Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 - July 13, 1954) was a Mexican painter, a feminist figure, a brilliant artist, and the original icon for strong brows. She has achieved great international popularity. She painted using vibrant colors in a style that was influenced by indigenous cultures of Mexico as well as by European influences that include Realism, Symbolism, and Surrealism. Many of her works are self-portraits that symbolically express her own pain and sexuality.
Frida Kahlo (Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon) was born on July 6, 1907 in the house of her parents, known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacan.
Kahlo's father Wilhelm was a German photographer who had immigrated to Mexico where he met and married her mother Matilde. She had two older sisters, Matilde and Adriana, and her younger sister, Cristina, was born the year after Kahlo. Frida once remarked that she grew up in a world surrounded by females. Throughout most of her life, however, Frida remained close to her father.
Wilhelm Kahlo sailed to Mexico in 1891 at the age of nineteen and, upon his arrival, changed his German forename, Wilhelm, to its Spanish equivalent, 'Guillermo'.
Kahlo claimed her father was of Jewish and Hungarian ancestry, but a 2005 book on Guillermo Kahlo, Fridas Vater (Schirmer/Mosel, 2005), states that he was descended from a long line of German Lutherans.
Frida's mother, Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez, was a devout Catholic of primarily indigenous, as well as Spanish descent.
The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 when Kahlo was three years old. Later, however, Kahlo claimed that she was born in 1910 so people would directly associate her with the revolution.
This detail well introduces us to a singular personality, characterized since her childhood by a deep sense of independence and rebellion against ordinary social and moral habits, moved by passion and sensuality, proud of her "Mexicanidad" and cultural tradition set against the reigning Americanization: everything mixed with a peculiar sense of humour.
Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left, which Kahlo disguised by wearing long skirts. It has been conjectured that she also suffered from spina bifida, a congenital disease that could have affected both spinal and leg development. As a girl, she participated in boxing and other sports. In 1922, Kahlo was enrolled in the Preparatoria, one of Mexico's premier schools, where she was one of only thirty-five girls. Kahlo joined a gang at the school and fell in love with the leader, Alejandro Gomez Arias. During this period, Kahlo also witnessed violent armed struggles in the streets of Mexico City as the Mexican Revolution continued. Becoming more politically active, Kahlo joined the Young Communist League and the Mexican Communist Party.
On September 17, 1925, Kahlo and Alejandro Gómez Arias, a school friend with whom she was romantically involved, were traveling together on a bus when the vehicle collided with a streetcar. As a result of the collision, Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which went into her hip and came out the other side. She suffered several serious injuries as a result, including fractures in her spine and pelvis.
The medicine of her time tortured her body with surgical operations (32 throughout her life), corsets of different kinds and mechanical "stretching" systems.
Lots of her works were painted laying in the bed. Drawing on personal experiences, her miscarriages, and her numerous operations, Kahlo's works often are characterized by portrayals of pain. Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds.
Frida Kahlo once said, "I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best". Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes.
She insisted, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality".
Kahlo was deeply influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism. She frequently included the symbolic monkey. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, yet Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols. Christian and Jewish themes are often depicted in her work. She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings.
As a young artist, Kahlo approached the famous Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, who recognized her talent and her unique expression as truly special and uniquely Mexican. He encouraged her development as an artist and soon began an intimate relationship with Frida. They were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Frida's mother. They often were referred to as The Elephant and the Dove, a nickname that originated when Kahlo's father used it to express their extreme difference in size.
During their early years together, Kahlo often followed Rivera based on where the commissions that Rivera received were. In 1930, they lived in San Francisco, California. They then went to New York City for Rivera’s show at the Museum of Modern Art and later moved to Detroit for Rivera’s commission with the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Their marriage often was tumultuous. Notoriously, both Kahlo and Rivera had fiery temperaments and both had numerous extramarital affairs. The openly bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men (including Leon Trotsky) and women; Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. For her part, Kahlo became outraged when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. In response to this familial betrayal, Kahlo cut off most of her trademark long dark hair. Desperately wanting to have a child, she again experienced heartbreak when she miscarried in 1934.
The couple eventually divorced, but remarried in 1940. Their second marriage was as turbulent as the first. Their living quarters often were separate, although sometimes adjacent.
While she never considered herself a surrealist, Kahlo befriended one of the primary figures in that artistic and literary movement, Andre Breton, in 1938. That same year, she had a major exhibition at a New York City gallery, selling about half of the 25 paintings shown there. Kahlo also received two commissions, including one from famed magazine editor Clare Boothe Luce, as a result of the show
At the invitation of Andre Breton, Frida went to France in 1939 and was featured at an exhibition of her paintings in Paris. The Louvre bought one of her paintings, The Frame, which was displayed at the exhibit. This was the first work by a 20th century Mexican artist ever purchased by the internationally renowned museum. In Paris Frida developed friendships with such artists as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso.
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.
In 1953, Kahlo received her first solo exhibition in Mexico. While bedridden at the time, Kahlo did not miss out on the exhibition’s opening. Arriving by ambulance, Kahlo spent the evening talking and celebrating with the event’s attendees from the comfort of a four-poster bed set up in the gallery just for her.
No matter her physical condition, Kahlo did not let that stand in the way of her political activism. Her final public appearance was a demonstration against the U.S.-backed overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala on July 2nd.
A few days before Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, she wrote in her diary: "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida". The official cause of death was given as pulmonary embolism, although some suspected that she died from overdose that may or may not have been accidental. An autopsy was never performed. She had been very ill throughout the previous year and her right leg had been amputated at the knee, owing to gangrene. She also had a bout of bronchopneumonia near that time, which had left her quite frail..