Art Stories: Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo (Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón) was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyocoán, Mexico City, Mexico as the third of four daughters of Wilhelm Kahlo, a German-Jewish descendant and a native born Mexican of Spanish/Indian descent Martilde Kahlo.

Frida grew up in the family’s home – known also as Blue House or Casa Azul. Her life and work were strongly influenced by her environment: indigenous Mexican culture and the time of a Mexican revolution which began when Frida was three. These and the fact that from the early age and throughout all her life Frida suffered from several health problems, influenced and shaped her work.


Frida Kahlo- Self portrait with monkeys

At the age of six Frida contracted a Polio disease which left her bedridden for three months and resulted in her developing a limp – this was her first experience with being immobile for such long time. In 1922, Kahlo enrolled at the renowned National Preparatory School. She was one of a few female students to attend the school, and became well known for her cheerful spirit and her love of traditional bright- coloured clothes and jewellery.

Three years later at the age of 18, Frieda was in a bus accident that injured her spine, pelvis, and foot – injuries that led to many hospital stays and operations. This took away her mobility for three months and had left her with a lifetime of pain. Frida being unable to leave her bed for long weeks turned her attention to painting. She painted to occupy her time and her self portraits became a dominant part of her life when she became trapped in the full body cast during her long recovery.

Once she said: “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best”.  Of her 143 paintings 55 are self-portriats, and she used to distress: “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”.


Frida Kahlo- The broken column


Frida Kahlo- Tree of hope

Her paintings were symbolic- a mixture of traditional Christian and Jewish symbols and Mexican mythology like for e.g. the symbolic monkey- in Mexican mythology a symbol of lust. As a young artist Kahlo approached the famous Mexican muralist Diego Riviera, asking for advice in pursuing art as a career. He recognized her talent and encouraged her development as an artist.

They quickly started a love affair, and in 1929 they married. This relationship had a big impact on their lives and work. Unfortunately despite of few miscarriages Frida wasn’t able to become a mother which she truly desired, this experience was also portrayed in her art. Despite of many affairs from both sides and a divorce, the couple remarried again and stayed together till Frida’s Death in 1954.


Frida Kahl0- The two Fridas


Frida Kahlo- Henry Ford hospital

Before Frieda’s death in 1954 her work was recognized internationally, and after an invitation from Andre Breton and featuring the exhibition in Louvre, one of Kahlo’s paintings was purchased by the museum- which made her the first 20th  century Mexican artist purchased by the internationally renowned museum.


Frida Kahlo- Self portrait 1943

Artistic Legacy

Since Frida’s death her fame has grown and grown. Her beloved Casa Azul was transformed into a museum and opened for public in 1958. The interest in her life and work was renewed by the feminist movement of the 1970s, as for many she was perceived as an icon of female creativity and a inspiration.  A Biography of Frida Kahlo, written in 1983 by Hayden Herrera’s popularised and drew attention to her incredible story. Her life was also portrayed in 2002 in the movie entitled Frida, starring Salma Hayek as Frida and Alfred Molina as her husband Diego Rivera. The film was directed by Julie Taymor and was nominated for six Academy Awards which of won two.