Frieda and Diego Rivera: The Future of Their Marriage

There are several narratives detailing the marriage of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a couple often termed Dove and an Elephant. However, here’s how Frida saw it.

Frieda and Diego Rivera

Frida and Diego are the coins of Mexican national treasure, and their marriage was like a union of lions, with love, battles, separations, and sufferings beyond pretty censorship. The Riveras lived together, but they had conflicting and contrasting appraisals of their life together. From the beginning of their marriage until the end, all their friends had a close understanding of both of them, no matter what aspects rose to the surface at one time, some at another, and constantly separating and reuniting in a thousand different ways. We know that from the beginning, Frida loved Diego obsessively, and she grew her fondness towards him over time. I am not neglecting the fact Diego, irrespective of his numerous mischievous affairs loved Frida. Hayden says in her book, “Frida was in thrall to Diego’s prodigal imagination- and bored by his endless fable-spinning.” Diego was a womanizer, and even though Frida was actually amused by Diego’s affairs, they still had a strong relationship. They shared such an amusing relationship that everyone was just stunned by them. Even though Frida hated Diego, she cherished him, and her desire to be a good wife for him was the pivot of her existence. Words can’t describe their terrific relationship and love, but Frida’s paintings can. Hence, today, I have picked a painting that embarks on the beginning of their relationship in the form of marriage. But before we discuss the artwork, let me give you a few lines from Bertram Wolfe in the biography of Rivera, “As is natural with two such strong characters, each totally directed from within, each wayward in an impulse and intense in sensibility, their life together was stormy. She subordinated her waywardness to his; otherwise, life with Diego would have been impossible. She saw through his subterfuges and fantasies, laughed with and at his adventures, mocked at and enjoyed the color and wonder of his tall tales, forgave him his affairs with other women, his wounding stratagems, his cruelties… Despite quarrels, brutality, deeds of spite, and even a divorce, in the depths of their beings, they continued to give first place to each other. Or rather, to him, she came first after his painting, and after his dramatizing of his life as a succession of legends, but to her, he occupied first place, even before her art. To his great gifts, she held, great indulgence was in order. In any case, she told me once, with rueful laughter, that was how he was, and that was how she loved him. I cannot love him for what he is not.” How lovingly Bertram explained the beautiful bond between Frida and Diego! Now, let us walk towards learning about the painting for which we are here, Frieda and Diego Rivera.

General Information About the Artwork. 

1. Artist Statement.

“I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down… The other is Diego.”

2. Subject Matter.

Frieda and Deigo Rivera, 1931 is a wedding portrait, which Frida painted as she chronicled the ups and downs of her marriage in paint. The subject matter of the artwork is Frida and Diego, with their hands clasped together and facing the viewer. The artist painted the artwork two years later after her conjugal marriage. Adopting the still, frontal pose, she favors the naive nineteenth-century limners like Jose Maria Estrada, who also influenced Rivera’s paintings. It consists of a formative inscription in folkloric style,

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

Frieda and Diego Rivera painting
Frieda and Diego Rivera by Frida Kahlo | Source: Google Arts & Culture

3. Artist.

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint always whatever passes through my head, without any other consideration.”

These words are from our princess, Frida, who devoted her life to loving Diego and creating artwork. These artworks are some of the most original and dramatic imagery, which completely changed the entire imagery of the twentieth century. Composing herself bleeding, weeping, and cracked open, she transformed her painful life into humor and fantasy. One of the most beloved painters of Mexico, Frida is a female artist whose popularity surpasses even dominant male artists.

4. Date.

Frieda and Diego Rivera painting dates to the year 1931.

5. Provenance.

A little provenance behind the painting is that it was painted in San Francisco during the artist’s first trip outside of Mexico. At the end of the year, her husband Diego Rivera would be the subject of a retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. She accompanied him to the United States to paint. There is a lot to learn about the historical background of the painting, which we will learn in later sections.

6. Location.

The painting hangs on the display in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

7. Technique and Medium.

Frieda and Diego Rivera painting has a medium of oil on canvas. With a small brush, Frida rendered this image in precise focus, applying rhetorics of realism to make fantasy persuasive. The painting has an immaculate cleanliness in figures and background.

