Frida Kahlo de Rivera (July 6, 1907 — July 13, 1954; born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón)was a Mexican painter, born in Coyoacán, and perhaps best known for her self-portraits.
Kahlo’s life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home known as the Blue House. She gave her birth date as July 7, 1910, but her birth certificate shows July 6, 1907. Kahlo had allegedly wanted the year of her birth to coincide with the year of the beginning of the Mexican revolution so that her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico. At the age of six, Frida developed polio, which caused her right leg to appear much thinner than the other. It was to remain that way permanently. Her work has been celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Mexican culture and Amerindian cultural 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”.
Kahlo had a volatile marriage with the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. She suffered lifelong health problems, many of which derived from a traffic accident during her teenage years. These issues are represented in her works, many of which are self-portraits of one sort or another. Kahlo suggested, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” She also stated, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.
After the accident, Kahlo neglected the study of medicine to begin a painting career. She painted to occupy her time during her temporary immobilization. Her self-portraits became a dominant part of her life when she was immobile for three months after her accident. Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because 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.
Drawn from personal experiences, including her marriage, her miscarriages, and her numerous operations, Kahlo’s works are often characterized by their suggestions of pain.
Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She insisted, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
Kahlo was 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, but 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. Kahlo created a few drawings of “portraits,” but unlike her paintings, they were more abstract. She did one of her husband, Diego Rivera, and of herself. At the invitation of André Breton, she went to France during 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 twentieth century Mexican artist that was purchased by the renowned museum.