Day 13: Frida Kahlo

"I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón was born July 6, 1907. The birthday she gave to people was July 7, 1910, either wanting to be younger or wanting her birth to coincide with the beginning of the Mexican revolution. Her father was a Jewish Hungarian, who denounced his religion for Atheism and changed his name from Wilhelm Kahl to Guillermo Kahlo. Frida had 2 half sisters from Guillermo’s first marriage (who were sent away to live in a convent). On the night of his first wife’s death (She passed in delivery) he asked Matilde Calderón, Frida’s mother, to marry him. Though they wouldn’t be officially married until 7 years later, Matilde gave birth to 4 daughters, Frida being the 3rd.

Where Frida was born in Coyoacan, now a museum

When she was 6 years old she was stricken with Polio (some say white tumor) which stunted the growth in her right leg despite exercising. She hid her withered limb with long skirts and pants. In 1922 she was one of 35 girls to be accepted into a Mexican Preparatory School with the hopes of becoming a doctor. Here, she was first exposed to Diego Rivera’s work and became a member of “Los Cachuchas” a socialist-nationalist organization. The leader, Alejandro Gomez Arias, became Frida’s boyfriend the following year. September 25, 1925 Frida was in a horrible accident with Alejandro. The bus they were taking home was hit broadside by a tram and caused her to

fracture her spine,

La Columna Rota (1944) The Broken Column

shatter her pelvic bone, break her right leg in 11 places, fracture her collar bone and ribs and her right foot was crushed and dislocated.

The Accident (1926)

An iron rail pierced her uterus and abdomen and during her recovery she was told that she would never be able to have children. Depressed by the news she created one of her first pieces of art, a birth certificate for a son she pretended she gave birth to following the accident. Frida said his name was Leonardo and that he was born at the Red Cross Hospital where she was treated. She said he was baptized in 1926 and then inscribed her name as his mother and his godparents as Isabel Campos and Alejandro Gomez Arias.

The Birth Certificate

The injuries were so terrible doctors weren’t sure if she’d survive. She endured more than 30 operations during her lifetime and it was during her recovery, that she began to paint. Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed and her father gave her a set of oils and brushes.

'They thought I was a Surrealist,' she said, 'but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.'

Self Portrait in Velvet Dress, painted as a gift for Alejandro who had left her for believing she had been unfaithful to him, one of her first self portraits and works in oils

In 1928 she was introduced to Diego Rivera through friends in the communist party; the following year they married. Her mother disapproved, saying Rivera was too fat and old but her father understood that he would give her fiscal security and could afford her medical expenses.

Time Flies (1929) The year Frida became pregnant.

Self Portrait (1930) She was forced to abort her pregnancy this year because the fetus was improperly positioned in her uterus due to the injuries she sustained 5 years earlier.

They had a tumultuous relationship. Both had quick tempers and engaged in extramarital affairs. While Diego tolerated the women Frida slept with (including Josephine Baker) he got very jealous of the men. Frida once said “I suffered two grave accidents in my life…One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego.”

Diego, accepting a commision from the Mexican government was thrown out of the communist party and Frida left with him. Gaining popularity in the United States, they left Mexico so Diego could paint murals there.

In 1931 Frida’s work was first shown publicly in the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists.

Frieda and Diego (1931)

In 1932 Frida suffered a miscarriage while they are in Detroit (where Diego was working on another mural) and spent 13 days in the hospital.

Henry Ford Hospital (1932) considered one of her most painful pieces and said to be the beginning of her penetratingly painful art.

The same year she received a telegram that her mother was passing away and returned to Mexico. Her mother died September 14th.

My Birth (1932)

My Dress Hangs There (1933)

In 1934 Frida had another miscarriage, an appendectomy and underwet foot surgery that removed the toes on her right foot. At the same time, Diego had an affair with Frida’s sister Cristina and Frida furious ended the marriage.

