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FRIDA KAHLO (1907–54) began to paint in 1925 while recovering from a streetcar accident that left her permanently disabled. She underwent more than thirty operations in the course of her life, and many of her approximately two hundred paintings directly relate to her experiences with physical pain. They also chronicle her turbulent relationship with Diego Rivera.

Kahlo met Rivera in 1928 and married him in 1929. She shared his faith in communism and passionate interest in the indigenous cultures of Mexico. Rivera encouraged Kahlo in her work, extolling her as authentic, unspoiled and primitive, and stressing the Indian aspects of her heritage. During this period "Mexicanismo," the fervent embrace of pre-Hispanic Mexican history and culture, gave great currency to the notion of native roots. At the same time, being seen as a primitive provided an avenue for recognition for a few women artists. Kahlo, who had Indian blood on her mother’s side, was of Hungarian-Jewish descent on her father’s. Although initially a self-taught painter, she was, through her relationship with Rivera, soon traveling in the most sophisticated artistic circles. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that anyone who shared Rivera’s life could have remained artistically naive. Presumably because it generated respect and imparted credibility in the art world, Kahlo encouraged the myth of her own primitiveness—in part by adopting traditional Mexican dress—and it stayed with her throughout her career. During her lifetime, Kahlo did not enjoy the same level of recognition as the great artists of Mexican muralism, Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. However, over the last two decades that has changed and today Kahlo’s idiosyncratic, intensely autobiographical work is critically and monetarily as prized as that of her male peers, sometimes more so.

The painting by Kahlo from the Lewin collection is typical of a group of still lifes that she executed toward the end of her life when she was confined to her house, often bedridden. At that time, she painted mostly fruits from her garden or the local market that could be placed on a table by her bed. Kahlo identified herself with nature by personifying these fruits. The small flagpole that jabs the flesh of the green orange in the foreground recalls the arrows, nails, and thorns that pierce her flesh in various self-portraits. The skull-like coconuts feel her pain and weep as she does.

Kahlo and Rivera divorced briefly in 1939, remarrying in 1940, and it was probably during this period that Rivera’s portrait of Kahlo was painted. She appears in several of Rivera’s murals, notably as a communist militant in his Corrido de la revoluciŪn proletaria, repartiendo armas (Ballad of the proletarian revolution, distributing arms) at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City. However, the iconic image that hangs in this exhibition is the only known individual easel painting that Rivera painted of her.

Frida's Biography | Thumbnails | Frida's Diary | Notes