Frida Kahlo is the Mexican painter best known for her uncompromising and brilliantly rendered self-portraits. Today her legacy is omnipresent with her images found on everything including shopping bags, clothing, Barbies and jewelry making her the second most visually seen Mexican woman. (Guadalupe, the mother of Mexico, takes the top spot.)
Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón in 1907 Mexico City to a German father and a Mexican mother. Frida shortened her name to Frida Kahlo, dropping the more Teutonic spelling, Frieda. Later, during her artistic career, Kahlo explored her identity by frequently depicting her ancestry as opposites with the colonial European side and the indigenous Mexican side.
As a child, she suffered a bout of polio that left her with a chronic limp.
Kahlo she was interested in science and in 1922 she entered school to study medicine. While there she met muralist, Diego Rivera, who was working on a mural for the school’s auditorium, starting a long and tumultuous relationship.
In 1925 Kahlo was seriously injured in a bus accident. During her slow recovery, Kahlo taught herself to paint. After her convalescence, Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party, where she met Diego once again. She showed him some of her work, and he encouraged her to continue to paint.
Frida married Diego in 1929, changing her personal and painting style. She began to wear traditional dress consisting of a flowered headdress, a loose blouse, gold jewelry, and a long ruffled skirt. Her paintings, and French Vogue, featured her in her new attire. The Louvre acquired one of her works making Kahlo the first 20th-century Mexican artist to be included in the museum’s collection.
By the mid-1930s numerous miscarriages and extramarital affairs, notably that of Diego with Frida’s younger sister and those of Frida with several men and women, had deteriorated their marriage, and the two divorced in 1939. In true Liz and Dick fashion, Frida re-married Diego the following year in her childhood home, La Casa Azul. You can tour the home on-line and view many of works with her trademark impassive, steadfast gaze, for which she became famous. She died at 47 in the home from heart failure though rumors of suicide persist.
Although Frida had achieved success as an artist in her lifetime, her posthumous reputation steadily grew from the 1970s women’s movement as an icon of female creativity. In 1977, the first of her paintings sold at an auction fetched nineteen thousand dollars but by 1995 a self-portrait brought in $3.2 million, the highest sum ever paid for a painting created south of the border.
Today Frida is one of the best-known artists of the 20th century with her life inspiring many books and movies in the decades following her death. Many scenes of Salma Hayek’s movie, Frida, were filmed in San Miguel de Allende.
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide in San Miguel de Allende with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
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- Creator of the Maria Dolls coloring book helping indigenous doll makers.