Looking at Henry Ford Hospital the Flying Bed by Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, known for her self-portraits, painted Henry Ford Hospital to show her pain of her abortion. The painting became significant in her career as it was the first time she showed blood in her artwork.

Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed

The reminiscences of our lives are not about finding the perfect moment but the ones to whom we are more connected, whether it be good or bad. Often when we read about any artist’s life, we have a complete visualisation of their life through the texts, but after a few days, if you wish to reconcile the entire scenarios, you will only remember a handful of the events by which you were more connected. It happens to me that whenever I learn about an artist, the things bridging my inner feelings were the ones I never forget. Today as I write about Frida Kahlo, one of the most beautiful painters, I remember reading about her life in the first place. Looking back on her biography today made me remember smattering incidents, including her accident and the incident at Henry Ford hospital. And so I have decided to let you know about the famous painting by Frida based upon the hospital incident, Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed). So, let us start reading and analysing the artwork.

General Information About the Artwork.

1. Artist’s Statement.

“I wish I were dead! I don’t know why I have to go on living like this.”

2. Subject Matter.

The painting Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed, showcases Frida lying naked in her hospital bed, haemorrhaging onto a single sheet. A large tear fell down her cheek, and her stomach is still swollen from pregnancy. Against her swollen stomach, she holds six veins like a ribbon from the ends, which suspends a series of objects symbolic of her emotions, at the time of her miscarriage. These are a fetus with a child’s umbilical cord, salmon pink torso on a pedestal, snail, strange piece of machinery, lurid lavender orchid and pelvis bone.

Frida Kahlo Henry Ford Hospital Painting
Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) by Frida Kahlo | Source: fridakahlo.org

3. Artist.

Frida Kahlo, one of the most celebrated artists from Mexico City, painted her sufferings on canvas, naming it Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed). We will learn more about the artist in the next part.

4. Date.

The artwork dates from July 1932. It was the first of the series of bloody and terrifying self-portraits that were to make Frida Kahlo one of the most original painters of all time; in quality and expressive power, it far surpasses anything she had done before.

5. Provenance.

A little history about the painting says that Frida was conceiving her second child after the miscarriage of the first one during her trip to Detroit. Though she hoped to deliver a baby this time, some unfortunate events led to a miscarriage again. To depict the terrible pain and emotional damage she went through the second time, Frida painted this artwork.

6. Location.

The painting exhibits in The Dolores Olmedo Museum, Xochimilco, Mexico.

7. Technique and Medium.

The painting is created by using oil paints and Masonite boards. It showcases modern art and surrealistic theme however, Frida always denied calling herself a surrealist. As she would say,

“I paint my own reality.”

ArtistFrida Kahlo
Date PaintedJuly 1932
MediumOil on Masonite Board
PeriodModern Art, Magical Realism
Dimensions30.5 x 38 cm
WorthPriceless, Not on Sale
Where is it housed?The Dolores Olmedo Museum, Xochimilco, Mexico

Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) | Fast Knowledge

Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) is an oil on masonite painting based on the artist’s life while she was in Detroit with her husband, Diego Rivera. During this, Frida Kahlo faced complications with her pregnancy and lost a child for the second time. In the painting, Frida Kahlo is depicted naked on the bed, holding objects representing her emotions.

In-Depth Description of the Painting.

About the Artist: Frida Kahlo.

Born on 7 July 1907, Frida Kahlo was the daughter of Guillermo Kahlo, a successful photographer commissioned by the Mexican government to record the nation’s architectural heritage and Matilde Calderon. Her full name was Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Y Calderon, where her third name, Frida, represented peace in German.

Frida Kahlo photographed by Nickolas Muray
Frida Kahlo photographed by Nickolas Muray | Source: Nickolas Muray

Her elder half-sisters were Maria Luisa and Margarita, and her younger sister was Cristina. Frida was very humorous in her childhood with all her wits and talent. Her father, Guillermo, gave special attention to her favourite kid, Frida, as he was aware of her intellectual and cognitive capacities. He would give her books on literature, architecture, space and anatomy to let her learn from them.

When Frida turned six, she had polio in her right limb, which made her leg thinner. Though many of her friends made fun of it, few people appreciated her because of her ability to excel in sports despite her physical deformity. Since Guillermo faced epilepsy attacks, so he was able to mirror the feelings of Frida, when she had polio and was alone for nine months.

At seventeen, she faced a major accident while travelling in a toy bus with her boyfriend Alejandro, which made her suffer from terrible spinal pain throughout her life. The aftermath of her accident was really strenuous as she was in so much pain, so she started painting her own portraits and keeping a diary where she narrated her thoughts to herself. After a few years, she met Diego Rivera, whom she married. The relationship between Diego and Frida was often filled with ups and downs, but Diego motivated her to be the best. As a result, Frida painted her own reality so expressively that she became one of the greatest painters in history. Despite her physical pain, miscarriages, and troubled relationship with Diego, Frida painted and painted with the boldness to show her every emotion and suffering that reached Millions of people. In spite of the fact that some critics referred to Frida Kahlo’s artworks as surrealist, she neglected them because she said she painted what she experienced.

