Frida Kahlo: The Life & Art of the Mexican Modernist

Frida Kahlo, the Mexican modernist, who continues to pull viewers through her deeply personal artworks and tough life. Snoop inside to know more.

Frida Kahlo

The cognoscente of Mexican cuisine represents the culture and history of Mexicans. Succeeding the heritage of Mexico, when I read about great movements like Chicano or Mexicayotl, it fills my blood with great energy, fast filling oxygen circulation in my veins. With this fact in mind, today, I am introducing you to one such artist who represents the rich culture of Mexico through her artworks. Her vivid innovation with figures can make you think even more than the bottomless ocean crust. She is a personality who has a powerful imagination, which through her artwork, has shown those things that we can’t even imagine. Like an angel in her virtual world, she can cross all the boundaries of love and return to the same place. Can you guess her name from your favourite artists that belonged to Mexico? If you don’t, let me introduce you to her. Our inspiration and a great artist of feminist art, Frida Kahlo!

Frida not only revolutionized the naive folk art of Mexico but also disseminated her legacy around the world. As a self-portraitist, she uses Mexican artworks and nature for inspiring her works centred on terror, pain, and suffering. You might be surprised that out of her 200 artworks, 55 are her self-portraits. When described by critics, her painting style often carries the naive folk art described as a surrealist or magical realist. However, she always conveyed it as the reality of her life. Frida Kahlo had many sufferings due to her physical disabilities, but her artwork was so intense that even Picasso could not resist appreciating it. Before we move on to her famous paintings, let us go back to her life through her childhood days, reading Frida Kahlo’s biography.

Artist Abstract: Frida Kahlo.

One of the significant twentieth-century artists, Frida Kahlo, had a reputation among feminist histories as almost iconic through her professional paintings, which included symbols of physical pain, humiliation and fortification, and have struck a particular chord in the heterodox advocates of the late-twentieth century. The painting career of Frida started after a major accident at eighteen, which drastically changed her life too, giving her endless pain and suffering physically. In 1929, she became the wife of Diego Rivera, who became her loved one husband till her end, despite numerous turbulences in their married life.

ArtistMagdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón
Birth6 July, 1907
Death13 July, 1954
PeriodModern Art, Cubism, and Symbolism
MediumOil painting
StyleMagical Realism, Modern Art
GenreMajorly Self-Portraits
Famous PaintingsThe Two Fridas, Broken Column, The Wounded Deer

About the Artist’s Life and Career.

Introductory Passage.

The life history of Frida Kahlo begins and ends in the same place. It is none other but a one-storey old residential structure which looked just like the other homes of the place, situated on the corner of the streets of Londres and Allende in Coyoacan city on the southwestern periphery of Mexico. The blue-bright coloured walls with the periphery of the green trees give the first impression of the Casa Azul, the residence and museum of Frida.

Frida Kahlo painting Portrait of My Father in her Studio at Casa Azul
Frida Kahlo painting Portrait of My Father in her Studio | Source: The Gisèle Freund Photographs, published by Abrams

Born on 6 July 1907 in the Blue House, she was the daughter of Guillermo Kahlo, a successful photographer commissioned by the Mexican government to record the nation’s architectural heritage and Matilde Calderon. Frida described her father as,

“was very interesting, and he moved elegantly when he walked.”

Whereas, she detailed her mother in her own words,

“When she went to market, she gracefully cinched her waist and carried her basket coquettishly.”

In 1936, Frida painted a whimsical painting, My Grandparents, My Parents and I. Presenting herself as a small girl standing naked, she holds a crimson red ribbon which denotes her bloodlines. And her portraits of her father and mother were from the photo album in which the couple floats in the sky like an angel. She used to describe herself as,

“I have my father’s eye and my mother’s body.”

My Grandparents, My Parents and I Frida Kahlo
My Grandparents, My Parents and I by Frida Kahlo | Source: Via MoMA, Copyrighted by Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums
Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Childhood.

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Y Calderon was the full name of Frida Kahlo, where her third name was the one her family used, representing peace in German, and her first two names were her Christian name by which she could be baptised. She was the third daughter of Guillermo and Matilde Kahlo. Shortly after her birth, her mother became ill, and as she was an infant, she was suckled by an Indian wet nurse. She once told her friend,

“I was nursed by a nana whose breasts they washed every time I was going to suckle.”

Because of the deteriorating health of Matilde, Frida and her younger sister, Cristina, were largely taken care of by her half-sister, Maria Luisa and Margarita. After three years of her birth, the Mexican revolution broke out, which she described as,

“a ‘tragic ten days’. I witnessed with my own eyes Zapata’s peasants’ battle against the Carrancistas. My situation was very clear. My mother opened the windows on Allende Street. She gave access to the Zaptisitas, seeing to it that the wounded and hungry jumped from the windows of my house into the living room. She cured them and gave them thick tortillas, the only food that could be obtained in Coyoacan in those days… We were four sisters: Matita, Adri, me and Cristi…”

However, during this revolution, her father suffered financially. At one instance, she said that Matilde mortgaged the house, sold the French living room furniture and even took paying guests as he had no head of money and was often unable to buy photographic supplies. However, her childhood was full of Mexican upbringings and graces as part of her mother’s teachings. Frida did learn to sew, embroider, cook and clean at an early age. However, her mother was hysterical about religion which made them pray before meals. During her school days, Frida went along with Cristina and was quite devilish. Frida noted one of her memory from the school,

“The teacher was old-fashioned, with false hair and the strangest dresses. My first memory is of his teacher. She was standing in front of the dark classroom holding in one hand a candle and in the other an orange and explaining how the universe worked, the sun, the earth and the moon. It made such an impression on me that I urinated. They took off my wet pants and put on the pants of a girl who lived across the street from my house. Because of this, I took such a dislike to the girl that one day, I brought her near my house, and I began to strangle her. Her tongue was already out of her mouth when a baker passed by and freed her from my hands.

