Frida Kahlo began to paint in 1925, while recovering from a near-fatal bus accident that devastated her body and marked the beginning of lifelong physical ordeals. Over the next three decades, she would produce a relatively small yet consistent and arresting body of work. In meticulously executed paintings, Kahlo portrayed herself again and again, simultaneously exploring, questioning, and staging her self and identity. She also often evoked fraught episodes from her life, including her ongoing struggle with physical pain and the emotional distress caused by her turbulent relationship with celebrated painter Diego Rivera.

Such personal subject matter, along with the intimate scale of her paintings, sharply contrasted with the work of her acclaimed contemporaries, the Mexican Muralists. Launched in the wake of the Mexican Revolution and backed by the government, the Mexican Muralist movement aimed to produce monumental public murals that mined the country’s national history and identity. An avowed Communist, like her peers Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Kahlo at times expressed her desire to paint “something useful for the Communist revolutionary movement,” yet her art remained “very far from work that could serve the Party.”1 She nonetheless participated in her peers’ exaltation of Mexico’s indigenous culture, avidly collecting Mexican popular art and often making use of its motifs and techniques. In My Grandparents, My Parents, and I, for example, she adopted the format of retablos, small devotional paintings made on metallic plates. She also carefully crafted a flamboyant Mexican persona for herself, wearing colorful folk dresses and pre-Columbian jewelry, in a performative display of her identity.

Kahlo’s early recognition was prompted by French poet and founder of Surrealism André Breton, who enthusiastically embraced her art as self-made Surrealism, and included her work in his 1940 International Exhibition of Surrealism in Mexico City. Yet if her art had an uncanny quality akin to the movement’s tenets, Kahlo resisted the association: “They thought I was a Surrealist but I wasn’t,” she said. “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”2

Introduction by Charlotte Barat, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2016

  1. Frida Kahlo, The Diary of Frida Kahlo, An Intimate Self-Portrait (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 252. 

  2. “Mexican Autobiography,” Time, April 27, 1953, 92.  

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Frida Kahlo de Rivera (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈfɾiða ˈkalo]; July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954), born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits. Kahlo's life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home, which is known as "La Casa Azul," the Blue House. Her work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form. Mexican culture and tradition are important in her work, which has been sometimes characterized as naïve art or folk art. Her work has also been described as surrealist, and in 1938 André Breton, principal initiator of the surrealist movement, described Kahlo's art as a "ribbon around a bomb". Frida rejected the "surrealist" label imposed by Breton, as she argued that her work reflected more of her reality than her dreams. Kahlo had a volatile marriage with the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. She suffered lifelong health problems, many of which were caused by a traffic accident she survived as a teenager. Recovering from her injuries isolated her from other people, and this isolation influenced her works, many of which are self-portraits. Kahlo suggested, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."
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Mexican fantasy painter known as much for her turbulent personal life as her fanciful self-portraits. Kahlo learned to paint in 1925 after recovering from a debilitating bus accident that left her unable to bear children. The tragedy was often the subject of her paintings and was an integral part of her personal imagery. Her work can be seen as the product of a kind of exorcism by which she projected her anguish on to another Frida, in order to free herself from pain and at the same time maintain a hold of reality. Small in scale, primitive in style, and bold in color, the artist is sometimes shown as an animal, such a deer, which have lead artists and critics alike to label her work Surrealist. The artist eschewed this, maintaining that she painted images from her own life, not dreams. Also the subject of several works was her tumultuous marriage to artist Diego Rivera. One portrait shows the artist as a tiny figure in traditional Mexican dress, dwarfed in size by the large, brooding Rivera. In 1953, Kahlo's leg was amputated at the knee due to gangrene. She subsequently turned to drugs and alcohol to relieve her suffering. She died almost certainly by suicide in 1954. Her work received notoriety in the 1970's, becoming popular with feminist art historians and Latin Americans living in the United States.
Artist, Painter
Frida Kahlo, Frida Kahlo de Rivera, Frida Rivera, De Rivera Kahlo, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, Фрида Кало, פרידה קאלו, Frida Kahlo De Rivera, Frida Khalo, Frida Kahlo Calderón, Frieda Kahlo, Mrs. Diego Rivera
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License