Frida Kahlo

15 mins read

Frida Kahlo was a painter of Mexican nationality who has been considered one of the main representatives of 20th century art. She stood out for her originality, the use of symbolic elements and the observance of popular Mexican aesthetics. But above all, she stood out for the deeply intimate nature of her works and the generosity and simplicity with which she showed the world her physical and spiritual wounds.

Frida Kahlo’s story was not easy at all. Her precarious health and her complicated relationship with Diego Rivera would mark her life and work forever. Her suffering and the way to turn it into artistic expression and invaluable heritage, made her an international symbol.


Portrait of Frida Kahlo. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archive, Banco de México, Trustee in the Trust relating to the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

Frida Kahlo’s full name was Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón. She was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico, in what would be her main residence bought by her parents in 1904 (today known as the Blue House).

His father was the German-Hungarian photographer Carl Wilhelm (Guillermo) Kahlo who, when widowed, contracted a second marriage with Matilde Calderón from Oaxaca, Mexico. Frida had two older half-sisters, Matilde and Adriana, and a younger sister, named Cristina.

Childhood, youth and disease

fridaPortrait of Frida and her sisters (Frida on the far right). Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archive, Bank of Mexico, Trustee in the Trust relating to the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

His life was marked by illness and misfortune from a very young age. Kahlo suffered from polio at the age of 6, which affected the size of his right leg.

But in addition, experts point out that Frida Kahlo suffered from fibromyalgia throughout her life, a disease that was never diagnosed as it was unknown at the time, characterized by chronic pain, extreme fatigue and mood swings.

Even so, she was an active student at the National Preparatory School of Mexico (ENP) during the educational reforms of José Vasconcelos, inspired by the Mexican Revolution.

At the ENP Kahlo received her first art classes with teachers Luis G. Serrano and Fidencio L. Nave, although she showed more interest in letters and political ideas, so she was part of the student group “Los cachuchas”.

To painting “by accident”

fridaFrida Kahlo paints in her bed in the company of the artist Miguel Covarrubias, 1940. The special easel she used can be seen. Photographic archive of the Frida Kahlo Museum.

Frida Kahlo had an accident on September 17, 1925, when a tram collided with the bus in which she was traveling with her boyfriend, the young Alejandro Gómez Arias. In her Biography of Frida Kahlo, researcher Gerardo Ochoa Sandy reports that the metal handrail went through her hip and fractured her pelvic bone, passing through her vagina. Ochoa Sandy adds:

The collision also caused three fractures in the spine, one in the clavicle, in two ribs, and disjointed his right shoulder. The right leg, the one afflicted by poliomyelitis, suffers eleven fractures, plus dislocation of the foot.

Frida was immobile in bed for months and her relationship with Gómez Arias cooled down. Painting became her hobby. Her mother had her make a special easel. Frida used herself as a model through mirrors.


fridaVíctor Reyes: Portrait of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at their wedding, 1929. Printed and hand-painted later.

After her recovery, Frida Kahlo became assiduously involved with the cultural scene in Mexico. She was earning a name as a painter. Her relationships with Cuban Juan Antonio Mella and photographer Tina Modotti led her to Diego Rivera, whom she married in 1929.

Rivera paid off the mortgage on the Blue House and put it in his wife’s name. The marriage established his first residence there. The house gradually became an important meeting place for the intellectual elite.

In 1930, Frida Kahlo became pregnant, but had to undergo a therapeutic abortion because her hip fracture had caused the fetus to adopt an incorrect position.

Between 1930 and 1933 the couple lived in the United States, where Kahlo devoted herself to building her husband’s career, without stopping painting. In 1932, Kahlo suffered her second abortion, this time spontaneous. During that period also occurs the death of her mother.

The couple returned to Mexico again in 1934. This time, they established their residence in the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Study in El Ángel.

It may interest you: 5 fundamental works by Diego Rivera.

Political compromise

fridaFrida Kahlo: Self Portrait with Stalin. 1954. Oil on hard fiber. 59 x 39 cm. Frida Kahlo Museum. Coyoacan, Mexico.

The two artists shared their political ideals. Both were registered as members of the Communist Party of Mexico. Rivera’s adherence to communism is said to have been dogmatic; Frida Kahlo’s was an expression of his profound humanism. Committed to the cause, they were activists against the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War.

The Russian communist leader, Leon Trotsky, politically persecuted by Stalin, fled to Mexico together with his wife Natalia Sedova. Kahlo lent him the Blue House of Coyoacán as a refuge. Trotsky suffered a first attack, after which Rivera decided to hide to avoid interrogations. Shortly after, Trotsky was assassinated by the Spaniard Ramón Mercader, and Frida Kahlo was arrested for inquiries.

Adultery, divorce and reconciliation

fridaFrida Kahlo: The Wounded Table. 1940. Oil on canvas. 122 x 244 cm. Unknown location.

Whether for pleasure or as a result of Rivera’s many adulteries (Frida had twenty), the artist had all kinds of affairs with men and women, including a brief affair with Trotsky and a long relationship with the photographer Nickolas Muray.