Now that you know a brief story about Frida Kahlo, let me take you to the artwork’s provenance in depth so that you understand the relevance of the Henry Ford hospital painting.

History and Background of Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed).

Few years following the marriage of Diego and Frida, Detroit’s American art industry commissioned Rivera to paint murals on the theme of modern industry. On 21 April, Diego and Frida stepped off the train in the city where Diego was to paint the commission. They lived at a one-bedroom furnished apartment in the Wardell, a mammoth residential hotel at 15 Kirby East and Woodward Avenue. Not long after settling at the place, Rivera began to prepare his mural studies for their approval, and once they were approved, he was asked to decorate all twenty-seven panels around the court. Meanwhile, when they went to New York, people called Frida and her Mexican costumes bizarre, but she retaliated against them. The time Frida spent in New York was not good, according to her, as the city seemed like a shabby old village. She believed the city was dirty and neglected, and the food was bland American cuisine, which she didn’t like.

During her time spent in Detroit, she was two months pregnant, and she wrote to her doctor on 26 May. Though the consultation with him was characteristically matter-of-fact, its beginning and restless exploration revealed her anxiety and hope. At this time, she consulted in person with one of the Detroit doctors, Dr. Pratt. She was continuously sick during her stay in Detroit. First, she consulted Pratt because of her toe, which naturally worsened due to a trophic ulcer. Now that she was pregnant a second time, she was already in confusion since she miscarried her first child due to her health conditions. She told about her accident, heredity and other to Dr. Pratt as she was sure that she would not be able to give birth to a healthy child. Given her state of health, she thought it was better to abort the child, so Pratt gave her a dose of quinine and a strong purge of castor oil. The day after she took it, she had a minute haemorrhage, almost nothing. Upon contacting Dr. Pratt the next day, he informed her that Frida had not aborted and that keeping the baby was a better idea. He assured her she could have a child with a Caesarean operation without many difficulties. Furthermore, he also said that till the next seven months of her stay in Detroit; he would take care of her properly, and the rest of the months could be in Mexico till childbirth. As mentioned before, Frida referred to her history of miscarriage and her father’s records of epilepsy, and her concern about a weaker body. She also stressed that while staying in Detroit, nobody would be able to take care of her during pregnancy as Riverra already had so much on his plate, and she did not want to bother him. Also, travelling with a newborn child would be difficult. She did raise these concerns to her previous doctor from Mexico, Dr. Eloesser, by letter. And by the time he responded Dr. Pratt on this case, Frida already decided against the abortion, hoping that Dr.pratt was right. And once she made up her mind, nobody could let her think opposite. Neither Diego’s concern for her health nor that he did not want a child could do so. She was lonely, sick and bored. Diego, on the other hand, was fired with enthusiasm for his work and had no attention to staying home to look after his wife. So, when Lucienne moved to Detroit in June, he insisted him to move in with them, so he could encourage Frida to paint.

At the end of June, when the heat of the apartment stifled up, Frida began to spot her uterus hurt and prolonged attacks of nausea. And unfortunately, on 4 July 1932, she lost her child.

Lucienne’s diary for the next day tells the story,

“Sunday evening. Frieda was so blue and menstruating so. She went to bed, and the doctor came and told her, as usual, that it was nothing and that she must be quiet. In the night, I heard the worst cries of despair, but thinking that Diego would call me if I could help, I only dozed and had nightmares. At five, Diego rushed me to the room, all dishevelled and pale and asked me to call the doctor. He came at six with an ambulance and got her, in the agonies of birth… out of the pool of blood she had made and… the huge clots of blood she kept losing. She looked so tiny, twelve years old. Her tresses were wet with tears.”

Frieda was rushed into hospital by Henry Ford. She stayed for thirteen days in there and kept bleeding and weeping. Seized by the thoughts that she might never have children, why her fetus had not taken form but had disintegrated in her womb, she would cry,

“I wish I were dead! I don’t know why I have to go on living like this.”

However, after five days, she took up a pencil and drew a bust-length Self-Portrait. However, Frida did want to draw her lost child and wanted to see him exactly as he should have looked at the moment when he was married. So the second day, she begged doctors to have medical books with illustrations on the subject, but the doctor refused as the hospital never wanted to give books to the patients that were upsetting. But, somehow, Diego interacted with doctors and provided Frida with a medical book. With her X-rays and medicinal illustrations, she finally made the famous image, Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed, in the month of July.

Henry Ford Hospital Frida Kahlo
Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) by Frida Kahlo | Source: fridakahlo.org

Meaning of the Artwork.

Henry Ford Hospital by Frida Kahlo is a symbolic representation of her miscarriage and pain, which was the start of the bloody and terrific series of her self-portraits. It shows different elements on the canvas, which we will learn about in the next section.

The Dominant Elements and Subject Matter.

In Frida Kahlo’s Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed, there are seven elements in particular. We will understand them stepwise way so that there remains no confusion.