Undoubtedly she exaggerated, but she said that after an incident, she completely changed herself an introvert, having an adventure with an imaginary friend. But rebuffs did not change her completely, as she used to even tease her father, calling him Herr Kahlo. For her mother, she was ambivalent, showing her love as well as scorn. When Frida was small, she had a chubby face with a dimple in her chin and a mischievous glint in her eye.

Childhood photo of Frida Kahlo by Guillermo Kahlo
Childhood photograph of Frida Kahlo at age 4, Captured by Guillermo Kahlo | Source: Copyrighted by Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera Archives. Bank of Mexico, Fiduciary in the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museum Trust

When she was six, she was stricken with polio, which caused her to spend around nine months in her room. She wrote in her diary,

“It all began with a horrible pain in my right leg from the muscle downward, they washed my little leg in a small tub with walnut water and small hot towels.”

When she started walking again, her doctor recommended a program of physical exercise to strengthen her right limb again. Guillermo made sure that she joined each sport for better health. She would box, wrestle and become a champion swimmer, but nothing made her thin leg look in a good position again.

Frida Kahlo Childhood Photos by Guillermo Kahlo
Frida Kahlo’s Childhood Photo (at age 6), Captured by Guillermo Kahlo | Source: Copyrighted by Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera Archives. Bank of Mexico, Fiduciary in the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museum Trust

Many of her friends would call her: ‘Frida, Pata de Palo,’ which means Frida, peg leg. But some assured her with a pat of appreciation as even her deformity didn’t let her keep away from excelling in physical activities. 

At the time, when she was supposed to make friends, she was forced to stay at home, and slowly the polio incident caused her to be an introvert. In her family pictures, she stood apart from her family gatherings, so in paintings where she displayed herself as a child, she portrayed herself as alone. One of the paintings where she showed herself as a solitary child is Four Inhabitants of Mexico from 1938. It is a forbidden image of a child confronting the emblems of her cultural heritage.

Four Inhabitants of Mexico by Frida Kahlo
Four Inhabitants of Mexico by Frida Kahlo | Source: Arthur

Despite her loneliness, she was connected to her father. Guillermo was solemn, courteous and a little intimate with his children, but he was attentive towards his favourite, Frida. He would help Frida to discover her intellectual adventurousness by teaching her about manifestations of nature, archaeology, art and even how to use a camera to develop and retouch colour photographs. Frida once said that her paintings were more about the photographs that her father did for calendar illustrations, only instead of painting outer reality, she painted about her inside. The reason why Guillermo was more drawn towards Frida was because of the boundness of sharing experiences of illness and loneliness. When Frida was younger, his father’s attacks frequently occurred at night, and she would wonder what happened to him at night, and in the morning, she was perplexed, finding her father acting perfectly normal. In one of her paintings from her later life of 1952 (Source: Hayden Herrera, the biographer), two years before she died, she painted his portrait (eleven years after he died) and wrote,

“I painted my father, Wilhelm Kahlo of Hungarian-German origin, artist-photographer by profession, in character generous, intelligent and fine, valiant because he suffered for sixty years with epilepsy, but he never stopped working, and he fought against Hitler, with adoration. His daughter Frida Kahlo.”

My Father, 1952 by Frida Kahlo
My Father, 1952 by Frida Kahlo | Source: National Museum of Women in the Arts

If you are wondering why he mentioned her father as Wilhelm, it’s a long story of his life. In brief, Wilhelm’s mother died when he was young, and as his father married another one, his stepmother was not good enough. So his father gave him a few bucks to shift the town, and he never returned back, changing his name from Wilhelm to Guillermo. 

Frida was admitted to the National Preparatory School, in 1922, which was in the heart of Mexico City, away from the gentle and slow village of Coyoacan city. During this time, she was fourteen and wore thick black hair with bangs cut straight across her forehead, sensuous lips, a dimple in her cheek and a naughty look enhanced by her shining dark eyes and heavy connecting eyebrows. Due to her unconventional garb and her boy’s haircut, a group of boys would exclaim to her saying: ‘Que nine tan fea!‘ (What an ugly girl!) But her friends found her fascinating. As per her biographer, {Page 35}

“Many recalled her carrying a schoolboy’s knapsack amounting to a little world on her back: texts, notebooks, drawings, butterflies and dried flowers, colours, and books printed in a gothic script from the library of her father.”

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

Frida was engaged in sports, politics, journalism, literature, art and philosophy during her time in school.

Accident, The Broken Column and Aftermaths.

There was something about this accident that would make a person separated by years wince in horror. Now, before I let you learn about its details, I wish to tell you about the happenings in Mexico City. Now, accidents were common enough in those days of Mexico as the buses were new to the city, and because of their novelty, they were jammed with people while trolley cars went empty. 