A Few Small Nips (1935) Frida has an affair with American sculptor Isamu Noguchi but eventually reunites with Diego.

My Grandparents My Parents and I (1936) the year Diego and Kahlo raised money for the forces opposing Franco in the Spanish Civil War. They also work to get asylum for Russian communist Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia.

Behind the Curtains (1937) This self portrait was dedicated to Trotsky who she began an affair with.

In 1938 Andre Breton and his wife Jacqueline Lamba journeyed to Mexico to meet Trotsky. Breton was immediately taken with Kahlo and her work; she found him pretentious. He called her a natural surrealist, she disagreed but together they organized a show of her work at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York. Breton wrote the rhetorical catalogue preface himself and after a huge success at the show (which sold about half of the paintings) he suggested a show in Paris and offered to arrange it.

What the water gave me (1938)

Girl with Death Mask (1938)

Kahlo agreed but when she arrived in 1939 she found that Breton had not taken her work out of customs and she could not speak any French to do so herself.

The Two Fridas (1939)

The Two Fridas (1939)

Earth Itself (Two Nudes) 1939 Monkeys in Mexican folklore represent lust but Frida would use them to represent protection, a guardian.

Marcel Duchamp saved the show, though it opened 6 weeks late. It wasn’t a financial success but the reviews were good and the Louvre purchased a piece. Picasso and Kandinsky sang praises but this didn’t dissuade her dislike for “this bunch of coocoo lunatic sons of bitches of surrealists.” During this time Trotsky and Diego started fighting and Diego and Frida got another divorce but remarry by the end of the following year.

In 1940 David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexican muralist Pollock studied with) attempted to assassinate Trotsky (though he was unsuccessful, Totsky would be attacked 4 months later by a man with a pick ax and die); Frida, being a friend of them both was held for two days for questioning.

Self Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940)

The Dream or The Bed (1940)

Me and My Parrots (1941) Her father passed away April of this year.

Roots (1943) This year she started teaching, but due to her deteriorating health, she had her classes moved to The Blue House (Where she was born and the Trotsky's stayed)

Diego on my mind (1943)

Thinking About Death (1943)

Diego and Frida (1944)

Without hope (1944)

The Little Deer (1946) This year Frida received an award from the Ministry of Education and undwent a bone graft opperation.

Tree of Hope (1946)

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Me, and Senor Xolotl (1949) this year Frida's foot gets gangrenous. (Xolotl was the name of her dog)

Self-Portrait With the Portrait of Doctor Farill

Self-Portrait With the Portrait of Doctor Farill (1951) The year prior Frida underwent numerous operations on her spine, by the time this was painted she was confined to a wheelchair.

The last years of Frida’s life were painful ones but she never stopped her activism. She worked to collect signatures for the peace movement and days before her death, July 2, 1954, she joined 10,000 Mexicans in protesting CIA intervention in Guatemala.

In 1953 her right leg is amputated below the knee, but from her bed, she hosted the first exhibition of her work held in Mexico.

Marxism Will Bring Health To The Sick (1954)

Whether suicide played a role in her death is unknown, but she seemed to be hopeful that her health would recover. In her April 27th diary entry she wrote “I am well again – I’ve made a promise and I’ll keep it never to turn back” and added a three page thank you letter to all of the people who had ever taken care of her during her lifetime. She was hospitalized the next month to remove a needle she had fallen on. In June she contracted pneumonia and because of the protest the following month it worsened. On July 13th she finally passed in the Blue House; the cause of death (though suicide is still speculated upon) was reported a “pulmonary embolism”. Her last diary entry says: “I hope the exit is joyful – and I hope never to return – Frida” Her coffin was attended by an honor guard and the following day 600 attendees came to pay their last respects. She was cremated and placed in a Pre-Columbian urn which remains today at the “Blue House”

Having said all that! I wrote this blog and then watched the movie “Frida” starring Salma Hayek, and I LOVED IT! GO WATCH IT!

The Pythia


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