The Wounded Deer: The Aztec Influence on Frida Kahlo

The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo is one of the artist’s many self-portraits depicting her difficult life and incidents, differentiating through the richness of its symbolism.

The Wounded Deer

During the lifetime of Frida, she didn’t participate to a severe degree in the international art scene, as we can see from the list of exhibitions she had and the contemporary reviews she received for her work. It was rather her love and husband, Diego Rivera, who enjoyed international attention as an artist and was recognized as one of the leading figures of Mexican artists. However, Rivera’s fame faded as time progressed. In contrast, Frida Kahlo became the new inspiration for the art world. But, since the paintings of Frida are difficult to stage in museums around the world, exhibitions of her work are infrequent, but they draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. An audience of millions reveres Frida as a figure, transcending her individual life as a painter and a woman. Hence, one can understand how Frida initiated her role as an artist, consistent with both the era; feminism and post-feminism. Now, it might be a question to the mind of readers how Frida did this through her craftsmanship. So, the reason is that at the very beginning of the twentieth century, there were only a few successful women artists in Europe and America due to the inaccessibility of art schools to women. In my women’s article series, I have always emphasized the point that the only requirement as a feminist by women was their access to art schools, which was denied then. Hence, this remained a significant factor even after Frida’s birth. So, coming from a seriously Catholic country like Mexico and then blazing an art world with such popularity despite every odds took the female art world to the next stage. So, through Frida’s art, we see differences in the world. Previously, I have tried to give you the best informative study on Frida’s famous artworks like The Two Fridas, Memory, the Heart, Henry Ford Hospital, etc. But this time, I wanted to introduce a symbolist painting of Frida’s gallery, which is not known to many people, The Wounded Deer. So, let’s start reading about it.

General Information of the Painting.

1. Artist’s Statement.

“You deserve a lover who makes you feel safe, who can consume this world whole if he walks hand in hand with you; someone who believes that his embraces are a perfect match with your skin.”

2. Subject Matter.

The subject matter of The Wounded Deer painting includes a running deer with the head of Frida, severely wounded by arrows. The background shows a forest with long trunks of trees and a little water shore. The wonderful painting expresses the feeling of acute loneliness and alienation through the symbolism of deer and has its root traces of inspiration from the fables of Aesop. Frida was familiar with the world of Aesop’s fables, which depicted the partridge as being hunted by other animals. It is constantly harassed and driven away by the hens in the farmyard, and it feels abandoned and alienated. The partridge consoles itself at the end of the fable by saying,

“I shall no longer distress myself at being struck at by these animals when I see that they cannot even refrain from quarreling with each other.”

Since this fable, the partridge has symbolized the poor, persecuted animal that feels lonely and misunderstood. Frida chose such a fitting metaphor for herself. To know why she chose this metaphor for herself, you have to read till the end of the article.

Frida Kahlo The Wounded Deer
The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo | Source: Reed Enger, in Obelisk Art History

3. Artist.

Frida Kahlo, one of the sensational female artists of Mexico, painted The Wounded Deer. Dressing in flamboyant clothes, Frida would wear floor-length native Mexican costumes to haute couture. When she wore those dresses, the New Yorker children would ask her, ‘Where’s the circus,’ but she never minded a bit about it. As the third wife of Diego Rivera, she would often be seen as small and fierce, just like someone out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, in contrast to the huge and extravagant Rivera, straight out of Rabelais. Her life revolved around Diego and hospitals for her operations due to a terrible accident on the bus when she was eighteen. From the day she suffered that accident till her death, she lived with the pain and constant threat of illness. Frida said,

“I hold the record for operations.”

Yearning for a child that she could never have, as the smashed pelvis led to only miscarriages and at least three therapeutic abortions, she was often abandoned by the man she loved most, Diego. And to express this deep sadness and inwardness, she used to paint. These paintings included self-portraits majorly, which reveal the cruelty of her life.

4. Date.

The painting dates back to 1946.

5. Provenance.

A little backstory to Frida’s life, which coincided with this artwork, is that her health drastically deteriorated during this time. In 1944, she had a teaching job in Mexico, where she taught her students to paint. But, due to the terrible pain in her spine and foot, she reduced her teaching schedule. Also, her bone surgeon, Alejandro Zimbron, suggested Frida take complete rest. Without support this time, she could not even sit and stand. Losing almost thirteen pounds in six months, Frida had no appetite, with frequently subjected to fainting spells, and a slight fever all the time. Following this, she was asked to wear a metal corset, so that she could sit or stand without hussle. It was at this time, that Frida made one of the famous paintings of her career, The Broken Column. Following this similar pain and even worse conditions, she painted other artworks like Without Hope in 1945.

To get relief from this painful condition, she had spine surgery, which was supposed to lower her back problems. When she was released from the hospital after her surgery, she was first bedridden and then enclosed in a steel corset for around eight months; she was supposed to rest. But Frida did not take the instructions from the Doctor seriously, and her health deteriorated. Her spine pain grew worse, she lost weight, and ultimately developed anemia with a fungus infection on her right hand. Cristina, her sister, who was with her at this operation, saw that this operation, which happened to take place in New York, was so painful that she was given large amounts of morphine, such that she began hallucinating, watching animals in the hospital. At this time, her handwriting became larger, and her journal sounded frenetic and euphoric. In 1946, following all her feelings of abandonment from Diego (which I will narrate to you in later sections), terrible surgery pains, and health issues, she painted The Little Deer (as she mentioned) or The Wounded Deer.

6. Location.

The Wounded Deer resides in the private collection of Carolyn Farb Houston, Texas, U.S.A.

7. Technique and Medium.

Frida painted The Wounded Deer in the medium of oil on canvas. One of the most significant things to know is that many articles on the internet have wrongly represented the genre of Frida’s artworks. It is not surrealist because Frida herself has cleared this question, not hinting even the tints of surrealism in it. It has the techniques of realism with the retablo-like paintings, common in the 1930s. However, the difference in Frida’s artworks was that they always remained a foremost vehicle of personal expression.

ArtistFrida Kahlo
Real NameThe Little Deer
Year Painted1946
GenreMagical Realism, Portraiture
PeriodModern Art and Symbolism
MediumOil on canvas on masonite
Dimensions9 x 12 inches
PriceNot Known
Where is it housed?Collection of Mr. Espinosa Ulloa, Mexico City (Previously), Collection of Carolyn Farb Houston, Texas, U.S.A. (Present)

The Wounded Deer | Fast Knowledge

The Wounded Deer is a 1946 self-portrait by Frida Kahlo following Magical Realism and depicting the artist in a severely wounded deer body with a calm face. The painting exhibits the artist’s physical and psychological trauma, taking influence from the Aztec culture.

Now, that I have given you a brief account of the painting, let us go in detailed sections to understand it completely.

Detailed Description of The Wounded Deer.

About the Artist: Frida Kahlo.

To describe Frida and her life in just a section is just impossible. So, with my previous articles on her paintings, I have given an overview of her. Besides, I have made a dedicated article explaining Frida’s life, her craftsmanship, struggles, love, and relationships. For this section, I have chosen something very interesting about the life of Diego and Frida, which you must know.

Frida Kahlo Photograph B&W
Frida Kahlo Seated Puente de Alvarado Studio, 1937 | Source: Atlas Gallery

Frida and Diego had a common thing in them; humor, intelligence, Mexicanism, social conscience, and a bohemian approach to life. Besides, Diego took pride in explaining the excellence of the professional success of Frida. He always admired Frida for growing her artistic mastery. Whenever Diego had a chance, he would tell people Frida had a painting hung in the Louvre before him or any of his colleagues, and he was proud to show her off. According to one of the visitors, Diego’s first comment to her when they first met was,

“You must meet Frida. There is no artist in Mexico that can compare with her.”

She added,

“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 your nor I are capable of anything like it.’ I noticed that in telling me this his own bulging eyes were shining with tears.”

In one of the 1943 articles, ‘Frida Kahlo and Mexican Art’, Diego wrote,

“In the panorama of Mexican painting of the last twenty years, the work of Frida Kahlo shines like a diamond in the midst of many inferior jewels; clear and hard, with precisely defined facets. Frida is the greatest proof of the renaissance of the art of Mexico.”

And of course, Frida always complimented back to Diego. To her, Diego was everything like God and the “architect of life.” When she painted, Portrait of Diego, she wrote,

“His supposed mythomania is in direct relation to his tremendous imagination. That is to say, he is as much of a liar as the poets or as the children who have not yet been turned into idiots by school or mothers. I have heard him tell all lies: from the most innocent to the most complicated stories about people whom his imagination combined in fnatastic situations and actions, always with a great sense of humor and a marvelous critical sense; but I have never heard him say a single stupid or banal lie. Lying, or playing at lying, he unmasks many people, he learns the interior mechanism of others, who are much more ingeniously liars than he, and the most curious thing of the supposed lies Diego is that in the long and short of it, those the most curious thing of the supposed lies of Diego is that in the long and short of it, those who are involved in the imaginary combination become angry, not because of the lie, but rather because of the truth contained in the life, that always come to the surface.”

Portrait of Diego by Frida Kahlo
Portrait of Diego by Frida Kahlo | Source:

Now, let me take you to the historical provenance of the artwork, which explains the entire story behind this creation.

Historical Background of The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo.

As I earlier stated in the provenance section Frida was seriously ill when she painted this artwork. Let me explain it more so you can understand the painting easily.

The arrows, which pierces the flanks of The Wounded Deer, are struck deep such that they don’t fall. After years of suffering and hopelessness, she wanted to bid a fond farewell to her life at the end of the 1940s, but Diego’s conversations always held her back as she knew that he would not live without her. One of the poems, which Frida wrote in her diary with the painting, The Little Deer and Flower of Life, reads,

“La Vida Callada

dadora de Mundos

Venados heridos

Ropas de Tehuana

Ryos, penas, Soles

Ritmos Escondidos

“La nina Marian”

frutos ya muy vivos.

la muerte se aleja-

lineas, formas, nidos.

las manos construyen

los ojos abiertos

los Diegos sentidos

lagrimas enteras

todas son muy claras

cosmicas verdades

que viven sin ruidos

which means,

The silent life…

giver of worlds

Wounded deer

Tehuana clothes

lightening flashes, pains, suns

hidden rhythms

“The little girl Mariana”

Fruits that are very much alive.

death keeps its distance-

lines, forms, nests.

hands build

open eyes

the Diegos full of feeling

whole tears

all are very clear

Cosmic truths

that live without sounds.”

At first, Frida underwent a bone marrow operation in New York in 1944 in the hope that she relieved from the spinal pains. But Alejandro Gomez Arias, her Mexican doctor, believed that Dr. Wilson (who performed the bone-marrow operation) fused the wrong vertebrae. Several years later, Dr. Guillermo Velasco y Polo, a surgeon who assisted Dr. Juan Farill in performing other spinal fusions in Mexico, shared this opinion. Because Dr. Wilson placed the metal plate just below the sick vertebrae, he claims it wasn’t in the right place. Frida may have put herself in Dr. Farill’s hands for this reason. Frida’s spinal fusion failed, but she herself said the surgeon was wonderful and that she felt great afterward. All these incidents worsened her health condition, giving her more severe pain. It was this time in 1946 when she first painted Tree of Hope and then The Wounded Deer.

Understanding the Meaning of The Wounded Deer.

The painting senses physical and psychological trauma. As a result of Frida’s divorce with Diego, which negatively affected her at first, her illness even before the divorce was frequently accompanied by periods of spiritual trauma, which suggests that she used them to hold onto Diego or to win him back. Ella Wolfe says that The Wounded Deer refers to the agony of living with Diego.

As Frida painted herself as a deer, she expressed her feeling of oneness with every living being. This happened in the Aztec culture. I previously mentioned the term, but in this section, I will tell you its relevance to the artwork. Anita Brenner, in her book, Idols Behind Altars, describes that there is a pervasive Indian attitude toward the Mexican culture, which

“participates of the same stuff of being, with other lives and humans.”

Due to this reason, the pre-Columbian used to produce abstract, composite creatures, half human and animal, to portray the idea of rebirth and continuance of life. Anita Brenner writes,

“Worship was a longing, not to acquire God’s character or mode of life, but rather an identification with some attribute or function of divinity.”

Thus the Aztech worshipper prays,

“I am the flower, I am the feather, I am the drum and mirror of the gods. I am the song. I rain flowers, I rain songs.”

Hence, Frida repeatedly says this to herself.

Among the Aztecs, certain animals were associated with peculiar meanings. Parrots, for instance, because they were able to talk, were viewed as supernatural creatures and symbolized as man-headed birds. As well as believing that a newborn human has an animal counterpart, the Aztecs believed that a person’s fate was tied to the animal that represented the calendar sign on the day of birth. Frida also saw herself as a metamorphic creature. The head of her body could be transformed into flowers, the arms could become wings, and the body could transform into a deer. While Surrealism certainly contributed to this, it is Mexican culture’s ancient magical approach to life that is its real source. Hence, this was the sole reason, why Frida painted herself in a deer body. 

In addition to this, in ‘Verses Expressing the Feelings of A Lover’, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz wrote,

“If thou seest the wounded stag

that hastens down

the mountainside,

seeking, stricken, in the icy stream

ease for its hurt,

and thirsting plunges in 

the crystal waters,

not in ease, in pain, it mirrors


Now, let us move on to the following sections of the article.

Subject Matter and Dominant Elements.

Originally owned by the Arcade Boytler, the man who recommended Dr. Wilson to Frida, this artwork uses the simplest metaphor to show that Frida is prey to suffering. As the deer runs through the glade, it is pierced by nine arrows that will slowly kill him; surely it is a reference to Frida’s own life journey of being persecuted by injuries that slowly destroyed her. Although Frida’s face is calm, the little deer’s arrow wounds bleed. Looking at the painting, one can see that the subject matter of The Wounded Deer is quite simple.

The Wounded Deer painting
Subject Matter of The Wounded Deer | Source: Reed Enger, in Obelisk Art History

The background of the painting consists of trees in receding space with a good handling of the perspective. The face of Frida is calm, but the painting portrays psychological suffering. For Frida, her art was everything, so her physical and psychic sufferings were intertwined with it.

One fascinating thing to see here is that Frida, besides her injuries, showed physical and psychological injuries with even the massive tree trunks with dry and cranked wood, also reflecting decay and death.

Look at the broken tree branch near the deer’s body. I mean, it simply refers to the general sympathy for damaged things. In addition to this, Antonio Rodriguez says,

“In the pre-Hispanic world, in order to enter paradise, one put a dry branch {on the dead person’s grave}, and resurrection was the resurrection of the dry branch into a green branch.”

Learning The Wounded Deer Analysis.

1. Line.

There is a strong fusion of diagonal lines in the painting. All the arrows pierced into the deer’s body are directed in a diagonal direction, indicating trauma, stress, and vigorous instability. Further, the broken branches of trees and cracks in the massive trunks of the trees are also in diagonal directions, which speaks about disability and turmoil in a vertically tranquil tree. If you look at the deer racks, they also seem to be present in a diagonal direction. Even the lightning bolt in the background depicts the intense diagonal lines.

The Wounded Deer Analysis
Line Analysis of The Wounded Deer (Diagonal lines)

2. Space.

The Wounded Deer has a foreground with the central figure of a deer and a background depicting ocean and lightning bolt. It does not have much free space as the objects like vertical trees, branches, and the background are intensely intimate.

As the rows of trees appear to converge towards the narrower opening in the background, the Kahlo-deer figure looks as if she is on stage, creating a sense of perspective.

Compared to the trees and broken branches in the foreground, the trees in the background appear less detailed. In addition, the darker ground in the background emphasizes and details the lighter subject in the foreground. As a result of the shading on the trees, the scene appears more three-dimensional.

3. Color Analysis.

The composition consists of more earthy colors like browns, and beiges, profused with the light contrast of cool colors like greens and blues. It does not have an overall bright or darker color scheme, as the composition looks harmonious. But the red color of blood spots creates a threat and danger to the viewer’s eye. Also, the foreground is much lighter compared to the background, adding more emphasis on the deer figure.


Although Frida painted The Wounded Deer with the imaginary drama, enclosing it with the principles of Aztec culture, it surely reflects her own life. The painting is more intimate to her sufferings as she narrates her pain.


1. Frida Kahlo: Torment and Triumph in Her Life and Art by Malka Drucker.

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

3. Frida Kahlo by Hedda Garza.

4. The Letters of Frida Kahlo by Frida Kahlo.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What is the message of The Wounded Deer?

According to the Ella Wolfe, among the circle of Frida Kahlo, specified that The Wounded Deer refers to the agony of living with Diego.

What is the meaning behind The Wounded Deer painting?

The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo shows the physical and psychological trauma of the artist.

Who owns The Wounded Deer painting?

The Wounded Deer is part of the private collection of Carolyn Farb of Houston, Texas, USA.

What does The Wounded Deer symbolize?

The Wounded Deer carries several symbolic elements, starting with the Deer, which takes its value from the Aztec Culture, representing how the life of a human is connected to that of an animal, in this case, Frida and a Deer. Further, the presence of dry wood symbolizes Death, and the arrows wounding the Deer’s body are the injuries she suffered throughout her life.

What kind of art is The Wounded Deer?

The Wounded Deer is a self-portrait using Magical Realism and symbolism to convey its meaning.


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