Coming to the accident, in the later afternoon of the 17 September 1925, the day after Mexico celebrated the anniversary of its independence from Spain, Frida and her boyfriend, Alejandro seated together in the back of the bus. And after a few moments, the bus turned onto Calzada de Tlalpan, and a trolley from Xochimilco approached, which let a huge crash. Frida remembered, 

“A little while we got on the bus, the collision began. Before that, we had taken another bus, but since I had lost a little parasol, we got off to look for it and that was how we happened to get on the bus that destroyed me. The accident took place on a corner in front of the San Juan market, exactly, in front. The streetcar went slowly, but our bus driver was a very nervous young man. When the trolley car went around the corner the bus was pushed against the wall. 

I was an intelligent young girl, but impractical, despite all the freedom I had won. Perhaps for this reason, I did not assess the situation nor did I guess the kind of wounds I had. The first thing I thought of was a bolero with pretty colours that I had brought that day and that I was carrying with me. I tried to look for it, thinking that what had happened would not have major consequences.

It is a lie that one is aware of the crash, a lie that one cries. In me, there were no tears. The crash bounced us forward, and a handrail pierced me the way a sword pierces a bull. A man saw me having a tremendous haemorrhage. He carried me and put me on a billiard table until the red cross came for me.”

Frida Kahlo painting The Bus
The Bus, 1929 by Frida Kahlo | Source: Milton Sonn / Flickr

And Alejandro Gomes Arias further described it,

“I remained under the train. Not Frida. But among the iron rods of the train, the handrail broke and went through Frida from one side to the other at the level of the pelvis. When I was able to stand up, I got out from under the train. I had no lesions, only contusions. Naturally, the first thing that I did was to look for Frida.

Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone in the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her, they cried, ‘La bailarina, la bailarina!‘ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer.”

The accident resulted in serious injuries, causing her spinal column to break in three places in the lumbar region, her collarbone broken and her third and fourth ribs. Her right leg had eleven fractures, and her right foot was dislocated and crushed. Her left shoulder was out of joint, and the pelvis broke in three places. And the handrail skewed her body at the level of the abdomen, entering on the left side, and coming through the vagina.

All the doctors who treated her, friends, and Alejandro did not think she would live and walk again. Hearing about the accident, her family lost all hope and was still in shock. They were not able to meet her for as long as thirty days. Only her younger sister, Matilde, helped her and uplifted her mood. During this period, she exchanged numerous letters to Alejandro, depicting her pain and the false hopes of her better health.

During this time, she made her first Self-Portrait as a gift for Alejandro, as it was a token by which she hoped to bind her loved one to her.

After 1925, Frida had a gruelling battle against the slow decay of her life, with constant pain in her spine and right leg. A bone surgeon discovered that three vertebrae of Frida were out of place, so she had to wear various plaster corsets to keep her immobilized for months and special apparatus on her right foot. After the hospital checked the condition of her spine, she returned home. Frida said,

“No one paid any attention to me; what’s more, they did not take X-rays.”

Though this period acknowledged her painful journey but had started her painting career. The first subjects of Frida included portraits of friends, her family, and herself. All of them were characterised by darker, gloomy tones with amateurish drawings and awkward handling of space, corresponding to no logic. 

During this period, Alejandro left for Europe in March as he travelled and studied German. Alejandro’s family sent him abroad to cool off his close relationship with her, but he was deeply tied to his novia and continued to care for her all her life.

Frida never painted her accident during this time, however, she gave a detailed sketch of her sufferings in letters to Alejandro. The girl whose ambition was to study medicine turned to painting as a form of psychological surgery. Frida said,

“I paint myself because I am so often alone… Because I am the subject, I know best.”

Frida Kahlo Accident Sketch or Drawing
Sketch of the Accident drawn by Frida Kahlo | Source: Google Arts and Culture

Marriage With Diego Rivera.

After a few months, Alejandro returned from Europe and in 1927, Frida started living a normal life. Yet, she did not resume her studies as her leg hurt, and she wanted to paint. So, Frida rejoined her old school companions from the Preparatoria. During this time, amidst the popular revolutions, Alejandro was elected as the president of the National Student Confederation in January 1929, also called the battle’s undisputed leader. As he was away from Frida, she deepened her friendship with another student leader, German de Campo, a young and handsome man with a fun-loving spirit. And soon, she joined a group of friends surrounding the exiled Cuban Communist revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella. As she met with numerous artists and a bohemian world of communists, her affair with Alejandro ended in June 1928, as he fell in love with her friend Esperanza Ordonez. And after three months, after she joined the Communist party, she met Diego Rivera, the Frog Prince, which let her forget about Alejandro completely.

Diego Rivera painting in his studio
Diego Rivera painting in his studio | Source: Google Arts and Culture

Diego was forty-one years old when Frida knew him and was the famous Mexican artist, who covered more walls with his art than any muralist.