Elements of Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed
Elements of Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed (numbered in sequence)

1. Frida’s Body.

On the bed, with straight pillars and Henri Ford Hospital written over its side rails, Frida paints herself naked, haemorrhaging onto a single sheet. There is clear visibility of blood over the white sheets. A large tear drops down her cheek, and her stomach is still swollen from pregnancy. There is an unflattering depiction of her body instead of an idealised one, which is common in and perceived by a woman. Now her stomach connects six other elements through a red ribbon, looking like a vein, as the symbolic representation of maternal failures.

2. Fetus.

There is a representation of a salmon-pink torso on a pedestal which represents the inside of the woman. She added several sperm-like organisms, which are presumably the x-ray views of the conception, appearing on the torso surface. It also shows two spinal columns, which refers to her injured backbone or possibly the congenital scoliosis of the spine diagnosed by Dr. Eloesser in 1930.

3. Baby.

A small-baby fetus is right above the body of Frida on her bed. The artist connected her with her stomach with a ribbon linking it with the child’s umbilical cord. Also, she has added genitals of the little Diego to him, which she hoped it would be.

4. Snail.

She painted a snail to refer to the slowness of her miscarriage. It means that the snail was soft, covered, and at the same time, open. Her miscarriage was also like a snail which held a soft baby but opened the covering.

5. Pelvic Region.

Frida copied medical illustrations of pelvic bones to paint the principal cause of her miscarriage. She gave her the exact colour of the pelvic bones with an appropriate symmetry.

6. Lurid Lavender.

The lurid lavender orchid with its stem looks like an extracted uterus. She showed the uterus as lavender to blend sentimental emotions and sexual things.

7. Machinery.

There is a representation of machinery below the bed, which looks ambiguous. According to Lucienne, these are like Frida’s hips. He mentioned it since all the other elements represented the organs of a female body. But at the same time, it may show wrecking pain during the surgery. Frida’s statement about her experience in Detroit, “anything mechanical“, always meant bad luck and pain, so it may relate to her sufferings.

8. Background.

She painted a ground beneath the bed earth colour to represent loneliness and solitude. But to her, her world and earth were Mexico, the people around her, which helped Frida to be strong when she had nothing. And long distances, there are buildings, coke ovens, and conveyors, which represent her distance from Diego when she was operating. Further, it also means being far away from herself and the everyday activities of the world, which patients usually feel.

In the composition Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed, there is an absence of a sheet to cover her body, representing the exposure to the helplessness that every patient experiences. And lastly, she looks tiny compared to the bed, underscoring her desolation.

Now that you understand the entire illustration: allow me to take you to the formal analysis.

Formal Analysis of Frida Kahlo Henry Ford Hospital.

1. Line.

Starting from the basics, each of the body does have an outline of a shape which is regular and strong. These contours are white for the six elements floating in the air, which does not fuse the objects with the surrounding space and gives them a distinctive look. Further, the frame of the bed has a parallel line showing the perspective.

Henry Ford Hospital Frida Kahlo Diagonal Lines
The use of Diagonal Lines in the composition

Now, if you look closely at the illustration, you will find that there is the presence of diagonal lines, shown through the six cords connected with the swollen stomach of Frida. It also represents the instability and motion of artists’ thoughts and profuse deep connection with each of the elements. There is the presence of circular lines through Frida’s body in form of breasts, hips and stomach, which declares her relationship with fertility. Furthermore, the bed frame has vertical lines in the illustration.

2. Light and Value.

There is a sharp contrast in the entire picture of Henry Ford Hospital painting with the bright illumination on the white bedsheet and darker shadows on the face of Frida. The black shadows of light on her face are relatively disturbing and represent her pain and suffering. Through the use of light in the composition, there are symbolic highlights. The value of the sky is higher as there is the use of white colour in the blue.

Henry Ford Hospital painting Lights and Shadows
Square outlining the brightness on the white bedsheet (compared to the rest of the compostion) and Circle outlining the black shadows on Frida’s face

3. Colour.

There is a form of expressionism through the use of colours in the painting Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed. With the blend of cool colours, blue and warm shade brown, there is a consistent way to depict the highly personal and cultural experiences despite having cliches.

Further, Frida used pinkish colour for the torso, greyish black for machinery and purple for the Lurid lavender, which completes her maternal losses.

Opinions and Conclusions.

Through her art, Frida Kahlo expressed her expressiveness through varied colours, gestures, and symbolic elements. No artist in the history of women has ever been able to depict a woman’s pain and sufferings with such closeness. The artwork, Henry Ford Hospital The Flying Bed, is more than just a representation of her miscarriage; it also represents her loneliness and distance from Diego and the original world.


Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Where is Henry Ford Hospital The Flying bed?

The painting, Henry Ford Hospital, resides in The Dolores Olmedo museum. Created by Frida Kahlo after she suffered from a second miscarriage in July 1932, this was one of her first paintings to show terrible bloodshed.

What does Frida Kahlo Henry Ford Hospital symbolize?

The artwork Henry Ford Hospital exemplifies the maternal loss of Frida, after she miscarried her second child just after three months. It depicts her pain, the slowness of miscarriage, and most importantly, the look of her lost child.

Why did Frida Kahlo paint in bed?

Frida Kahlo painted in bed due to her severe problem with the spinal cord after she met with an accident at seventeen.


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