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Artists in 60 Seconds: Frida Kahlo

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© 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust; used with permission

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907-1954). The Frame, ca. 1937–38. Oil on metal with glass. 11 1/4 x 8 1/8 in. (28.6 x 20.6 cm). Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée national d'art moderne/Centre de création industrielle.

© 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:

With Frida's work, it would probably be prudent to stick with "painting."

She used symbolism, but was not a Symbolist. She has sometimes been categorized with the Surrealists (indeed, André Breton once informed her that she was a Surrealist). The major flaw with this theory, as she herself saw it, was that Frida Kahlo painted her own, personal reality.

Date and Place of Birth:

July 6, 1907, Mexico City, Mexico

Life:

Frida Kahlo is as well known for her larger-than-life life as she is for her paintings. (This is appropriate, given that her paintings were a chronicle of her life.) A bright, well-educated girl who overcame polio in childhood, Frida took up painting as a therapeutic outlet after a 1925 bus accident nearly killed her. Due to the accident, she was never again free of pain, couldn't carry a baby to term and suffered through 32 operations in 29 years. Through it all, she painted.

Though her early work showed an appreciation of 14th-century Italian masters, Kahlo quickly developed her own style. She took seriously an initiative, popularized by Mexican Muralists, to paint using indigenous symbols, "rustic" imagery and colors. Many of her works resembled "retablos" - small paintings of saints executed on tin, zinc or wood. Kahlo's themes were almost exclusively about women: women's bodies, birth, death and survival. In one third of her work, she herself was the subject.

Much has been written of her complicated, disastrous relationship with Diego Rivera (they were married twice, and neither was a stranger to extramarital affairs) and Kahlo was not unhappy that her position as wife took precedence over renown as a painter. Only artist-friends in the couple's social circle promoted her work and, at her death, she was still best known as Diego's wife. This all changed in the 1970s, and Kahlo now has iconic status in feminist and Hispanic culture.

Important Works:

  • Miscarriage in Detroit (a.k.a.: Henry Ford Hospital), 1932
  • A Few Small Nips, 1935
  • The Two Fridas, 1939
  • Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego on My Mind), 1943
  • The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth, Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl, 1949

See pictures of Frida Kahlo's work in the Special Exhibition Gallery - Frida Kahlo.

Date and Place of Death:

July 13, 1954, Mexico City, Mexico

How To Pronounce "Kahlo":

    kah·loe

Quotes From Frida Kahlo:

  • "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best."
  • "I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down ... The other accident is Diego."

Sources and Further Reading

Fuentes, Carlos. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait.
New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995 [intro.].

Herrera, Hayden. Frida : A Biography of Frida Kahlo.
New York: Harper & Row, 1983.

Very highly recommended. The basis of and inspiration for the 2002 movie Frida.
Read Review

Herrera, Hayden. Frida Kahlo: The Paintings.
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Herrera, Hayden. "Kahlo (y Calderón), (Magdalena Carmen) Frida"
Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 30 April 2005.

Lindauer, Margaret A. Devouring Frida: The Art History and Popular Celebrity of Frida Kahlo.
Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1998.

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