“I am not merely an artist, but a man performing his biological function of producing paintings, just as a tree produced flowers and fruits,”

Diego said. When Frida met him in 1928, he was on the loose as he had gone to Russia in September 1927 as a member of the Mexican delegation of workers and peasants and further to paint a fresco in the Red Army club. By this time, his marriage with Lupe Marín disintegrated as it had been a tumultuous one. He had numerous affairs with women this time. While he had an ugly appeal, he had a natural ease of attracting and luring women. Some women were drawn to him because he was both tender and highly sensuous, but most importantly because he was famous. As Frida met with him at a party hosted by her friend Tina, she remembered,

“As soon as they gave me permission to walk and to go out in the street, I went, carrying my paintings, to see Diego Rivera who at that time was painting the frescoes in the corridors of the Ministry of Education. I did not know him except by sight, but I admired him enormously. I was bold enough to call him so that he would come down from the scaffolding to see my paintings and to tell me sincerely whether or not they were worth anything… Without more ado, I said: ‘Diego, come down.’ And just the way he is, so humble, so amiable, he came down. ‘Look, I have not come to flirt or anything even if you are a woman-chaser. I have come to show you my painting. If you are interested in it, tell me so, if not, likewise, so that I will go to work at something else to help my parents.’ Then he said to me: ‘Look, in the first place, I am very interested in your painting, above all in this portrait of you, which is the most original. The other three seem to me to be influenced by what you have seen. Go home, paint a painting, and next Sunday, I will come and see it and tell you what I think.’ This he did, and he said: ‘You have talent.’”

After their meeting, Frida and Diego’s courtship proceeded apace, and Rivera visited Frida in Coyoacan on Sunday afternoons, and she spent more time beside him on a scaffold. The odd mixture of freshness and unmasked sexuality of Frida tempted Diego, and her mischiefs appealed to him. The conventional mind of Frida never let Diego be bored forever. Both talked about dialectical materialism and social realism, which sensed a spark in their conversations and relationship. During the courtship, Frida began to paint with new confidence, and Diego adored her as the world’s greatest painter. Wisely, Rivera refrained from teaching Frida as he did not want to spoil her inborn talent, but Frida always took her as a mentor. In an interview in 1950 journalism, she said,

“Diego showed me the revolutionary sense of life and the true sense of colour.”

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by the mural The Nightmare of War, Dream of Peace
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by the Mural ‘The Nightmare of War, Dream of Peace’ | Source: Thockmorton Fine Art, Juan Guzmán

In endless time, she painted, however, amaturely. And after a few months, they were engaged. Jesus Rios y Valles gave a response,

“Marry him because you will be the wife of Diego Rivera, who is a genius.”

One of the school friends of Frida said,

“By the time she became involved with Rivera. Her relationship with Alejandro was diluted. She was attracted to Diego’s fame. Where Alejandro would cover Frida in flowers, Diego would have grabbed her and kissed her.”

Now her father accepted the proposal as he was enough prospect to pay Frida’s medical expenses as Guillermo was unstable financially. Also, her sisters were married then, and Frida’s accident dashed their hopes that she would even have a professional career. However, her mother did not want to accept him as Diego was a communist and non-believer. Nonetheless, the wedding took place on August 21, 1929. On this Frida, said, 

“At seventeen (twenty) I fell in love with Diego, and my parents did not like this because Diego was a Communist and because they said that he looked like a fat, fat, fat Brueghel. They said that it was like a marriage between an elephant and a dove. 

Nevertheless, I arranged everything in the court of Coyoacan so that we could be married on the 21st of August, 1929. I asked the maid for skirts, and the blouse and rebozo were borrowed from the maid. I arranged my foot with apparatus so that it couldn’t be noticed and we got married.

No one went to the wedding, only my father, who said to Diego, ‘Notice that my daughter is a sick person and all her life will be sick; she is intelligent, but not pretty. Think it over if you want, and if you wish to get married, I give you my permission’”

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Photograph
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Photograph | Source: Photograph Study Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Career After Marriage With Frog Prince.

She developed a stronger sense of Mexican identity in her artworks in the early 1930s as a result of her exposure to the modernist indigenous movement in Mexico and her desire to preserve Mexicanidad during the rise of fascism in Europe. This facet of her art stemmed from her interest in preserving the revival of Mexicanidad in the wake of fascism.

At the beginning of her marriage, in the first months, she did not paint. Often she takes mid-day meals to Diego in a basket decorated with flowers covered with embroidered napkins.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at Lunch in Coyoacan, 1941
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at Lunch in Coyoacan, 1941, Photograph | Source: Photographed by Emmy Lou Packard

The marriage of Diego and Frida for an initial time was good as they went to various museums and a succession of parties and receptions. Rivera did enjoy his nights of the rich. However, Frida wrote down her impressions of New York City in another letter to Dr Eloesser; 

“High society here turns me off, and I feel a bit of rage against all these rich guys here since I have seen thousands of people in the most terrible misery without anything to eat and with no place to sleep, that is what has most impressed me here, it is terrifying to see the rich having parties day and night while thousands and thousands of people are dying of hunger.

Although I am very interested in all the industrial and mechanical development of the United States, I find that Americans completely lack sensibility and good taste.

They live as if in an enormous chicken coop that is dirty and uncomfortable. The houses look like bread ovens, and all the comfort that they talk about is a myth. I don’t know if I am mistaken, but I’m only telling you what I feel.”

In Detroit, the heart of American industry, Rivera was offered to paint murals on the theme of modern industry. And the head of the Detroit Arts Commission was the president of the Ford Motor Company, who agreed to pay ten thousand dollars for the large murals celebrating the Detroit industry. And in April 1932, Diego and Frida shifted to Detroit. After a few days, due to the poor health and abortion of Frida, she was operated on in Henry Ford Hospital, letting her paint the famous, Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed). Urging to have a child, Frida was now forbidden to conceive. So she started keeping dolls in her Blue House and various pets like dogs, monkeys, cats, parrots and doves, where Frida had equal and warm attention. 

Henry Ford Hospital painting by Frida Kahlo
Henry Ford Hospital by Frida Kahlo | Source:

However, the shock of the miscarriage and the realization that she would never bear children made her die. Yet she grasped a firm grip on her life. It was in August, that Frida painted a large number of paintings, including Showcase in Detroit, and Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States.

Windows Display in a Street in Detroit by Frida Kahlo
Windows Display in a Street in Detroit (Showcase in Detroit) by Frida Kahlo | Source:
Self Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States Frida Kahlo
Self Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States by Frida Kahlo | Source: Google Arts and Culture

Divorce and Starling Career.

Just after the unveiling of the large and controversial mural of Rivera, the couple returned to Mexico after the operation and struggle; she was homesick. So, they moved to a wealthy neighbourhood of San Angel, but this time the wistful relationship between Frida and Rivera brought another kind of challenge. As Rivera started to have an affair with Frida’s younger sister, Cristina, which let Frida hurt more than any of the other infidelities of Diego. And in less time, Frida started to have her extramarital-affair with a Hungarian photographer, Nickolas Muray, the man capturing Frida in the most colourful manner on camera. The two began an on-and-off romantic affair, which lasted around ten years. As Cristina and Diego had a short affair; it was followed by a divorce. Frida lived in her flat in San Angel, where she had a short affair, with the Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

Frida Kahlo with her sister Cristina
Frida Kahlo with her sister Cristina | Source: Photographed by Nickolas Muray
Frida Kahlo and Nickolas Muray Photograph
Frida Kahlo and Nickolas Muray, Photograph | Source: Nickolas Muray
Japanese Sculptor Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguch, ‘Paphnutius’, 1924, Photograph | Source: The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / ARS

The Casa Azul became a meeting place for intellectuals, artists, and activists from all over the world when Kahlo joined the Fourth International (a Communist organization) in 1936. After Leon Trotsky received asylum in Mexico, she offered the house to his wife, Natalia Sedova, so they could live there. The political icon and Kahlo embarked on a short love affair in 1937, along with helping Trotsky. La Casa Azul was the home of Trotsky and his wife until mid-1939.

As a result of his encounter with Kahlo in Mexico City in 1938, André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, wrote Julien Levy, who promptly invited Kahlo to hold her first solo exhibition at his gallery in New York. She traveled to the United States without Rivera this time, and upon arrival caused a sensation in the media. She received a lot of attention for her colourful and exotic (but traditional) Mexican costumes. The opening of Kahlo’s museum was attended by Georgia O’Keeffe. Having enjoyed some months of socializing in New York, Kahlo sailed to Paris in early 1939 to exhibit with the Surrealists. The Surrealist group’s over-intellectualism quickly wore thin on her after that exhibition. During this time, she made several paintings, like The Two Fridas, which got the attention of many, letting her career grow marvellously.

Invitation to the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York
Invitation to the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York | Source: Google Arts and Culture

Later Years and Death.

In the aftermath of her divorce, Kahlo moved back to La Casa Azul. As she progressed, she began creating larger canvases instead of smaller ones. With Kahlo’s deteriorating health, the couple remarried in 1940, easing up their turbulent relationship. Aside from having a syphilis infection and an infectious skin condition, the suffering artist often wore corsets to support her back during the 1940s and 1956. Both her depression and her health were exacerbated when her father died in 1941. In La Casa Azul, she was often housebound and enjoyed being surrounded by animals and tending to the garden.

Frida Kahlo in the Garden of Casa Azul with her Pet, 1948
Frida Kahlo in the Garden of Casa Azul with her Pet, 1948, Photograph | Source: Gisèle Freund / Via Sotheby’s

Through the 1940s, Kahlo’s work grew in popularity and acclaim among international collectors, and she participated in several group exhibitions both in the United States and in Mexico. The Art of This Century Gallery in New York featured her work in 1943 under the title Women Artists. In the same year, Kahlo took a teaching position at La Esmeralda, a painting school in Mexico City, where she apprenticed with some highly committed students. In 1947, the Museo de Arte Moderno bought her painting The Two Fridas which had been sold to the Museo de Arte Moderno for a national prize for her painting Moses (1945). As time went on, the artist became increasingly ill. In 1950, she had a complicated operation to straighten her spine, but it failed, and she became increasingly dependent on a wheelchair.

Moses Frida Kahlo painting
Moses, 1945 by Frida Kahlo | Source: Artchive

In her final years, she continued to paint prolifically and protest nuclear testing by Western powers while also maintaining her political activism. Kahlo exhibited one last time in Mexico in 1953. It was her first and only solo exhibition in Mexico. The ambulance carrying her and a truck hauling her four-poster bed arrived at the event. During the opening, the bed was placed in the centre of the gallery so that she could lie there for the duration.

Frida Kahlo Last Exhibition 1953
Frida Kahlo attending her Last Exhibition, 1953, Photograph | Source: Maura McGurk

After Life.

Her diary notes include the following words a few days before her death-

“I joyfully await the exit – and I hope never to return – Frida.”

Despite the substantial and rough patches of life she witnessed, she always painted and made her profession her passion and love. Returning to her artworks, let us discuss Frida Kahlo’s famous paintings that you would love to read. We discussed a bit of history of the Frida Kahlo so that you could relate to her paintings.

Briefly Analysing Twelve of the Famous Frida Kahlo Paintings.

1. The Two Fridas.

Frida Kahlo painted this oil painting in 1939, the same year she divorced her husband, although they remarried after a year, as I previously mentioned. The artwork resembles the mirroring effect with both Fridas sitting in different attires, holding hands. Look at the first Frida, wearing a white Victorian costume with her heart damaged and her veins surpassing the other Frida’s heart and one cut from the scissor. Blood is dripping from the scissor-cut vein onto the dress with those tiny red flowers. 

The other Frida, modelling a blue and green dress with a yellow style, have a healthy heart, and her left hand has a small picture of Rivera. The stormy background reflects a dark time. This painting is not just an artwork but a representation of the anguish; she had in all those years of life during medical emergencies. Also, some critics say that the first Frida represents the time when she was in a relationship with Rivera, and her sentiments were deeply hurt by his affair with her younger sister Christina, whereas the other Frida represents the after-divorce version of her. 

This is one of Frida Kahlo’s famous paintings that gives an idea of different shades of colours with a three-dimensional view. The use of bright colours with face features as brows connected and little use of blush throughout the cheeks is noteworthy. The sitting posture is relaxed, another mention or takeaway from this painting. The vein is the conventional connection between the two Frida’s that says that despite all the odd differences, her unity with herself is impeccable. One can also notice the cultural representation of Mexico through her dress and the chronic hardship of her life during Rivera’s multiple affairs (you can read the complete analysis in one of my recent reads on The Two Fridas).

Frida Kahlo The Two Fridas
The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo | Source: Peter / Flickr

2. The Broken Column.

The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo represents the barren loneliness, pain, trauma, and suffering, which was her primary theme. One can see that the dark blue colour of the sky contrasts with the earthquake & barren land, which amplifies the loneliness of companionship in her life. Frida has painted herself in a white long dress with a naked torso where her chest is visible. The tear-dropped eyes witness her miserable condition during the spinal surgery. Her face is pale, with sharp features and hair open. She is holding the lower cloth while covering the lower segment of the body. The iron column running inside her flesh skin coming up to her neck is witnessing the ongoing pain and trauma she had in her chronic illness. Furthermore, she covers her skin with iron nails corresponding to Saint Sebastian, running on her right leg, a sign of polio in her right leg. 

She has widely used religious symbols like the crucifixion of Christ, and the lower white cloth, which may be because of her upbringing with her mom. Additionally, her face and even the background witness the lifelong and year-long pain she have gone through that nobody can ever imagine. It also intensifies the feeling of living in even the harshest and most painful time. The nails also exhibit pain, which she had in her whole body while she continued to work and live.

The Broken Column Frida Kahlo
The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo | Source: Reed Enger, “Educational Fair Use,” in Obelisk Art History

3. Frieda and Diego Rivera.

Frida Khalo painted the artwork with oil colours just after two years of her marriage with Rivera. She is wearing a long green dress with a bead necklace and a red shawl, with a blush on her face. Her hair band and earrings are also part of her beautiful attire, representing the Mexican culture. Rivera wears a grey suit and a blue shirt, with an enormous brown belt. The face of Frida tilts to his side, and he holds her hand but with a loose grip that senses his womanizer’s attitude because he was in an affair with a woman at that time. Frida has always portrayed her own life with her art, and this artwork shows her marriage relations. 

The peace-loving pigeon carrying a note is again her style, including symbolism in her paintings.

The note says, 

“Here you see us, me Frieda Kahlo, with my dearest husband Diego Rivera. I painted these pictures in the delightful city of San Francisco California for our companion Mr Albert Bender, and it was in April of the year 1931.”

She witnesses in her paintings that Rivera can never be anyone’s husband because of his multiple affairs, albeit he is a great companion. Her marriage delicacies were undoubtedly the turning point of her life. The reason it comes in the list of Frida Kahlo’s famous paintings is because of her innate feeling and love for her husband. 

Frieda and Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo paintings
Frieda and Diego Rivera by Frida Kahlo | Source:

4. Memory, the Heart.

When Deigo was in an affair with Frida’s sister Christina, it deeply broke her heart, and after her divorce, she painted Memory, the Heart in 1937. The artwork represents her anguish, pain, and heartbreak over time. She is standing with an expressionless face but with tears dropped on her blushed cheeks. She is near a sea with one foot on the beach, which represents the violent time of her married life. The darker clouds in the background also agitate her stormy emotional turbulences, which she is surfing on. She is wearing a European dress with a rod of cupid passing through a hole where her heart must reside. Her heart enlarges on the ground with the bloodstream flowing in the foreground which also witnesses her extreme pain. Maybe she wanted to sail from a boat leaving behind all these miseries and harrowing memories. Furthermore, there is a school dress hanging and a Mexican attire with one arm. It may be telling us about the gap in her life from childhood to her adolescence when she lives in Mexico. The red thread connects the school dress, Mexican attire, and herself, where her arm hangs with that of the Mexican dress. It might indicate to us that only the culture of Mexico and her life in Mexico inspires her and makes her happy in those tough times.

