The Two Fridas: Looking at Frida’s First Large-Scale Work

Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter, is known for some of the most cruel and close depictions of her personal life. The Two Fridas is one among them depicting the artist’s dual personality and her pain of divorce.

The Two Fridas

There was a time in Mexico’s history when there was a contrast between two subtle and popular movements, Surrealism and Muralist. To help you understand through it, I have two significant people, Remedios Varo and Frida Kahlo. Earlier in my article on biographic life to Remedios, I already narrated a bit on Surrealism. Taking the lead from the article, let me add some additional facts that help you make the connection between these two movements concerning Mexico. The International Exhibition of Surrealism was the most crucial and Mexico’s first direct contact with European Surrealist art, however, it wasn’t as impactful to the Mexicans as the organisers of the exhibition thought of. Now, before I let you know the reason behind this, you must know that Mexico had fertile ground for Surrealism, if you check on the older Mexican art, the artisans have used various symbols from their culture to convey a whole different meaning. Coming back to the reason, the biggest obstacle for the European Surrealist movement to grow in Mexico was the dominance of the muralist movement with its commitment to realism. And another reason was that Mexico had their symbols, magics and myths for laying their facts through their artwork, so they probably didn’t want foreign notions of fantasy. However, even with all these reasons, though the International Exhibition of Surrealism did not produce a conscious impact, it did play a significant role in the stimulation of fantastic realism during the 1940s. This allowed several Mexican artists to reject the hegemony of the muralist movement, and among them, one of the artists who reinforced her own personal and cultural inclination towards fantasy was Frida Kahlo. During this same period, she made one of the most indispensable pieces of art to showcase her identity, The Two Fridas. And today, in this article, we are here to understand an in-depth analysis of the painting, so join me till the end to learn everything about it.

General Information of the Painting.

1. Artist Statement.

“I wish I could do whatever I liked behind the curtain of ‘madness’ Then: I’d arrange flowers, all day long, I’d paint; pain, love and tenderness, I would laugh as much as I feel like at the stupidity of others, and they would all say: ‘Poor thing, she’s crazy!’ (Above all, I would laugh at my own stupidity.) I would build my world, which, while I lived, would be in agreement with all the worlds. The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s – my madness would not be an escape from ‘reality’.”

2. Subject Matter.

The Two Fridas painting or Las Dos Fridas, has the subject matter of two full-length portraits of the artist. The two portraits, however, differ in meaning and sense since the first shows Frida, whom Diego loved, while the other shows the lady, whom Diego no longer loves. As soon as an artery ruptures in the painting, Frida scorned uses a pair of surgeon’s forceps to temporarily stop the flow of blood. Both the Fridas sit side by side on a bench, joining their hands in the stiff and poignant clasp. Both of them wear different costumes, which again have symbolism behind them. We will learn the entire subject matter analysis in the coming sections.

The Two Fridas painting

3. Artist.

Among the most famous female artists of all time, Frida Kahlo painted The Two Fridas. Her pictures were often pain-filled, and almost all of her self-portraits provoke intense curiosity about her life and personality. The magnetic and profound life of Frida is an inspiration to many. Pain was not allowed to be destructive for her, but instead, she gave it a creative form through her paintings. Through her artworks, she shared her affection, grief, and often a lesson to survival and a life without inhibition. 

4. Date.

The painting dates back to the year 1939. 

5. Provenance.

A little provenance about the Two Fridas is that the origin of the double self-portrait started when Frida was just six, and she experienced an imaginary friendship with a little girl of her same age. She would talk to her and dance a lot as if she weighed nothing. I will let you know the entire diary note where Frida recorded everything about her past incident forecasting The Two Fridas later in this article. 

And secondly, in Mexico, when there was first direct contact with European Surrealism through the International Exhibition of Surrealism, Frida sent her two paintings; The Two Fridas and The Wounded Table. Now, one must understand that Frida was disqualified from the surrealist movement due to her spiritual ingenuousness, but still she sent her paintings anyway, as half of the Mexicans who didn’t believe in the foreign movement, still participated. 

Frida Kahlo painting The Wounded Table

Lastly, American art historian MacKinley Helm says that Frida worked on her first big picture, The Two Fridas when she was having a rough time in her personal life due to her divorce from Diego. 

We will learn about each of the situations in detail in upcoming sections. For now, let us move on to the next part.

6. Location.

The painting now resides in Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. The reproduced version of the artwork is in Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan, Mexico.

7. Technique and Medium.

The painting has heaps of symbolism behind it with several elements. Produced on canvas by oil paints, this painting showcases the inner struggle of the dual personality of Frida. The artist used lighting techniques to make the figures three-dimensional while focusing on the vanishing point behind the union of the hands.

ArtistFrida Kahlo
Year Painted1939
GenreMagical Realism, Self Portraiture
PeriodModern Art and Symbolism
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions67-11/16 x 67-11/16 inches
Price Not on sale
Where is it housed?Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

The Two Fridas | Fast Knowledge

The Two Fridas is an oil on canvas painting by Frida Kahlo. Painted in 1939, it subjects two full-length self-portraits of the artist wearing different costumes, one whom Diego loved and another whom he didn’t. The artist painted it after Diego cheated on her with Christina, and both got divorced.

As we know a piece of brief information about the painting, it is time we analyse it in detail.

In-Depth Description of The Two Fridas Painting.

About the Artist: Frida Kahlo.

I have already written an article about Frida Kahlo, covering her life in depth. If you wish to know her in detail, you can read it in your spare time. Nevertheless, since a section on the artist’s introduction is vital to a better understanding of the painting, I am including a part of Frida’s life that corresponds to the artwork, Two Fridas. 

At the end of 1933, Riveras returned from the United States to Mexico, and they moved into their new home in the corner of Palmas and Altavista in San Angel. In 1934, Frida almost composed no paintings, but the following year consisted of the paintings, A Few Small Nips and a Self-Portrait. A Few Small Nips was an artwork, based on a newspaper account of a drunker man who threw his girlfriend on a cot and stabbed her at least twenty times. The work represented the man with his bloody hands and a fleshy woman covered with bloody gashes. One of the significant meanings behind this painting was Frida’s relation to the victim. She said she felt sympathy with the murdered woman since she had been murdered by life too. The reason Frida said this is because Rivera, at this time, had a brief affair with Christina, her little sister, when he returned to Mexico. In her anguish, Frida cut her long hair, which Diego loved and stopped wearing all the Tehuana costumes and the masterpiece, A Few Small Nibs, recorded the immediate pain of her sufferings.

A Few Small Nips (1935) by Frida Kahlo

Nobody knows when the affair ended, but Rivera was not pleased to be back in Mexico as he blamed Frida for making him return. Though Diego painted the murals in the Mexico City Medical School and was soon commissioned to paint his Rockefeller Center frescoes, his health due to poor diet led him prey to glandular disorders, hypochondria and extreme irritability. And at the same time, even Frida was not much better on her own, as she was in the hospital at least three times in 1934. With all these conditions, Diego was unable to work so much, and his funds were low. 

On November 13 of the same year, Frida wrote,

“I believe that by working I will forget the sorrows and I will be able to be a little happier… I hope my stupid neurasthenia will soon go away and my life will be more normal again- but you know it is rather difficult, and I will need much willpower to manage even to be enthusiastic about painting or about doing anything. Today was Diego’s saint’s day, and we were happy, and it is to be hoped there will be many days of this kind in my life.”

Now, coming back to the affair, based on the painting, A Few Small Nibs, it must have lasted longer till 1935. Frida also moved out abruptly and went to live in a small apartment in the centre of Mexico City at Avenida Insurgentes 432.

Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo

That is it. I have told you the minutest part of Frida’s life, which is very crucial to know to understand the painting. So, now, let us move towards the next section, which includes the provenance of The Two Fridas.

Looking at the History and Background of the Painting.

Previously, I hinted you three points, which hold back the historical context of The Two Fridas. In this section, I will expand them to help you understand every bit of the detail. So, let us start.