The painter’s unacceptable affair with Frida’s younger sister, Cristina, was a turning point that precipitated a divorce in 1939. However, they remarried in 1940 under an amicable agreement to share finances and common interests, as long as it was excluded. The intimacy.

In 1941 Frida’s father died.

professional projection

According to Ochoa Sandy, Frida Kahlo had the admiration of figures such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Vasili Kandinky. Her multiple exposures attest to her success. Some gueron:

1931. Collective exhibition “Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists”, first exhibition of her work with the canvas Frida and Diego Rivera. 1938. First individual exhibition in New York, with text by André Bretón. 1939. Mexique group show at the Renou et Colle Gallery in Paris. 1940. International Exhibition of Surrealists, Mexican Art Gallery of Inés Amor, Mexico. 1940. Collective exhibition Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art, MoMA, New York. 1941. Show of Modern Mexican Painters, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. 1942. Group exhibition Portraits of the 20th century, MoMA, New York. 1943. Group exhibition Exhibit by 31 Women, Peggy Guggenheim Gallery, New York. 1947. Forty-five self-portraits by Mexican painters: 18th to 20th centuries at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico. 1949. Inaugural exhibition of the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana. 1953. Solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Mexico City.

Last years and death

fridaGisele Freund [Relié]: Portrait of Frida Kahlo and Dr. Farill.

The shadows of illness and death never left Frida. There were several relapses of health and surgical interventions – some with terrible outcomes.

In 1950 he suffered an infection caused by a spinal graft. In 1953, he had his right leg amputated due to gangrene. In 1954, she attempted suicide twice, plagued by pain and confined to a wheelchair.

Recovering from depression, Kahlo participates in the protest against the US invasion of Guatemala with her husband and the architect and muralist Juan O’Gorman. Shortly after, on July 13, 1954, Frida Kahlo died of a pulmonary thromboembolism attack in the Blue House. Frida left no children.

From the Blue House to the Frida Kahlo Museum

fridaFrida Kahlo Museum or The Blue House. Photograph of the inner courtyard.

As a gesture to pay tribute to the life, work and personality of this unique artist, the famous Casa Azul was converted into the Frida Kahlo Museum in 1958, just four years after her death. The house was enlarged and remodeled by architect Juan O’Gorman, also responsible for the design of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Study.

This was, without a doubt, a great gesture of recognition to one of the most influential figures in Mexico. The Blue House, the one where she was born and lived her childhood and much of her adult life, is today a living testimony of her memories. Everyday objects, toys, materials, tools, photographs and works show the incalculable richness of Frida Kahlo’s world.


Frida Kahlo did not belong to a specific artistic current, but the features of her work facilitate dialogue with other aesthetics such as surrealism, primitivism and expressionism. Among the main features of her style are:

Use of dreamlike and symbolic resources close to surrealism. Aesthetic references of Mexican popular art with a nationalist vocation. For example, votive offerings. Deliberate use of naïve and infantilized traits that brought her closer to primitivism and naive art. Strong autobiographical inquiry of an expressionist nature as a proclamation of his inner world. Open approach to the relationship with her body and her femininity, which some interpret as a symbol of feminism despite the fact that she never militated in that cause.

Frida Kahlo Paintings

Among some of the most important works of Frida Kahlo we can mention:

Self Portrait, 1926

fridaSelf portrait. 1926. Oil on canvas. 79.7 x 60cm. Particular collection.

The two Fridas, 1931

fridaThe two Fridas. 1931. Oil. 173 x 173 cm. Museum of Modern Art of Mexico City.

It may interest you: Analysis and meaning of the painting Las dos Fridas, by Frida Kahlo.

Self Portrait with Short Hair, 1940

self portrait with short hairSelf portrait with short hair. 1940. Oil. 40x28cm. Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Diego in my thoughts, 1943

fridaDiego in my thoughts. 1943. Oil on canvas. 75x60cm. Private Collection of Jaques and Natasha Gelman.

live life, 1954

Live lifeViva la vida, 1954. Oil on masonite. 72x52cm. Frida Kahlo Museum.

You may also be interested in: 15 key works by Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo Quotes

Feet why do I want them, if I have wings to fly.

I paint self-portraits because I am alone a lot. I paint myself, because I am the one I know best.

They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted my dreams, I only painted my own reality.

To wall off your own suffering is to risk it devouring you from the inside.

Never in my life will I forget your presence. You took me in shattered and gave me back whole, whole.

Perhaps they expect to hear from me laments about “how much one suffers” living with a man like Diego. But I don’t think that the banks of a river suffer from letting it run…

Each tick-tock is a second of life that passes, flees and is not repeated. And there is so much intensity in it, so much interest, that the only problem is knowing how to live it. Let each one solve as he can.

I look forward to leaving and I hope never to return.

You may also be interested in: Meaning of the phrase “Feet, what do I want them for, if I have wings to fly” by Frida Kahlo.

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