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Frida Kahlo


Frida Kahlo: A Biography and Analysis of her Painting Style and School

Historical Background: Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, known as Frida Kahlo, was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyoacán, Mexico City, during a tumultuous period in Mexican history. She witnessed the Mexican Revolution and the emergence of a new cultural identity in Mexico. This backdrop profoundly influenced her life and art.

Nickolas Muray, Frida on a White Bench (1939). Photo courtesy of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation, ©Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.
Nickolas Muray, Frida on a White Bench (1939). Photo courtesy of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and the Vergel Foundation, ©Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.

Early Life and Health Challenges: Kahlo’s early life was marked by adversity. At the age of six, she contracted polio, which left her with a limp. Later, in 1925, she survived a near-fatal bus accident that resulted in severe injuries, including a fractured spine and pelvis. These physical challenges and her convalescence became recurring themes in her art.

Painting Style: Frida Kahlo is renowned for her distinctive and often surreal painting style, which defies easy categorization but is often associated with Surrealism and Naïve art. Key elements of her style include:

  1. Self-Portraiture: Kahlo is best known for her many self-portraits. Her art is an exploration of self-identity, pain, and personal experiences. She used her own image as a canvas to convey her emotions and struggles.
  2. Symbolism: Her paintings are rich in symbolism, drawing from Mexican folk art, mythology, and religious iconography. Symbols such as monkeys, parrots, and thorns often appear, each with specific cultural or personal significance.
  3. Vibrant Colors: Kahlo employed a bold and vibrant color palette, influenced by traditional Mexican art. The colors convey the intensity of her emotions and the vividness of her Mexican heritage.
  4. Surrealism: While Kahlo’s work shares some elements with Surrealism, she resisted being categorized as a Surrealist. Her art explores the dreamlike, the subconscious, and the fantastical, often blurring the lines between reality and illusion.
Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo Painting
Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo Painting

School of Kahlo: While Frida Kahlo was a unique artist with a highly personal style, her influence on later artists is undeniable. The “School of Kahlo” is a term used to describe artists who drew inspiration from her work, either in terms of style, themes, or personal narrative. Some notable aspects of the “School of Kahlo” include:

  1. Exploration of Identity: Artists influenced by Kahlo often engage in self-portraiture and use their art to explore issues of identity, gender, and sexuality.
  2. Bold Use of Symbolism: Like Kahlo, these artists incorporate symbolism, drawing from their own cultural backgrounds and experiences.
  3. Feminism and Activism: Kahlo’s feminist and political themes have inspired subsequent artists to engage in activism through their art, addressing issues such as women’s rights, social justice, and identity politics.
  4. Exploring Pain and Suffering: Much like Kahlo, these artists often use their work to confront and process personal pain, trauma, and illness.

Legacy: Frida Kahlo’s art continues to resonate with audiences worldwide, transcending time and borders. Her unique blend of personal expression, cultural symbolism, and emotional depth has left an indelible mark on the art world. She remains a symbol of resilience and an inspiration to artists exploring personal narratives and cultural identity.




The Iconic Painter Frida Kahlo

I have spent three hours collecting, sorting and sifting through all of her paintings that I found. I posted the best images of her paintings, and easy to navigate and enjoy each painting without distraction. So far I had a vague image of Frida, but now I can see her unique character as human being and singular paintings as an artist.

Below is a copy of what I found written about Frida Kahlo in different websites:

Frida Kahlo Origins

Considered one of the Mexico’s greatest artist, Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico. She grew up in the family’s home where was later referred as the Blue House or Casa Azul. Her father is a German descendant and photographer. He immigrated to Mexico where he met and married her mother Matilde. Her mother is half Amerindian and half Spanish. Frida Kahlo had two older sisters and one younger sister.

Frida Kahlo Early Life

Frida Kahlo had poor health in her childhood. She contracted polio at age of 6 and had to be bedridden for nine months. This disease caused her right leg and food grow much thinner than her left one. She limped after she recovered from the polio.

She had been wearing long skirts to cover that for the rest of her life. Her father encouraged her to do lots of sports to help her recover.