Starting from the diary note, when Frida explained her childhood imaginary friend, which forms the first thought of double self-portrait, Frida writes,

“I must have been 6 years old when I experienced intensely an imaginary friendship with a little girl more or less the same age as me. On the glass window of what at that time was my room, and which gave onto Allende Street, I breathed vapour onto one of the first panes. I let out a breath, and with a finger, I drew a door. Full of great joy and urgency, I went out in my imagination, through this door. I crossed the whole plain that I saw in front of me until I arrived at the dairy called Pinzon. I entered by the O of Pinzon and I went down in great haste into the interior of the earth, where my imaginary friend was always waiting for me. I do not remember her image or her colour. But I do know that she was gay- she laughed a lot without sounds. She was agile, and she danced as if she weighed nothing at all. I followed her in all her movements, and while she dances, I told her my secret problems. Which ones? I do not remember but from my voice, she knew everything about me.”

Next, as I already said that it was the International Exhibition of Surrealism in Mexico for which Frida painted the artwork, Two Fridas. In a letter to Nickolas Muray in January 1940, Frida says that she was working like hell to complete her first big painting for the Surrealist show, and she intended to send her name to Julien Levy on February 5 for the exhibition.

Frida painting The Two Fridas by Nickolas Muray

And Finally, the last one. In the previous section, I told you that Diego’s cheating with Christina; this cheating was not the same as Frida’s belief that Christina betrayed her. Following this, they had a divorce. And on the day when the divorce papers came, The Two Fridas was completed. American art historian Mackinley Helm writes,

“I had tea with Frida Kahlo de Rivera on the December day in 1939 when there was handed into the studio a set of papers announcing the final settlement of her divorce from Rivera. Frida was decidedly melancholy. It was not she who had ordained the dissolution of the marriage, she said; Rivera himself had insisted upon it. He had told her that separation would be better for them both and had persuaded her to leave him. But he had by no means convinced her that she would be happy or that her career would prosper, apart from him.

She was working then on her first big picture, a huge canvas called Las Dos Fridas. There are two full-length portraits in it. One of them is the Frida that Diego had loved, the second Frida, the woman whom Diego no longer loves.”

And most probably, Frida completed the artwork in three months as she writes,

“I began painting it three months ago and I finished yesterday.”

I think that is all folks about learning the provenance of the artwork. Let me take you to two crucial upcoming sections, where we will now discuss the painting itself. 

Understanding the Meaning of The Two Fridas.

The Two Fridas is a message of Frida to herself that her only companion in the world is herself. The picture shows a terrific lonesome surrounding with heavy use of threatening elements. Abandoned by Diego, Frida now just holds her hand and links her both selves with a bloodline. 

Frida once explained the painting as the duality of her personality. There is anger and pain in her, specifically to Deigo which the viewer spots instantaneously.

Dominant Elements and Subject Matter.

The Two Fridas have two full portraits of Frida Kahlo. Both of them sit side by side on a bench with their hands joined in a firm clasp. Now, I have been telling you that one of the Frida is loved by Diego and the other one isn’t. Hence, let me now unveil them. The Frida, whom Diego no longer loves, is wearing a white Victorian dress with red embroidered flowers on her skirt; the other wears a Tehuana skirt and blouse with a darker face, suggesting a more Spanish companion, which Diego loved. Now, both Fridas have her hearts exposed in the same way and literal device to showcase pain, as we saw in Memory, the Heart painting. The unloved Frida’s lace bodice reveals her breasts and a broken heart, while the other Frida has a whole heart.

Subject Matter of The Two Fridas

Throughout Tehuana Frida’s arm, a vein leads to her heart, leaping across the other Frida, crimping her neck and entering her broken heart, until finally, it ends in her lap, where the surgical pincers cut it off. The blood drips off to the white dress, whereas Tehuana Frida has a childhood picture of Diego on her hand where the blood vein winds her arm. It is also notable to see that each of their hand is placed near the sexual organs, but the difference is that the left woman holds a surgical pincer, whereas the right one has a miniature Diego. Diego’s egg-shaped portrait appears to stand for both a lost baby and a lost lover, thanks to the long red vein rising from the crimson frame of the oval-shaped miniature.

Frida Kahlo The Two Fridas showing Veins, scissor, blood and Diego egg shaped portrait in her hand (on right Frida)

Frida composed the entire painting in such a sardonic manner that even the small embroidered flowers of her Victorian dress transform into dripping splotches of blood.

Left Frida wearing a Victorian dress with splotches of blood

Coming to other elements and background of the artwork, Frida has used a willfully impassive force, profiling against a grey and white sky. It looks turbulent and threatening, similar to the one El Greco painted above the hilltop at Toledo. The choice of greyish-dark clouds also shows the inner turmoil and disturbing paralysis of the figures. Furthermore, the Mexican bench completely disconnects from every other object in the painting and provides a sense of conformity and familiarity.

We must note that Frida might have spent long hours in front of a mirror to accentuate her sense of two identities; how the observer sees Frida and how she feels from within herself. Hence, she not only depicted herself twice in perfect faces and body anatomy but also included the messages of females as a passive role of pretty objects and victims of pain at the same time. 

Now, that we understand the painting completely, let us move into the formal analysis part.

Learning Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas Analysis.

1. Line.

The Two Fridas have a profuse usage of diagonal lines to convey an instability and lonesome environment. For instance, the surgical pincer acts in a diagonal direction to the Tehuana Frida, which suggests that it is cutting the cord of the past. In a similar to this direction, the blood veins connecting both the Fridas also move diagonally. Lastly, we see that in the Mexican seating, one of the legs moves vertically, which shows stability as Mexican identity is a comfort to Frida.

The Two Fridas Analysis

2. Light and Value.

Frida has used a little shading and lightening techniques to form a subtle symbolism in the artwork. For instance, in the Victorian’s Frida, there is a use of pale and whiter complexion of the Frida, but the Tehuana Frida have little darker shade complexion, showing the Spanish origin, which Deigo loved. The mood of the painting is threatening due to the darker stormy background.

3. Colour.

There is a use of primary colours, like white, blue, green and yellow, in the entire painting. To the left of Frida, the Tehuana costumes of Frida play a darker contrast. And in all the settings, there is a red colour, which acts as a dominant element in The Two Fridas. 

It is also important to note that the darker background plays a subtle role in contrast with the two figures. 

The Sale.

A 1947 entry in Frida’s account book states that Frida sold The Two fridas to Mexico City’s, Museum of Modern Art for four thousand pesos. It was because Frida desperately needed money, and nobody wished to buy it, so in the end, Fernando Gamboa, the director of the Muse Um, brought it.

Opinions and Conclusion.

The Two Fridas is a masterpiece by our beloved Frida for a variety of reasons. From the swirling rhythms in the background, which suggests turmoil to the contrasting serene and calm features of the figures, the painting has an enforced loneliness and threatening mood. The artist was successful in using symbolism through different elements, making it one of a kind. 


Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Why are The Two Fridas so famous?

The Two Fridas is famous as it was the first painting in Frida’s career it was big, having the size of 67-11/16 x 67-11/16 inches, as she majorly painted small miniature paintings due to her health conditions. Additionally, it holds a very crucial segment of Frida’s life, divorce from Diego. The remarkable anatomy and perfect double portraiture as a subject further marked it famous.

What is the difference between The Two Fridas?

In Two Fridas, Diego does not love the woman wearing a Victorian dress, while he loves the woman wearing Tehuana clothing. Further, each of their hands carries a symbol as the left woman has surgical scissors, and the right one has an oval-shaped framed childhood picture of Diego.

What is the mood of the painting The Two Fridas?

The mood of The Two Fridas is suppressing and extremely terrifying with the darker backgrounds of greyish storm clouds and different elements. It carries a lonesome enviornment with the message that only Frida herself is her own companion. However, Frida describes the painting as a reflection of her dual personality.

Who is the audience of The Two Fridas?

The Two Fridas are for the viewers who knew Frida from the inside and wished to see the importance of self-reflection through her painting. Further, Frida showed two versions of her portraits; how the observer sees her and how she sees herself.

What are the symbols in The Two Fridas?

The use of stormier background to show a lonesome, Mexican seating for the comforting and cherishing look, heart veins as Aztec’s sacrifice, and Diego’s oval-shaped framed photo as her child loss are some symbols in the painting, The Two Fridas.

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