The Artist Frida Kahlo

Circumstance and irony would lead a young girl who once suffered from polio to become one of Mexico’s most illustrious artists and famous women. Born in 1907 on the outskirts of Mexico City, Frida Kahlo has frequently been associated with the surrealist movement, but her art is equally a reflection of her homeland. The folk art of Mexico inspired Kahlo’s work and it was her unique style that led to her world-side fame.

As a young girl Frida suffered from a weak leg, an effect of polio. Her slight handicap induced her parents to encourage her to study science and the natural world as she could not participate in many physical activities. Her use of a cameral and early bout with photography would eventually have a profound impact on her later art. Frida was not an art student when she first met Diego Rivera who visited her high school to paint a mural. However, they would later remember an early meeting there.

In 1925 Kahlo was involved in a serious bus accident that would result in lifelong pain and many operations. It was this event and its necessary stays in bed that led Kahlo to take up art. While her initial works reveal an influence of great European artists like Botticelli and Modigliani, her admiration of Rivera and similar nationalist artists as well as her innate passion for folk art would lead her to become one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists.

Early in her development as an artist, Kahlo visited Rivera in his studio. Their mutual admiration led to a tumultuous marriage with a brief interlude caused by infidelity on both sides. Rivera, twenty years her senior, had significant influence on Kahlo’s development, but art historians credit her work as far more personally evocative. Kahlo’s many self-portraits reveal her bouts with physical and emotional pain. Her marriage, miscarriages, and personal events in her life often appeared in work that also reflected her profound preoccupation with Mexican indigenous life.

Kahlo was believed to have many liaisons including one with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Her association with a famous husband and national and foreign revolutionaries has made her a legendary figure of her nation. Yet, Mexico and the world know her best for her works and singular artistic style. Some of her most famous paintings include Frida and Diego Rivera (1931), The Two Fridas (1939), and Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940). These are just three of the more than forty self-portraits that Kahlo painted.

Official records indicate that a pulmonary embolism was the cause of her death in 1954. Because Kahlo was viewed as the wife of a famous artist, she did not obtain critical fame in her own right during her lifetime. In fact, critical acclaim would not find her work until the early eighties when it was rediscovered during Mexico’s Neomexicanismo art movement. Her life was recently depicted in the award-winning film Frida (2002) that starred Salma Hayek. An extraordinary artist, Kahlo’s work can be found in the world’s great museums such as Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Arte, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris.