Memory the Heart by Frida Kahlo | An Elaborative Look

Memory the Heart is a self portrait of Frida Kahlo depicting her failed relationship with Diego. After learning her sisters affair with Rive

Memory the Heart

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the world never thought it would witness all kinds of terror, wars, inhumanity and destruction. Whether the future was two great world wars or imperishable history of loot and killing of masses, the timespan of hundred years was even less to recover from all the losses. During the same period, when we set our sight towards the humanities section, we see the enormous change in the kind of art and its expressiveness. Among them, one thing we can’t neglect is the artist’s ratio from the perspective of gender. One might see that there were very few successful women artists in Europe and America during this period, and there were many reasons behind it. One of the most crucial and possible explanations was the shaping of society and the resultant prejudices through it. From my previous articles, you might know that I have considered looking at the past through societal norms so that together, we can trace the growth in various sectors. And this broad shaping of society in the twentieth century resulted in the art section being dominated by men. It happened not because women were’ t interested or lagged by their skills but of the view of profession inclined towards men. Although there were no practical obstructions to becoming an artist, women witnessed unable to get into art schools as most art courses included drawing nude men, which society thought was unsuitable for them. But one artist who blazed all these norms and struggled against the odds to have her work displayed, becoming one of the most inspiring artists of the time, was Frida! And today, we are here to celebrate the artist’s dominance through one of her paintings, Memory the Heart. So, let us start our analysis!

General Information about the Artwork.

1. Artist’s Statement.

“I only three things in life: to live with Diego, to continue painting, and to belong to the Communist Party.”

2. Subject Matter.

The canvas Memory the Heart refers to the transformation from child to woman, where Frida appears with cropped hair and wearing non-Mexican clothes- a skirt and a cowskin bolero. With an interlinking of two dresses- schoolgirl clothes and a Tehuana costume through red ribbons, Frida shows her helplessness and misery of her failed relationship with Diego. There is a lot behind this single composition, which we will learn in a later section.

Memory the Heart by Frida Kahlo

3. Artist.

Frida Kahlo painted portraits, still lifes, and self-portraits majorly in her life. During her entire artistic journey, she painted around 200 compositions, of which most were comparatively minute in size (12 x 14 inches). Hence, the size makes them more personal. Painting her numerous self-portraits, she narrated her passing events in life. In her painting, Memory, she coincided with her tragic incident in life.

A portrait of Frida Kahlo

4. Date.

The painting dates back to 1937, which follows two other spectacular artworks, Remembrance of an Open Wound from 1938 and Few Small Nibs.

5. Provenance.

Frida composed this painting as a remembrance and testimony of Diego’s affair with her sister, Cristina. With the physical wounds on the canvas, the artist portrayed her psychic injury, showcasing that she no longer was the passive female who will submit to her fate, instead, she stares out at the viewer in an upright position to let him be conscious of her personal sufferings. When Rivera and Cristina had a small affair, it shook Frida, which followed a divorce. And after two years, she rendered her pain in love with the canvas.

6. Location.

The Memory the Heart lies in the Michel Petitjean in Paris, France.

7. Technique and Medium.

The 15 3/4 x 11” canvas is an oil-on-sheet metal painting.

ArtistFrida Kahlo
Year Painted1937
MediumOil on sheet
PeriodMagical Realism, Modern Art
Dimensions15 3/4 x 11 in
WorthNot on sale
Where is it housed?Michel Petitjean, Paris, France

Now that you know a brief description of the painting, let us move towards the upcoming section to learn it in depth.

In-depth Description of Frida Kahlo’s Masterpiece.

About the Artist: Frida Kahlo.

Hundreds and thousands of visitors go through Frida Kahlo’s bedroom in the Blue House, or should I call it, Casa Azul, where the artist was born in 1907 and died at forty-seven. The four-poster bed where she lay to paint her stories, the wheelchair in front of the easel and her diaries filled with traditional Mexican costumes and drawings with the clay bowls in the kitchen are the parts of Casa Azul, located in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan city, which is now a museum devoted to Frida Kahlo.

With the life of the subject of several events and incidents with painful details of her illness and sympathy for Mexican traditions, Frida painted what she saw with her eyes. Being the daughter of a successful German Jewish photographer and a Mexican mother, Frida initially wanted to be a doctor, but certain circumstances in her life turned her life events, ending her becoming an artist. At eighteen, she faced a severe accident which confined her to bed for years and gave her back pain for the rest of her life. Frida never received professional lessons for her painting, but with her artworks, she showed herself in over 130 odd artworks, wearing different clothes and surrounded by her possessions, which symbolically narrated her story of life.

From influencing Mexican folk art to reaching for her solo exhibition in New York in 1938 and winning the Mexican National Arts and Science Awards in 1946: Frida became one of the most celebrated artists from Mexico.

History and Background of the Artwork.

It was the time when Rivera and Frida returned to Mexico from the US at the end of 1933 when they moved to their new homes on the corner of Palmas and Altavista in San Angel. In 1934, Frida had an artistically unproductive career as she produced no paintings. After this year, numerous things in her life changed, letting Frida paint A Few Small Nips and a Self-portrait. Within a few months of Diego’s return to Mexico, he embarked upon a love affair with Frida’s younger sister, Cristina. And in this anguish, Frida cut off her long hair, which Diego loved and stopped wearing Tehuana costumes. And her pain was too great to record in her painting, A Few Small Nibs. Now we don’t know when the affair began and how it ended or stopped. Little did we know that Diego did not want to return to Mexico, and Frida brought him back.

In 1934, she visited the hospital at least three times; once to have her appendix removed, once for an abortion after three months and lastly, for the foot problems that troubled her in New York. When Cristina betrayed Frida by having an affair with Diego, she most likely was overwhelmed by the Rivera’s being great maestro. Also, her failed marriage and handling of her child as a sole parent put her a one-way step towards Diego. On the other hand, after the abortion of Frida, as doctors restrained the artist to have sexual intercourse, Diego needed to have an unethical affair and embarked upon casualties. However, nothing describes the favour of betrayal. Rivera addressing this, wrote in his biography,

“If I loved a woman… the more I loved her, the more I wanted to hurt her. Frida was only the most obvious victim of this disgusting trait.”

Frida Kahlo and her sister Cristina by Nickolas Muray

The affair between Cristina and Diego lasted longer than generally thought and might continue till 1935. And for the first time as a separation, Frida moved to a modern apartment in the centre of Mexico City at Avenida Insurgentes 432. After a long hussle between relationship and deception, Frida portrayed herself as a forgiving sister, but three years later, in 1937, she gave testimony to her lingering impact on canvas, painting Memory.

The time when Frida painted Memory, the Heart was happy one as she showed her happiness and slaying pain with trampling troubles in her path. Though it showed her hurt from Diego and Cristina’s affair, Frida showed her emergence as a more independent and stronger woman, gaining strength from her vulnerabilities.

Understanding Frida Kahlo Memory the Heart Meaning.

Memory the Heart refers to the artist’s transformation from a child to a woman after her accident. It is an excruciatingly accurate rendering of pain in love, which the artist showed through her broken heart as a physical sensation. The artwork shows a broken heart as a tangible sensation of ache or fracture in the chest through a sword turning and twisting in the ever-expanding wound, as a means to transport the idea of the shaft or handrail that impaled Frida’s body during her accident.

As her heart is a fountain of blood lying at her feet, causing an imposing monument to the immensity of her pain, it showcases the brutality of an Aztex sacrifice in which the live victim’s heart is torn out of him, and blood flows through the stone temple. Indeed, the painting captures a poetry of blood pervading Latin American culture. In One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia, he mentions the blood flow as a thread of blood beginning to show in the murdered Arcadios ear, travelling through the town of Lacondo and returning to the source. Similarly, Frida combined concrete realism with fantasy to show her feelings through the body’s insides.

However, if one compares the canvas with the context of Mexican culture, it does not reveal itself as grotesque. For instance, the famous Mexican colonial painting, Polyptych of Death, by an anonymous painter, illustrated by the verse,

“God will not despise a penitent and humble heart,”

showcases a cleric grinding his own extracted heart. Hence, it does not resemble much influence of gruesome Mexican culture.

Subject Matter Analysis of Memory the Heart Painting.

To better understand the Memory the Heart subject matter, I am breaking the section down into different elements as follows:

Memory the Heart Frida Kahlo

1. Frida.

Frida appears with cropped hair wearing a long white skirt and a cowskin bolero over it, as a non-Mexican attire. The dress belongs to the Lucienne Bloch photograph of her during the trip to New York in 1935. You can see that she is armless, showcasing her helplessness. Her bandaged foot represents her operation in 1934 when Rivera fell in love with Cristina. As a result, the bandage now resembles a sailboat and stands in the ocean rather than by the shore. The foot also represents her separation from Diego, and the sea symbolises suffering. Her weeping face of Frida is another element of pain here. Furthermore, there is a gaping hole in Frida’s body, pierced by a shaft, symbolising the impaled handrail during her accident at eighteen.

2. Her Heart.

Here we see Frida’s heart as a fountain, and its severed valves pump rivers of blood into the bleak landscape. It looks as if the blood flows from distant mountains down the sea, where a red delta opens into the blue water.

3. The Two Dresses.

With a red ribbon, two dresses hang from the top. Two dresses include a schoolgirl dress and a Tehuana costume. Both are connected to Frida by red ribbons (bloodlines). Each set of outfits has one stiff and paper-doll-like arm.

Now that we understood the painting, let us walk towards the formal analysis of the canvas.

Learning Memory the Heart Analysis.

Before we start analysing different elements of Memory the Heart, let me give you a broader perspective of the landscape image. The first thing you see here is that Frida appears vast than the natural background, and the figure of Frida touches the sky, which shows that the viewpoint is lower. The landscape does not seem inviting and looks like a place of refuge, which explains Frida’s mind.

1. Line.

The contour lines of the objects and figure of Frida are strong with distinct space certainly, not fusing with the surrounding area. There is no harmonious connection between the elements. For instance, you can see the diagonal shaft as a diagonal line, passing through Frida’s heart and connecting thereby with the two dresses. It shows a kind of instability and trauma through the canvas. Further, suspended dresses display vertical lines that demonstrate vigour and stability, hindered by diagonal lines. And the circular lines are associated with motions and lost fertility of Frida.

Memory the Heart Analysis

2. Light and Value.

Through the colour shades, one can note that the canvas has fewer contrasts and higher brightness with the absence of shadows. The figures and objects share space evenly with the overpowering shaft. Moreover, the first glance of the viewer causes an overwhelming impact, rather than waiting for a closer look.

3. Colour Analysis.

There is a presence of blue colours in the form of sky and water with warmer colours accents in the form of landscapes. And one must not miss the tyrannical red colour, which brings together the two sides of the world.

Conclusions and Opinions.

The filling of wise colours, expressiveness through gestures and emotions and the relation of objects with red ribbons or bloodstreams make the entire canvas of Memory the Heart notable. Frida produced the composition in odd circumstances, narrating every moment of her life. From her abortion to her failed relation with Diego and her amputated leg, the picture is an intimate collection of the artistic world of Frida.

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