She played soccer, went swimming, and even did wrestle, which is very unusual at that time for a girl. She had kept a very close relationship with her father for her whole life.

Frida Kahlo Early Education

Frida Kahlo attended the renowned National Preparatory School in Mexico city in year of 1922. There are only thirty-five female students enrolled in that school and she soon became famous for her outspokenness and bravery.

At this school she first met the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera for the first time. Rivera at that time was working on a mural called The Creation on the school campus. Frida often watched it and she told a friend she will marry him someday.

Frida Kahlo Injury

At the same year, Kahlo joined a gang of students which shared the similar political and intellectual views. She fell in love with the leader Alejandro Gomez Arias. On a September afternoon when she traveled with Gomez Arias on a bus the tragic accident happened.

The bus collided with a streetcar and Frida Kahlo was seriously injured. A steel handrail impaled her through the hip. Her spine and pelvis are fractured and this accident left her in a great deal of pain, both physically and physiologically.

She was injured so badly and had to stay in the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City for several weeks. After that she returned home for further recovery.

She had to wear full body cast for three months. To kill the time and alleviate the pain, she started painting and finished her first first self-portrait the following year.

Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best”. Her parents encouraged her to paint and made a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed. They also gave her brushes and boxes of paints.

Frida Kahlo Painting Career

Frida Kahlo reconnected with Rivera in 1928. She asked him to evaluate her work and he encouraged her. The two soon started the romantic relationship. Despite her mother’s objection, Frida and Diego Rivera got married in the next year.

During their earlier years as a married couple, Frida had to move a lot based on Diego’s work. In 1930, they lived in San Francisco, California. Then they moved to New York City for Rivera’s artwork show at Museum of Modern Art. They later moved to Detroit while Diego Rivera worked for Detroit Institute of Arts.

In 1932, Kahlo added more realistic and surrealistic components in her painting style. In the painting titled Henry Ford Hospital(1932), Frida Kahlo lied on a hospital bed naked and was surrounded with a few things floating around, which includes a fetus, a flower, a pelvis, a snail, all connected by veins.

This painting was an expression of her feelings about her second miscarriage. It is as personal as her other self-portraits.

International Exposure

In 1933, Kahlo was living in New York City with husband Diego Rivera. Rivera was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to create a mural named as Man at the Crossroads at Rockefeller Center. Rivera tried to include Vladimir Lenin in the painting, who is a communist leader.

Rockefeller stopped his work and that part was painted over. The couple had to move back to Mexico after this incident. They returned and live in San Angel, Mexico.

Family and Marriage

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s marriage is not an usual one. They had been keeping separate homes and studios for all those years. Diego had so many affairs and one of that was with Kahlo’s sister Cristina. Frida Kahlo was so sad and she cut off her long hair to show her desperation to the betrayal.

She has been longed for children but she cannot bear one due to the bus accident. She was heartbroken when she experienced a second miscarriage in 1934. Kahlo and Rivera has been separated for a few times but they always went back together.

In 1937 they helped Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia. Leon Trotsky is a exiled communist and rival of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Kahlo and Rivera welcomed the couple together and let them stay at her Blue House. Kahlo also had a brief affair with Leon Trotsky when the couple stayed at her house.

Surrealism / Expressionism 

In 1938, Frida Kahlo became friend of Andre Breton, who is one of the primary figures of Surrealism movement. Frida said she never considered herself as a Surrealist “until André Breton came to Mexico and told me I was one.” She also wrote, “Really I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself”.

“Since my subjects have always been my sensations, my states of mind and the profound reactions that life has been producing in me, I have frequently objectified all this in figures of myself, which were the most sincere and real thing that I could do in order to express what I felt inside and outside of myself.”

In the same year, she had an exhibition at New York City gallery. She sold some of her paintings and got two commissions. One of that is from Clare Boothe Luce to paint her friend Dorothy Hale who committed suicide. She painted The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (1939), which tells the story of Dorothy’s tragic leap. The patron Luce was horrified and almost destroyed this painting.

