Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

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Self-Portrait With Monkeys

Frida Kahlo was an artist with an interesting life. Born on July 6, 1907, the artist usually reported her birthday as July 7, 1910. She had a reputation for not always being honest and up front, so that may actually be one of many falsehoods.

She was born in Mexico City, in a home she called the “Blue House”. At 6 years old, she was stricken with polio. This caused her right leg to be much thinner than the other leg for the rest of her life.

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My Grandparents, My Parents and I, 1936

As an adolescent, Kahlo hung out with a group of mischievous, rebellious boys at the National Preparatory School. They loved to pull pranks on professors. It was at the prep school that Frida met artist Diego Rivera, who would later become her husband. He had been hired to paint a mural in the auditorium of the school.

When Kahlo was 18, she suffered a broken spinal column, broken pelvis, several fractures in her leg, and broken ribs when she was involved in a horrible bus accident. Her right foot was crushed, and her shoulder was also injured. She was on bed-rest for a month, immobile. She made a remarkable recovery, and her boredom in bed prompted her to start painting.

Kahlo’s recovery was remarkable, but it left her with chronic pain. Numerous operations would be in her future. Still, her sense of humor and zest for life remained intact. In fact, it is even reported that she joked that she held the world record for the most operations. Although that is probably an overstatement, she did undergo about thirty operations in her lifetime. Alcohol and drugs became crutches to help her mask the pain.

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Two Fridas

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What Water Gave Me, 1938

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Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

In 1929, Kahlo married Diego Rivera. This was a tumultuous marriage. Although the love was evident, there were also extramarital affairs and strong undercurrents of hatred. The marriage dissolved after about a year. There was, however, a positive side to the shattered union. Rivera actually helped Kahlo’s career in many ways. He persuaded her to dress in Mexican clothing complete with color-splashed dresses and exotic jewelry. This eventually became her trademark.

Kahlo’s work was intensely emotional. The pain she suffered because of her rocky marriage translated into incredible artwork. Her paintings became a way to cope with her accident and her physical and emotional battles.

Kahlo was a people-magnet. Her outgoing persona made her popular with her fans. Her off-color humor and affection for tequila made her all the more endearing, and men admired her exotic beauty. This eventually led to a succession of scandalous affairs, one of which was with Communist leader Leon Trotsky. The scandal came into play because it happened when he and his wife were guests in Kahlo’s home. She and Rivera were both arrested for the murder of Leon Trotsky, but they were eventually dismissed as suspects.

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Elabrazo de Amor del Universo

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Broken Column

Kahlo was popular all over the world. In America, people adored her for her artwork and her stunning beauty. In Mexico, she also had a legion of admirers although she only had one exhibition in Mexico in 1953. She was placed in the middle of the exhibition on a hospital bed. She entertained her guests, drank, and carried on for the entire evening.

Later this year, Kahlo suffered a gangrene infection in her leg, and she had to have it amputated below the knee. She became depressed, and she even made a couple of suicide attempts. When she died in 1954, no autopsy is done. Her last diary entry has led many to believe her death was a result of suicide. It read, “I hope the leaving is joyful, and I hope to never return.”

Almost every one of Kahlo’s paintings is a self-portrait. Many are both breathtaking and bewildering. They deal with abstract emotions, and many of them are a bit bloody and disturbing. These self-portraits continue to fascinate art enthusiasts today.

Frida Kahlo originals are hard to come by. Each bears her distinctive mark and seal. Singing sensation Madonna is a Kahlo fan and reported to have pieces by the famous artist. However, most of these originals come with a high price tag. Most others are housed in museums.