ArtistFrida Kahlo
Year Painted1931
GenreWedding Portrait
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions39-3/8 x 31″ / 100.01 x 78.74 cm
PriceNot on sale
Where is it housed?San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Now that you know quite a while about the painting, let us learn it in detail.

Detailed Description of Frieda and Diego Rivera.

About the Artist: Frida Kahlo.

Previously, I have written a detailed article on Frida’s life, alongside explaining her many life incidences through her paintings like The Broken Column, Henry Ford Hospital, Memory the Heart, The Two Fridas, and The Wounded Deer. But every time I write about her, I feel deep down that even hundreds of books may not be able to compile her life, which was filled with pain, obsessive love towards Diego, optimism, and inspiration. Today, in this section of the artist’s abstract, as always, I will be narrating to you one of the instances of her life, which is really close to my heart.

Frida Kahlo with her paintings Denver Art Museum
Frida Kahlo with her paintings on display in a Gallery | Source: Denver Art Museum

It is about the first meeting between Frida and Diego. So the story starts on one fine morning in 1928 when Frida met Rivera, who was on the loose. Diego went to Russia in September 1927 as a member of the Mexican delegation of “workers and peasants” to attend the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution and paint a fresco in the Red Army Club. However, he never completed the project, as there was some bureaucratic obstruction, so in 1928, he returned to Mexico. And by the time, he reached Mexico, his one marriage with Lupe Marin broke. Well, those who have read my articles know that Diego was no less than a player, as he had numerous affairs, which always hindered his previous marriages. Although he was undeniably ugly, he drew the attention of women with the natural ease of magnet iron fillings. Hayden Herrera describes him as,

“Indeed, part of his appeal was his monstrous appearance- his ugliness made a perfect foil for the type of woman who likes to play beauty to a beast- but the greater attraction was his personality.”

Frida and Diego Rivera photograph in black and white
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Photograph | Source: New Deal Films

He is like a frog prince who has brilliant humor and charm with so much fame, almost irresistible to most women. One time, Rivera spoke to a New York reporter about his admiration of women saying,

“Men are savages by nature. They still are savages today. History shows that the first progress was made by women. Men preferred to remain brutes who fought and hunted. Women remained at home and cultivated the arts. They founded the industry. They were the first to contemplate the stars and to evolve poetry and art… Show me any invention that did not originate in the desire (on the part of men) to serve women.”

Now, coming to the meet of our princess, Frida, and frog prince, Diego, they met for the first time at the party at Tina Modotti’s home. This was first held in 1923 under Weston’s aegis to create a bohemian ambiance in which they put the latest ideas about art and revolution, along with some dance, singing, spirited conversations, and food and drinks. In 1954, Frida explained her first meeting with Diego,

“The meeting with Diego took place in the period when people carried pistols and went around shooting the street lamps on Madero Avenue and getting into mischief. During the night, they broke them all and went about spraying bullets, just for fun. Once at a party, given by Tina, Diego shot a photograph, and I began to be very interested in him despite the fear I had of him.”

Now, the probable truth of this meeting is not at all bad, in itself, but there are many versions of it as there are tellers, and Frida herself remembered the meeting in different ways at different times. Hence, the best and most accurate meeting between Frida and Diego is when Frida goes to show her paintings to Diego as he painted a mural in the corridor of the Ministry of Education. Frida remembered it as,

“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 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.’”

And that’s how they met with different versions of stories.

Historical Background of the Painting.

I already narrated to you a little provenance on the painting. However, that is not all about the painting, as it portrays the beginning of the relationship between Frieda and Diego Rivera.

They were referred to by their friends as ‘sacred monsters’ due to their eccentricities and escapades beyond ordinary morality; they were not merely tolerated, but cherished and mythologized. The bond between these two changed especially after they remarried, and so did their mutual autonomy. Both did have love affairs where Diego’s were open, but hers were kept secret due to the wild jealousy of Diego. Now, throughout their relationship, they lived and relived hundreds and thousands of emotions and incidences. And these emotions are perfectly captured through Frida’s paintings.