The next year, 1939, Kahlo was invited by Andre Breton and went to Paris. Her works are exhibited there and she is befriended with artists such as Marc Chagall, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso. She and Rivera got divorced that year and she painted one of her most famous painting, The Two Fridas(1939).

But soon Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera remarried in 1940. The second marriage is about the same as the first one. They still keep separate lives and houses. Both of them had infidelities with other people during the marriage.

Kahlo received a commission from the Mexican government for five portraits of important Mexican women in 1941, but she was unable to finish the project. She lost her beloved father that year and continued to suffer from chronic health problems. Despite her personal challenges, her work continued to grow in popularity and was included in numerous group shows around this time.

In the year of 1944, Frida Kahlo painted one of her most famous portrait, The Broken Column. In this painting she depicted herself naked and split down the middle. Her spine are shattered like column. She wears a surgical brace and there are nails all through her body, which is the indication of the consistent pain she went through.

In this painting, Frida expressed her physical challenges by her art. During that time, she had a few surgeries and had to wear special corsets to protect her back spine. She seeks lots of medical treatment for her chronic pain but nothing really worked.

Her health condition has been worsening in 1950. That year she was diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot. She became bedridden for the next nine month and had to stay in hospital and had several surgeries. But with great persistence, Frida Kahlo continued to work and paint.

In the year of 1953, she had a solo exhibition in Mexican. Although she had limited mobility at that time, she showed up on the exhibition’s opening ceremony. She arrived by ambulance, and welcomed the attendees, celebrated the ceremony in a bed the gallery set up for her. A few months later, she had to accept another surgery. Part of her right leg got amputated to stop the gangrene.

With the poor physical condition, she is also deeply depressed. She even had a inclination for suicide. Frida Kahlo has been out and in hospital during that year. But despite her health issues, she has been active with the political movement.

She showed up at the demonstration against US backed overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala on July 2. This is her last public appearance. About one week after her 47th birthday, Frida Kahlo passed away at her beloved Blue House. She was publicly reported to die of a pulmonary embolism, but there are speculation which was saying she died of a possible suicide.

Frida Kahlo’s fame has been growing after her death. Her Blue House was opened as a museum in the year of 1958. In 1970s the interest on her work and life are renewed due to the feminist movement, since she was viewed as an icon of female creativity.

In 1983, Hayden Herrera published his book on her, A Biography of Frida Kahlo, which drew more attention from the public to this great artist. In the year of 2002, a movie named Frida was released, staring Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. This movie was nominated for six Academy Awards and won for Best Makeup and Original Score.

Frida Kahlo Facts

She wanted her birth to coincide with the beginning of the Mexican Revolution

Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico City, but she often told people she was born in 1910, 3 years after her actual birth, so that people would directly associate her with the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910.

Kahlo became an embodiment of Mexican culture, especially indigenous culture, but she herself wasn’t fully Mexican: her father was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo in Germany, either of Jewish and Hungarian ancestry, as Frida claimed, or from a long line of German Lutherans, as some new research argues. Frida’s mother, Matilde Calderon, was of indigenous Mexican and Spanish descent.

Throughout her life, Frida Kahlo wore skirts to disguise her leg deformities.

Polio at age 6 had left Frida Kahlo’s right leg thinner than her left. Some scholars believe Kahlo also suffered from spina bifida. And, at age 18, Kahlo suffered 11 fractures in her right leg and a crushed and dislocated foot, among many other injuries, when her bus collided with a trolley car. She underwent as many as 35 operations over the course of her life as a result of the accident.

She became a painter after a near fatal accident

On September 17th 1925 Frida and her friend Alex was riding in a bus when it crashed into a street trolley car. Recuperation after the bus accident took over a year, during which time Kahlo gave up her pre-med program and began painting.

Her father, an artist, lent her his oil paints and brushes, while her mom commissioned a special easel, so that Kahlo could paint in her hospital bed, and had a mirror placed in the canopy, enabling Kahlo’s self-portraiture.

