeding on a hospital bed amidst a barren landscape. In My Birth (1932), she painted a somewhat taboo scene of a woman chlamydial as she gave birth.

Here First Solo Exhibitions

Frida Kahlo and her husband, Rivera, returned to Mexico in 1933, where they lived in a newly constructed house with separate individual spaces connected by a bridge. The house became a gathering place for artists and political activists. The couple hosted several artists, like Leon Trotsky and André Breton, a prominent surrealist who strongly encouraged Kahlo’s work.

Breton wrote the foreword to the Bulletin for her first solo exhibition, describing Frida as a self-taught surrealist. It was staged at the Julien LaVey Gallery in New York in 1938 and was a resounding success. Frida travelled to France the following year to exhibit her work, where she met more surrealist artists, including Marcel Duchamp, the only member she reportedly respected.

The Louvre Museum acquired one of her works (Frame – 1938), making Kahlo the first Mexican artist of the twentieth century to include one of his works in the museum’s collection.

Her Artistic Characteristics and Influences

By the mid-1930s, extramarital affairs abounded, such as Rivera’s relationship with Kahlo’s younger sister and Kahlo’s relations with many men and women, which destroyed their marriage, and the two separated in 1939. In the same year, Kahlo painted several of her most famous works, including two unique ones.

The large canvas (1.74 x 1.73 metres) shows twin figures holding hands, each representing a different side of Frida Kahlo. The character on the left side, dressed in a European-style wedding dress, which is the side that Rivera allegedly rejected, while the figure on the right side, dressed in a Tijuana dress, is the side that Rivera liked best.

It displays the entire heart of a traditional Kahlo, and an artery emerges from it that leads to a miniature portrait of Rivera held in her left hand. Another artery reaches Kahlo’s second heart, which is fully exposed, revealing his anatomy on the inside. The end of the artery is severed, and Kahlo, the European, is holding a surgical instrument in what seems to be an attempt to stop the flow of liquid blood on her white dress.

Kahlo returned to Rivera in 1940, and the couple moved into her childhood home (the Blue House in Coyocan). Kahlo was appointed professor of painting at La Esmeralda 1943, a fine arts school under the Ministry of Education. Kahlo was never in good health, and her health began to deteriorate further, and she often turned to alcohol and drugs to get a little relief. Nevertheless, she continued to produce through the 1940s, creating many self-portraits with different hairstyles, clothes, and icons, always showing herself as having the stern, unwavering gaze for which she is known.

Kahlo underwent many surgeries in the late 1940s and early 1950s, often with extended hospital stays. At the end of her life, she needed help walking. Frida appears in “Self-portrait” with Dr Farrell (1951), sitting in a wheelchair. Failing health led her to attend her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953 while lying in bed after she refused to go. She died in La Casa Azul a year later after having a pulmonary embolism.

In 1984 Frida Kahlo’s works were declared part of Mexico’s National Cultural Heritage. Her paintings often featured aspects of Aztec mythology and Mexican folklore. Frida’s life story earned her 6 Academy Award nominations.

Most Notable Works

  1. “Roots”, 1943

In this painting, Frida stated her belief that all of life can be joined into one flow. Frida was portrayed as roots sprouting from it as if it were a window giving birth to a vine, and her blood permeated the vine, reaching the veins, feeding the dry land when she dreamed of being the tree of life.

2. “Self-portrait in a Velvet Dress”, 1926

Frida met the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera in 1927. She admired his art, and two years later, they married because of the difference in age and size between Frida and Diego, nicknamed the elephant and the dove. But due to her challenging nature and Diego’s infidelities, they divorced in 1939, but they married again in 1940, so the marriage would continue until their death.

She used the painting as a love symbol to regain affection from her lover when their relationship was beginning to change. And she wrote him a letter promising she would be a better person.

3. “The Two Fridas”, 1939

She finished one of her most famous and essential paintings shortly after her divorce from Diego. We see two different personalities of Frida; One is dressed in a traditional Mexican costume with her broken heart, while the other is seated in a modern dress. She was expressing her despair and loneliness after her breakup with Diego, and she drew the hearts of the two characters visually, Frida’s left blood dripping on her white dress as if he would bleed to death. At the same time, the sky was stormy with clouds as a sign of Frida’s inner turmoil.

4. “Self-portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky”, 1937

In the famous painting “Between the Curtains” by Frida of Leon Trotsky, on his birthday, clutching a piece of paper as a necklace for their love presents herself elegantly in a long embroidered skirt, fringed shawl, and delicate gold jewellery. Flowers and scrolls of red yarn adorn her hair and makeup subtly, highlighting her features.

Trotsky was a Russian revolutionary leader who fled from Stalin and sought asylum from Diego and Frida. After two years of hiding him in Frida’s blue house, a secret love affair began between them but eventually ended when his wife learned, so they moved out of her blue house, taking the painting with him as a souvenir.

Her Suffering in Paintings

Frida suffered a lot because of her illness and expressed that in her paintings. We review the most prominent of them as follows:

  1. “The Wounded Deer”, 1946

In this painting, she painted her head on the body of a deer, which was mortally wounded by arrows, and made the background of the painting a forest of dead and broken trees, an analogy to Frida’s fear and despair, and behind her is the misty sky, which is illuminated by lightning that looks like hope. Still, she cannot touch the distant sky as far as hope about her.

Frida underwent an operation in New York in 1946, hoping that this operation would free her from the back pain that tormented her, but it failed. The failure of this operation made her feel severe despair and severe depression. In addition to the constant pain in her body, she painted her head on the body of her favourite animal, a deer full of wounds, to express her frustration and inability to change her painful fate.

2. “The Broken Column”, 1944

Pain and suffering are always unique themes in her paintings. In The Broken Pillar, she paints her body pockmarked with pins, replacing her spine with a broken rod, on the verge of collapse. Despite her tears, the look in her eyes shows the challenge and the strength to face the disease.

3. “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird”, 1940

It was known that she was unable to complete the pregnancy safely due to the bus accident, so she loved animals and her sister’s children as her children that she did not have.

Frida Kahlo Museum

Rivera updated La Casa Azul after Frida’s passing away as a dedicated museum to her life. It opened to the public in 1958, a year after Rivera’s death. Her life diaries were published in two volumes; the first was entitled The Diaries of Frida Kahlo, covering the years of her life from 1944–1954, and the second was given the name The Letters of Kahlo in 1995. Despite the fact that Kahlo achieved great success as an artist during her lifetime, her fame after her death increased significantly. By the turn of the twenty-first century, she had reached what some critics have called Fridamania.

Fame After her Death

Frida Kahlo may be one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. The dramatic parts of her life, the injury she suffered after a bus accident, a troubled marriage, dramatic love affairs, and excessive use of alcohol and drugs, have inspired many films and books in the decades since her death.

Frida’s body was cremated, and her ashes were kept in vessels in her “blue” house, where she lived with her husband, Diego, and then her ashes were mixed with his ashes after his death as a result of cancer.

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