Frida Kahlo – Perhaps the Greatest Mexican ArtistWednesday, July 18th, 2012
Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most renowned Latin American painters, braved an arduous path to becoming a great artist. Kahlo is known for her self-portraits as well as her marriage to fellow Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Mid-July marks the 58th anniversary of her death on July 13, 1954.
Frida Kahlo’s early years
Kahlo was born in 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico, then a small town outside of Mexico City (now a neighborhood within the sprawling metropolis that is Mexico’s Federal District). Her mother, Matilde Calderón y González, was a Mexican home-maker of Spanish and Amerindian descent, and her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was a German photographer.
When Kahlo was six she was struck with polio, making her right leg thinner than her left. Throughout her life she tried to disguise her deformity by wearing long and colorful skirts.
Early on Kahlo aspired to become a doctor and entered a pre-med program in Mexico City. However, her plans changed when she was seriously injured in a bus accident at the age of 18. She spent more than a year in bed recovering from fractures to her spine, collarbone, ribs, shattered pelvis, and shoulder and foot injuries. During her recovery in a full body cast, Kahlo began painting.
Career as an Artist
Frida Kahlo is known for her surrealistic paintings, which integrate bright colors and themes of Mexican culture. Kahlo’s paintings also reflect the great pain she endured throughout her life, depicting traumas such as her multiple miscarriages.
Kahlo created 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida Kahlo replied, “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.”
Her work was influenced by Diego Rivera, the famed Mexican painter who became her husband in 1929. Rivera and Kahlo first met in the early 1920s when Rivera was painting a mural in the lecture hall of the prestigious National Preparatory School, where Frida Kahlo was one of just a handful of female students. They reconnected a few years later through leftist political circles. 21 years her senior, Rivera mentored Kahlo at the beginning of her career and immediately recognized her superlative talent.
Frida Kahlo was commonly viewed as part of the surrealist movement, though Kahlo never considered herself a surrealist painter. Symbols feature strongly in her artwork, as do graphic and surreal scenes. “I never painted dreams,” said Kahlo of her paintings. “I painted my own reality.”
Kahlo died at the age of 47 from a pulmonary embolism. Several days before her death, she wrote in her diary, “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return.”
La Casa Azul – Frida Kahlo’s museum
In 1958 Frida Kahlo’s museum was officially opened. Her museum is located in La Casa Azul (“The Blue House”) in Coyoacán where she grew up and later lived with Diego (famously in separate wings of the house, with a passageway between the two). “The Blue House” is a very popular tourist attraction in Mexico City and features many of Kahlo’s possessions. It is one of the best museums in the world to give the visitor an innate sense of who Kahlo was as a woman, feminist, activist and legendary artist.
Interesting facts about Frida Kahlo:
- She was the first Mexican artist whose work was purchased by the Louvre in Paris.
- She was also the first Mexican painter whose painting was sold for more that $1 million.
- Kahlo’s father referred to Rivera and Kahlo as the ‘elephant and the dove’, due to their great difference in size.
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