Arts & Culture

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1907 - 1954

Frida Kahlo: ¡Viva la vida! 

“Feet? Why would I want them if I have wings to fly.”
Frida Kahlo’s Diary, 1953
Frida Kahlo (1913)

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón was born on July 6, 1907 in Mexico City, in the house that was owned by her parents since 1904. Today, the house is know as “La Casa Azul,” or “The Blue House.”

Matilde Calderón and Guillermo Kahlo

Her parents were Wilhelm Kahlo, of Hungarian-German ancestry, and Matilde Calderón, originally from Oaxaca.

Frida Kahlo in 1919

At six years old, Frida suffered from polio, an illness that damaged her uterus and made her unable to have children. However, her shorter right leg did not prevent her from becoming a restless and tenacious student.

When Frida reached 11 months in age, her mother gave birth to Cristina, the youngest daughter from the Kahlo-Calderón marriage. Because of that, Frida was entrusted to an indigenous woman who took care of her.

 Years later, Frida recreated the incident in a painting that she called “My nurse and I,” in which the artists is represented as part baby with an adult face. She is being held by her nanny, an indigenous woman whose face is covered by a Pre-Columbian mask.

My nurse and I, 1937

When she was 18, on September 17th, 1925, Frida had a tragic accident. She was riding a bus that collided with a streetcar. The resulting consequences were very severe. She broke many bones and significantly damaged her spine.

Frida frequently referred to the accident in her artwork. In this painting, entitled, “The Bus,” one can observe the people that rode this type of transportation. One can see an indigenous barefoot woman, a bourgeois person, and a young woman, who could represent Frida.

Through the window there is a small shop called “The laughter”, a significant detail of the sarcastic personality of Frida, who painted the moment before the accident. 

The bus, 1929.

“The crash happened shortly after stepping onto the bus. Earlier, we were going to take another bus, but I lost my parasol and we went down to look for it. This is how we got on the bus that destroyed me. The accident happened on the corner in front of the San Lucas market, directly in front of it. The streetcar approached us slowly, but our bus driver was young and very nervous. The streetcar, started to make a turn, when it hit the bus against the wall. I was a smart young woman, but I wasn’t very practical. I thought that I had gotten free. Perhaps this is why I did not understand the situation or the severity of injuries that I had. At first, I thought there was a pretty colorful jacket that I had bought that day and that I brought with me. I started to look at my injuries, believing that more than anything, there were not going to be major consequences. Meanwhile, I realized that there had been a crash, and I started to cry. But there were no tears in me. The shock threw me forward and the handrail went through me like a sword in a bull. A man saw me tremendously bleeding, and he picked me up and placed me on a billiards table until he took me to the Red Cross.”

Portrait of Alicia Galant, 1927

After the accident, Frida passed a lot of time in her bed. Her mother provided her with a portable easel and a box of paints.

One of the first portraits that Frida made was of Alicia Galant, one of her friends and neighbors in Coyoacán.

It was in high school when Frida first met Diego Rivera, when he was painting the mural, “The Creation” (1922) in the Simon Bolivar Amphitheater. 

Frida Kahlo became closer to Rivera to show him the paintings that she made during her long convalescent period. Rivera, at the request of the young woman, said that her work showed talent and a sensibility for painting. Then, the two began a relationship that united their lives in marriage in 1929.

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Diego Rivera, 1940
Frida and the cesarean, 1931
Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

On July 4th, 1932, Frida suffered a miscarriage in Detroit, after being under the supervision of her doctors who told her that if she stayed in bed rest, she could carry the pregnancy to term. However, her body could not support the pregnancy, and finally, she was taken to the Henry Ford Hospital, where she finished the miscarriage that began in her home. “Henry Ford Hospital” is the first painting that Frida used a metal sheet as a canvas, in the style of the Mexican altarpieces.

Frida Kahlo's life was strongly characterized by introspection and reflection of her emotions. We know that the physical and emotional pain were constant sources of inspiration and relief for the artist. A notable example of these themes is one of her most famous self-portraits: “The Broken Column ” (1944). In it, Frida is shown standing, half naked, her body open from the neck to the belly, showing through the great wound a classical Ionic column with numerous fractures in the shaft. This creates an ingenious allegory of her greatest tragedy: her own broken spine.

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The Broken Column, 1944

The pain is accentuated by the tears on her face and nails that penetrate the skin, among which a huge nail stands out, buried in the place of the heart.

In 1934, Frida soon discovered the affair between Diego Rivera and her sister Cristina Kahlo. Some consider that the production of the work “ A Few Small Nips” relates to this affair, where you can see her obvious sense of black humor.

A few small nips,1935

Several self-portraits featured Frida accompanied by her favorite animals, which replaced the presence of the children that she did not have. Sometimes it is spider monkeys, parrots or dogs. Such is the case of "Self Portrait with Small Monkey,” where she is portrayed in a three-quarter profile, dressed and coiffed in the way of indigenous people in Southeast Mexico. She is linked to Lord Xolotl, which was what she called her itzcuintli dog. Behind, right, a spider monkey with surprised look, in the background, is a pre-Columbian idol. The ribbon with which they are attached is its signature; the other end is threaded into a nail that pierces clouds before forming the back of the painting.

Self Portrait with Small Monkey, 1945

At the end of her life, the artist’s health declined. In her last 10 years, she wore more than 25 corsets.

Appearances can be deceiving, 1934
Frida Kahlo, 1946

“Viva la Vida” is a particularly important painting, as it was one of the last that Frida painted. Despite the deteriorating health of the artist, the title of the work is a tribute to life.

Viva la vida, 1954
Credits: Exhibit

Carlos Phillips Olmedo — Director general de los Museos Dolores Olmedo, Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli
Hilda Trujillo — Directora de los Museos Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli
Josefina García — Directora de Colecciones y Servicios Educativos del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Adriana Jaramillo — Directora de Comunicación y Relaciones Institucionales del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Patricia Cordero — Coordinadora de Difusión y Contenidos Digitales de los Museos Dolores Olmedo, Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli

Credits: All media
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