The artist arrived at her first solo show in Mexico in an ambulance.
To celebrate the resonance of her work, we offer up seven facts that will change the way you see Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo is known worldwide as one of the most revolutionary self-portrait artists. She had a difficult life but produced some of the finest paintings ever created by a Latin American painter. She remains a feminist icon for the way she led her life. Here are 10 interesting facts about this great Mexican painter.
#1 She wanted her birth to coincide with the beginning of the Mexican Revolution
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico City. The Mexican Revolution began three years after her birth. Frida later gave her birth date as July 7, 1910 so that her life would coincide with the birth of modern Mexico.
#2 She won tequila challenges with hefty men
At the age of six, Frida contracted polio due to which her right leg became thinner than the left. She hid this through her life by wearing long colorful skirts. From a young age Frida challenged the status quo. Apart from playing sports like boxing, she joined a gang and fell in love with its leader. Later, she was known to party till late night and even won tequila challenges with many men.
#3 She became a painter after a near fatal accident
On September 17th 1925 Frida and her friend Alex was riding in a bus when it crashed into a street trolley car. Due to the grave injuries she suffered in the accident, Frida had to undergo 35 operations in her life, bear with relapses of extreme pain and could not have children. During the period of three months after the accident in which she was immobile, Frida made several paintings, mostly self-portraits which she made using the mirror across her bed. This led to Frida abandoning her career in medicine and becoming an artist.
#4 She is known as the master of Self-Portraits
In her career, Frida Kahlo created 143 paintings out of which 55 are self-portraits. Kahlo said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Her self portraits often include interpretations of physical and psychological wounds. Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits are considered among the finest ever created. Her most famous self-portrait is perhaps ‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’.
#5 Frida married the famous painter Diego Rivera
Kahlo admired the work of the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera. She first approached him in 1927. Rivera was impressed with her work and encouraged her which contributed in Frida becoming an artist. Soon their relationship became intimate and they married on August 21, 1929 when he was 42 and she was 22. It was Rivera’s third marriage. People often referred to the couple as “The Elephant and the Dove” due to the difference in their size.
#6 Frida Kahlo was a bisexual
Kahlo’s marriage with Rivera was tumultuous with both having multiple affairs. Frida had affairs with both men and women. Rivera even had an affair with Kahlo’s younger sister Cristina which infuriated Kahlo. They divorced in 1939 but remarried a year later. Although their second marriage was as troubled as the first, Kahlo remained married to Rivera till her death.
#7 She had an affair with the founder of the Red Army
The founder of Red Army, the famous Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky came to Mexico to receive political asylum from the Soviet Union. He first stayed with Rivera and later had an affair with Kahlo. Kahlo created a painting titled ‘Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky’ to commemorate her brief affair.
#8 She became famous a couple of decades after her death
Kahlo died 20 days after her 47th birthday on July 26, 1954. A few days before her death, she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”. Kahlo was moderately successful during her lifetime and it was only several years after her death that her work became widely acclaimed. During her lifetime she was mainly known in Mexico as Rivera’s wife, now she is popular worldwide and Rivera is known as her husband.
#9 Her work ‘Roots’ set the record for a Latin American Piece of Art
Frida Kahlo was a central figure in the Neomexicanismo Art Movement in Mexico which emerged in the 1970s. Her art has been called folk art due to traditional elements and some call it Surrealist though Kahlo herself said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” In May 2006, her self-portrait “Roots” sold for US$5.6 million dollars setting an auction record for a Latin American piece of art.
- Frida Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón. The name Frieda comes from the German word Friede, which means peace. She dropped the e from her name around 1935, and subsequently became known as Frida.
- Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits and 88 are not
She underwent 35 operations as a result of the bus accident she had in her youth
- She frequently included the symbolic monkey. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, but Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols.
- The Louvre bought one of her paintings, The Frame. This was the first work by a 20th century Mexican artist ever purchased by the internationally renowned museum.
- Frida Kahlo’s ‘Roots’ holds the auction record for a Latin American piece of art.
- The 1943 work sold for US$ 5.6 million in 2006.
- Diego was 20 years older than Frida.
- Frida was injured in a bus accident at age 15, she died at age 47.
- Frida lived 4 years in the United States, including time here in San Francisco, CA
1. She had Polio as a child. Kahlo struggled with many types of illnesses throughout her life. When she was six years old, she contracted the virus which consequently left her right leg much thinner than her left. She disguised the bottom half of her body in full long colorful skirts (see examples above).