 The juxtaposition of good and bad times in her life portrayed by the artist is terribly painful to us.

Memory the Heart Frida Kahlo art
Memory, the Heart by Frida Kahlo | Source:

5. The Frame.

The Frame is the self-portrait of Frida Kahlo, which she has filled with bright and beautiful colours. On the boundary, she has made butterflies and flowers that are engrossing. In the centre, she portrayed herself with her hair tied in a braided-bun style with a yellow flower that caught our sight. Her hair above her upper lip represents her true feminine character, inspiring us to respect our bodies as we are. Due to her bisexual character and her inspirational paintings, making us realize that everyone has beauty inside them, she is an LGBTQ icon today. The artwork is alluring due to the bright colour usage and the simple bodily beauty concept.

The Frame Frida Kahlo
The Frame by Frida Kahlo | Source: Google Arts and Culture

6. The Suicide of Dorothy Hale.

Dorothy Hale is an American and Ziegfeld showgirl; who took her life on 21 October 1938 by jumping off from the top window of a luxury apartment in New York, wearing her favourite black dress with a corsage of yellow roses. She did so because her husband died, following her few failed relationships and career, due to which she had financial hardships. Clare, one of her close friends, hired Frida Kahlo for her portrait painting as a gift to her mother. She assumed it was to be an ordinary portrait of her that serves as a remembrance, but when Frida Kahlo painted this artwork, everyone was shocked. 

It was one of the most controversial paintings of all time. 

The artwork is among Frida Kahlo’s famous paintings list. It has a lavish luxury apartment with a brownish v-covering. Dorothy is painted in three forms- on her balcony, falling between the hazy clouds, and finally on the ground with blood flowing and eyes open. The artwork shows the pain of someone or a woman who has lost all hope and figured out the end plan as suicide. Maybe hundreds of women face the identical condition of failed relationships and despair by male desertion; the painting is indirectly about their mindset. It is not to provoke anyone to take their life but a remark of the end of everything for those who suffer in failed relationships.

The Suicide of Dorothy Hale Frida Kahlo painting
The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, Painting by Frida Kahlo | Source: gre99qd / Flickr

7. What the Water Gave Me.

While Frida Kahlo painted this masterpiece, she was having a tenuous relationship with her husband, and they were frequently bickering, and having extramarital affairs. Her artwork consists of numerous instances when she felt different emotions. Her pain for the failed marriage is reflected in the man lounging on the beach, carelessly choking a naked woman, and Frida sees it all from a string at a distance. The man is none other than her husband. 

There is one other painting, “Two Nudes in a Forest,” by Frida Kahlo that showcases the same.

After living in Mexico City for four years and previously in the United States, the couple moved to Mexico in 1938. Even after the couple moved to Mexico, Rivera’s popularity as a mural painter made them visit America frequently. In contrast, Kahlo was a staunch Communist and disliked American consumerism. It is conspicuous in the painting that her pain at being deported to America by Rivera is shown by the way the man and woman in the painting pull, choke and rush towards the island with the Empire State Buildings.

A series of surgeries and her serious accident made her incapable of being pregnant. Her life was full of pain and extreme stress that she showed here by the flowing blood and her left foot being disfigured. Further, the patriarchial society placed another trauma on her head for not conceiving and being incapable of having a child. 

The painting is nothing but a representation of her all past and present memories that it had. The water reflected her with all those heartbreaking memories and pain she suffered.

What the Water Gave Me Painting by Frida Kahlo
What the Water Gave Me by Frida Kahlo | Source:

8. Two Nudes in a Forest.

The oil painting was a gift to Frida Kahlo’s girlfriend and Mexican movie star Dolores del Rio. Frida Kahlo has never hidden her bisexual character, even with her husband, so she always painted those. In this artwork, the two naked women- one with brown skin and the other with white skin, are painted in an intimate posture. The white-skinned one is resting on the lap of the other one with a side profile. The stormy dark clouds represent the gloomy time, which they overcome with each other’s affection. The monkey is evil here, maybe society continues to knock on other lives. The entangled branches of the tree represent the complications one has in their life. The painting is also a part of “What The Water Gave Me.”

The faces are gentle and compassionate with an intentionally violent background that is idyllic. The nude art contemplates the purity of love and a confrontation between a dream and reality.

Two Nudes in a Forest Frida Kahlo art
Two Nudes in a Forest by Frida Kahlo | Source:

9. Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.

Here, in this painting, Frida Kahlo self interestingly portrayed herself by facing us with the background of leaves and dragonflies. Her neck adorns the necklace of thorns, where it suffers pain and bleeds from places. These represent the hardships in her life and the medical pain she always carried in herself with an expressionless face. It looks like she was in the habit of tolerating that pain in herself with enormous patience. The black monkey and the black cat with viscous-blue eyes are evil and a sign of death. Usually, a hummingbird is a sign of positivity and life, but here it is lifeless and black, entangled in her wings in that thorn necklace. Maybe Frida portrayed herself in her form with the burdens of the society of not bearing a child, the patriarchial difficulties, and her failed marriage. 