Starting with this wedding portrait of 1931, Frida portrays the tribulations of her marriage. Various paintings depicting Frida and Diego together or implying Diego by implication – such as a tear on Frida’s cheeks – illustrate how the Riveras’ relationship changed over time while certain underlying realities remained the same. She painted a few artworks like Frieda and Diego Rivera, 1931; Self-Portrait as a Tehuana, 1943; Diego and Frida 1929-44; Diego and I and The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me and Senor Xolotl, both 1949, all of them showcasing the love and devotion towards Deigo.

This earliest wedding portrait represents the weirdness and stiffness in their relationship. Now, we will learn more about the artwork in the subject matter analysis.

But before that, let us understand more about the relationship of Diego and Frida. Hayden describes,

“The Riveras had much in common: humor, intelligence, Mexicanism, social conscience, a bohemian approach to life. But the greatest bond may have been their enormous respect for each other’s art. Rivera took pride in his wife’s professional successes and he admired her growing artistic mastery. He would tell people that before he or any of his colleagues had had a painting hung in the Louvre, Frida had had honor, and he loved to show her off to friends. One visitor recalls that the first thing Rivera did when she met him was to say that she must meet Frida. ‘There is no artist in Mexico that can compare with her!’ Rivera said, beaming. ‘He immediately told me that when he was in Paris, Picasso had taken a drawing by Frida, looked at it for a long time, and then said: ‘Look at those eyes: neither you nor I are capable of anything like it.’ I noticed that in telling me this his own bulging eyes were shining with tears.”

Understanding the Meaning of Frieda and Diego Rivera Painting.

The artwork reveals the conjugal life of the Riveras marriage. It hints at what the marriage would become. Though together through the gentle clasp of hands, Frida showed the downs of her marriage through this wedding portrait.

Subject Matter and Dominant Elements.

Like figures in this double portrait, they face forward rather than seeing each other. Their light clasp of hands, combined with a large sliver of space between them, give the impression that they are new partners who still do not know how to perform the intricate, interlocking steps of marriage. Now, compare this painting with the 1943 Self Portrait as a Tehuana, and you can witness that Frida has portrayed her immense love for her unpossessable husband, trapping his image in her forehead as a thought. In this case, Frida appears to be weeping in The Love Embrace, but their relationship seems to be resolved; Frida holds Diego in a loving embrace rather than in a stranglehold.

Frieda and Diego Rivera Subject Matter
Frieda and Diego Rivera by Frida Kahlo | Source: Google Arts & Culture

Turning away from Frida, Diego brandishes his palette and brushes as if he is the great maestro. With tiny feet brushing the ground, Frida cocks her head, reaching towards the monumental mate. Frida here plays the role of the genius adoring wife, what she loved most. With the lightest clasp of hand, Frida showed the unpossessable Diego. He was captivated by the tennis champion Helen Wills as Frida worked on the painting. He painted her nude on the ceiling of San Francisco’s Luncheon Club and portrayed her as California’s representative woman, to the outrage of some good citizens. Hence, it is not wrong to say that Frida knew her marriage well and what it would become. 

Formal Analysis of Frieda and Diego Rivera.

1. Line.

Frieda and Diego Rivera consists of diagonal lines in the form of paintbrushes. Though Diego stands straight, his shoes tilt outwards. Furthermore, Diego looks slightly right towards the viewer (in a diagonal direction). And Frida’s face tilts towards Diego with her hand above Diego’s. The spiral covers of her skirt are circular, showcasing the feminine side of Frida.

Frieda and Diego Rivera Analysis
Line analysis of the painting, Green (straight line), Blue (diagonal lines), White (circular line)

2. Color Analysis.

Frida used a neutral earthly color in the background with the inscription and the bird. However, she used a contrasting color throughout her attire. Diego wears a blue and grey suit, which is contrasted with the subtle green belt around his waist. 

Conclusion and Opinions.

Frida and Diego Rivera painting is the symbol of love, forecasting the future of their marriage. The revolutionary painter portrays such sensitive emotion, uniting with an explosive and passionate relationship with Diego that lasted until Frida Kahlo’s death in 1954. The complicated yet inspiring relationship between them is well-forecasted in this portrait.


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

2. Frida Kahlo Retrospective by Helga Prignitz-Poda, Ingried Brugger, Cristina Kahlo.


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