2. The artist was not able to bear children. Due to a terrible bus accident when she was 18, Kahlo suffered severe injuries, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, 11 fractures to her right leg, and a dislocated shoulder. During the accident, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her ute rus, causing injury that would make it impossible for her to reproduce.
3. She arrived at her first solo exhibition in an ambulance. During the early 1950s, Kahlo was in and out of the hospital, having been diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot. In 1953, still bedridden, the artist arrived at her first solo show in Mexico in an ambulance. Her foot later had to be amputated to prevent spread of the gangrene.
4. Her home (Casa Azul) was turned into a museum after her death The artist was born in the home in 1907 and it had remained in her family throughout her life. Known as Caza Azul, or the Blue House (it’s painted cobalt blue), it was turned into a museum after she died. It now sees over 25,000 visitors monthly. Each of its 10 rooms are organized by theme; one room houses pieces by Kahlo as well as other artists including Paul Klee, Jose Maria Velasco, and Celia Calderon Orozco.
5. Kahlo was bisexual.
Although she was married to artist Diego Rivera, their relationship was tumultuous and they both had extramarital affairs. Kahlo had a well-known tryst with female artist Josephine Baker. Diego Rivera supposedly had an affair with Kahlo’s sister, Cristina.
6. The artist has lived in Mexico City, New York, San Francisco, and Paris.
She followed Rivera to San Francisco and New York City where he traveled for work. In 1939, Kahlo moved to Paris for some time, where she became friends with Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. During her time in Paris, she painted The Two Fridas (1939), one of her most famous self-portraits that depicted two versions of the artist, holding hands, sitting side by side, with both their hearts connected and exposed.
7. Actress Salma Hayek portrayed the artist in a 2002 biopic directed by Julie Taymor.
Salma Hayek played Kahlo in the 2002 Julie Taymor-directed film Frida, a role for which she was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Actress. The film went on to win in the categories of Best Makeup and Best Original Score.
Frida Kahlo was born 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. Frida claimed to have been born in 1910, the year of the outbreak of the Mexican revolution, because she wanted her life to begin together with the modern Mexico.
At age 6, Frida was stricken with polio, which caused her right leg to appear much thinner than the other. It was to remain that way permanently.
In 1922, Frida entered the best educational institution in Mexico, the National Preparatory School. It was there she first encountered Diego Rivera, who had been commissioned to pain a mural in the school’s auditorium.
On September 17, 1925, Frida was involved in a serious bus accident, which left her with a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, and 11 fractures in her right leg. In addition, her right foot was dislocated and crushed, and her shoulder was out of joint. She would undergo approximately 30 operations in her lifetime.
Diego and Frida were married on August 21, 1929. Their marriage has been called the union between an elephant and a dove, because Diego was huge and very fat, and Frida was small and slender.
In 1937, Leon Trotsky was granted political asylum in Mexico, largely due to the efforts of Diego and Frida, and lived with them for the following two years. Frida and Leon had a brief affair, and for his birthday Frida gave him a self-portrait.
In 1946, she received a Mexican government fellowship, and in the same year an official prize on the occasion of the National Annual Exhibition. She also took up teaching at the new experimental art school “La Esmeralda,” and, despite her unconventional methods, proved an inspiration to her students.
All over the world, people loved Frida. When she traveled to France, she was wined and dined by Picasso, and appeared on the cover of French Vogue.
In the spring of 1953 Frida had her first one-person exhibition in Mexico. Frida’s health was very bad at this time, and doctors told her not to attend. Minutes after guests were allowed into the gallery, sirens were heard outside. Frida Kahlo was being carried into her exhibition on a hospital stretcher. The exhibition was an amazing success.
During the same year as her exhibition, Frida had to have her right leg amputated below the knee due to a gangrene infection. This caused her to become deeply depressed and suicidal. She attempted suicide a couple of times. On July 3, 1954, Frida died. Suicide is rumored. The last words in her diary read “I hope exit is joyful and I hope never to come back.”
After her death in 1954, Kahlo was regarded as a marginal figure. Since then, her fame has steadily risen. In 1977, the first of her pictures was sold at an auction fetched $19,000 but by 1995 a self-portrait brought in $3.2 million, the highest sum ever for a painting made south of the border.