The artwork fills itself with different colours where her hair is tied in braid-bun style, giving a nest or home to butterflies. The composition reflects her patience and endurance, which she had in all her physical, emotional, and mental trauma. Her sharp facial features with deep anguish and agony in her eyes are also noteworthy. 

Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird Frida Kahlo art
Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo | Source: Lluís Ribes Mateu / Flickr

10. The Wounded Table.

The oil painting by Frida Kahlo represents her central theme of terror, pain, and suffering. Kahlo painted this artwork when she divorced her husband Rivera, and despair, loneliness, and anguish surrounded her. It typically represented death and her love for her identity to be Mexican. There are typically seven figures in the composition on a wooden table. Frida is in the centre, with her right side painted with a Judas figure and the children of sister Christina and on her left side, a Nayarit figure and a Skeleton are visible, with a deer at the end on the table. 

Coming on her symbolic significance, which she opted for this surrealistic painting, let us look at each one closely.

Frida Kahlo is sitting in her long dress, her hair curled to the hand of a skeleton, and her right hand in the form of a terracotta Nayarit figure, sitting next to her. Her neck is slit, and blood is dripping. These Nayarit figures are in grave form and a part of Mexican culture. Frida feeds her blood to this figure which represents her sacrifice to Mexicanidad.

The skeleton has a vertical iron column in it. It says about the pain during her accident and is also a sign of death. Maybe after each operation, she felt nearer to death, so she painted it here. It is not a normal skeleton but a figure in Aztec mythology: Mictlancíhuatl, or the Goddess of the Dead, who died herself in childbirth. It also means that she still had somewhere in her thoughts that the accident already broke her from the inside. The children you see are the reflections of her mental state that she was incapable of becoming a mother and her unfortunate abortions. The Judas figure represents mortality, which tells the story of her life that even in the darkest and most strenuous times of pain and medical emergencies, she lived. The deer is a favourite pet of Frida, which also represents a problem with the right foot in Aztec culture. 

The table has four legs in the form of a human who tells about the God of Aztec that represents rebirth and death. Frida Kahlo portrayed her whole life in this single artwork where her misery is visible to all of us. 

The Wounded Table Frida Kahlo paintings
The Wounded Table by Frida Kahlo (Real Life Current State) | Source: La Vozde Galicia

11. The Wounded Deer.

This painting depicts Frida Kahlo with a young deer’s head and was also fatally wounded by arrows. In the background, there is a forest with dead trees and broken branches, implying a sense of fear and despair. A stormy, lightning-lit sky looms far away, bringing some hope, but her dear will not reach it.

Frida Kahlo underwent spinal surgery in New York in 1946. Her surgery was supposed to relieve her of severe back pain, but it did not work. As a result, she painted this to express her disappointment. Physical and emotional pain followed her return to Mexico. Her painting was made up of an image of her like a stag with antlers atop her head. The stag is bleeding from arrow wounds. The artist wrote down the word ‘Carma’ in the lower-left corner, which means fate or destiny. 

The colours in the painting are very much delicate and bright, but they show the despair and misery of the artist’s life. She used deer as her subject as she loved to pet it: its surrogate mother. The use of arrows again brings the symbolism of Christ’s crucifixion that she showed to express her pain. Blood streams from her body with her pale and expressionless face. It looks like she wanted to run from her miserable time, but instead of her efforts, she fails in every single of them.

The Wounded Deer Frida Kahlo
The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo | Source: Invaluable

12. The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Senor Xototl.

The oil painting on the canvas portrays the embracing nature of Frida Kahlo and her compassionate love for Rivera. The artwork divides itself into two parts- One with a dusky night with a shining ball and the other with hazy-blue bright clouds with a half-face. It represents the sparkling and darker sides of Frida’s married life. She is sitting with a child in her hand, who is Rivera. She says in her notes about her maternal feelings: At every moment he is my child, my child born every moment, diary, from myself. It simply means he adored pampering, and Frida treated him like a baby. On the other side, her expressionless face with a few tears shows her failed marriage with him because of his extra-marital affairs. She also writes: Diego has never been and never will be anyone’s husband.

With the thorns and the cactus plants, she reveals the physical, emotional, and psychological hardships she faced with Rivera. 

Upon her back, she has a pierced breast showing a drop of milk representative of Mexican Earth. To her, the universe and earth lie only in her home city, Mexico. She has included symbols like the sleeping animal and roots of love to amplify her love and motherhood in the artwork. The composition of Frida Kahlo’s famous paintings is the connection between her, Diego, Universe and Mexico.

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Senor Xolotl Frida Kahlo
The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Senor Xolotl by Frida Kahlo | Source: Archive


Frida Kahlo was one of the famous artists of Mexico who painted her reality with symbolism and surrealistic theme. In her life, she suffered enormously from pain, but the hope to live and the love she had in her heart for Rivera were innate and beautiful. Frida always disclosed in her artworks about her ongoing life, and we can see her patience and endurance in every situation. Her paintings are not only an inspiration to live life but also for her bisexual character and feministic ideology. From the deep bottom of her heart, we only see the Mexican culture and the innate love for her home country. Frida Kahlo is an artist like a bird that flies to greater heights even when her wings are clipped by despair, anguish, and pain.


1. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.

2. Frida Kahlo at Home by Suzanne Barbezat.

3. The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas by Frida Kahlo, Compiled by Martha Zamora.


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