She is known as the master of Self-Portraits

In her career, Frida Kahlo created 143 paintings out of which 55 are self-portraits. Kahlo said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.

” Her self portraits often include interpretations of physical and psychological wounds. Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits are considered among the finest ever created. Her most famous self-portrait is perhaps Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.

Frida’s painting is the first work by a 20th-century Mexican artist to be purchased by an internationally renowned museum.

In 1939, the Louvre bought Kahlo’s The Frame, making it the first work by a 20th-century Mexican artist to be purchased by an internationally renowned museum. Despite such an accomplishment, Kahlo was still known for most of her life, and the 20th-century, as the wife of Diego Rivera, whom she married in 1929. Since the 1980s, though, Kahlo has been known for her own merit.

Several biographies have been written and movies about her life have been made. Her former home, La Casa Azul, is now a museum.

The largest exhibit ever of her paintings, held last summer for the 100th anniversary of her birth, broke all attendance records at Mexico’s Museum of the Fine Arts Palace, although it was only open for 2 months.

Frida Kahlo was a bisexual

Kahlo’s marriage with Rivera was tumultuous with both having multiple affairs. Frida had affairs with both men and women. Rivera even had an affair with Kahlo’s younger sister Cristina which infuriated Kahlo. They divorced in 1939 but remarried a year later. Although their second marriage was as troubled as the first, Kahlo remained married to Rivera till her death.

She had an affair with the founder of the Red Army

The founder of Red Army, the famous Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky came to Mexico to receive political asylum from the Soviet Union. He first stayed with Rivera and later had an affair with Kahlo. Kahlo created a painting titled Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky to commemorate her brief affair.

Frida called Hitler “the lost child” in her painting

Her complex 1945 painting, Moses, presents the sun as “the centre of all religions.” The top portion of the painting contains gods; the middle section is full of “heroes” like Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, Napoleon, and – most interestingly – Hitler, whom Kahlo called “the lost child.”

The bottom of the painting is filled with the masses and scenes relating to the process of evolution. In the middle is the infant Moses, with the third eye of wisdom. The painting was inspired by the book Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud, which makes a link between Ancient Egyptian beliefs, Moses, and the origins of monotheistic religion.

She became famous a couple of decades after her death

Kahlo died 20 days after her 47th birthday on July 26, 1954. A few days before her death, she wrote in her diary:

“I hope the exit is joyful – and I hope never to return – Frida”.

Kahlo was moderately successful during her lifetime and it was only several years after her death that her work became widely acclaimed. During her lifetime she was mainly known in Mexico as Rivera’s wife, now she is popular worldwide and Rivera is known as her husband.

Her work ‘Roots’ set the record for a Latin American Piece of Art

Frida Kahlo was a central figure in the Neomexicanismo Art Movement in Mexico which emerged in the 1970s. Her art has been called folk art due to traditional elements and some call it Surrealist though Kahlo herself said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams.

I painted my own reality.” In May 2006, her self-portrait Roots sold for US$5.6 million dollars setting an auction record for a Latin American piece of art.

Two famous movies have been made on her life

Numerous articles, books and documentaries have been made about Kahlo’s life and art, including the bestseller Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo (1983) by Hayden Herrera. The movie ‘Frida, naturaleza viva’ was released in 1983 and was a huge success.

In 2002 another biographical film ‘Frida’, in which Salma Hayek plays her role, grossed over $US 50 million and won two Academy Awards.

Frida Kahlo Quotes

My painting carries with it the message of pain.” – Frida Kahlo

Painting completed my life. ” – Frida Kahlo

The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” – Frida Kahlo

There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” – Frida Kahlo

Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” – Frida Kahlo

I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you. ” – Frida Kahlo

I love you more than my own skin. ” – Frida Kahlo

I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.” – Frida Kahlo

I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” – Frida Kahlo

I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.” – Frida Kahlo

I hope the exit is joyful and i hope never to return” – Frida Kahlo

Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.” – Frida Kahlo

I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”
– Frida Kahlo


Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo Painting
Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo Painting

Frida Kahlo Paintings

— via: fridakahlo