Frida Kahlo: life and paintings | summary in 10 points

Frida Kahlo, The two Fridas

In two minutes I will tell you the story of the immense Mexican painter, her illness, her tormented love for Diego and her beautiful self-portraits.

A fragile body and an indomitable spirit. A difficult life, that of Frida Kahlo, marked by a long illness and great passions, lived without hesitation, unconditionally with all of herself, abandoning rationality to the heart.

The passion for art, the bond with her Mexico and the tormented love for Diego Rivera, the companion of a lifetime. Frida’s life was short but very rich because living with the heart does not mean simply counting the days, months or years, but it means counting emotions, because life is not mere survival. And it is not true that those who live longer live more.

Frida Kahlo was a courageous artist, capable of transforming suffering into inspiration, defeats into masterpieces, shaping works that are a proud and powerful scream at the challenge of living.


Who is Frida Kahlo?

1. Frida Kahlo (Coyoacán 1907 – 1954) is considered one of the most important Mexican painters. Many count her among the artists linked to the surrealist movement, but she will never confirm her adherence to this current.

Since she was a child she has shown that she has a strong, passionate character, combined with talent and skills that are out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, her strength of character compensates for a weak physique: she was in fact affected by spina bifida, which her parents and the people around her mistake for polio, thus failing to treat her properly.

The accident

2. The hardest test for Frida, however, arrived in 1925. One day, while returning from school by bus she was involved in a terrible accident that caused her multiple fractures of the spine, several vertebrae and pelvis. She risked dying and wass saved only by undergoing 32 surgeries that forced her to bed for months.

She was only 18 years old and the injuries to her body made her suffer for a lifetime, irremediably compromising her mobility.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, Oil on canvas, 61.25 lookin cm × 47 cm (24.11 in × 18.5 in), Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas, Austin
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, Oil on canvas, 61.25 lookin cm × 47 cm (24.11 in × 18.5 in), Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas, Austin

Frida’s first self-portait

3. During the months in bed immobilized by metal busts and plaster, her parents gave her paints and brushes to help her pass the long days. This gift started a dazzling artistic career.

Frida’s first work was a self-portrait (which was followed by many others) that she gave to a boy she was in love with.

4. The parents immediately encouraged her passion for art, so much so that they installed a mirror on the ceiling of Frida’s room, so that she could withdraw in the long lonely afternoons. This is the main reason for the artist’s numerous self-portraits.

She herself declared: “I paint self-portraits because I am often alone, because I am the person I know best”.

Frida Kahlo, The Wounded Deer, 1946, Oil on masonite, 22.4 cm × 30 cm (8.8 in × 12 in)
Frida Kahlo, The Wounded Deer, 1946, Oil on masonite, 22.4 cm × 30 cm (8.8 in × 12 in)

The love story with Diego Rivera

5. Frida Kahlo in 1928, at the age of 21, joined the Mexican Communist Party, becoming a staunch activist. It was in that year that he met Diego Rivera, the most famous painter of revolutionary Mexico. She had met him for the first time when he was only fifteen (and he was thirty-six), under the scaffolding of the national preparatory school, while Diego was painting a mural for the school auditorium.

6. In 1929 she married Diego, despite the fact that he was 21 years older than her and was already in his third marriage. Diego also had a reputation as a “playboy” and an unfaithful husband.

The relationship between the two artists was very intense: art, betrayal, passion … and fighting with guns. She herself said: “I have suffered two serious accidents in my life … the first was when a tram ran over me and the second was Diego Rivera.”

Frida Kahlo, Diego in my mind (Self-portrait as Tehuana), 1943, Mexico City
Frida Kahlo, Diego in my mind (Self-portrait as Tehuana), 1943, Mexico City

An open marriage…

7. Frida Kahlo has had many lovers (men and women), including the Russian revolutionary Lev Trotsky and the poet André Breton, but she was never able to have children, due to her physique compromised by the accident.

When she became pregnant with her first child, Frida went to great lengths to carry the pregnancy forward. She only had to give up when doctors forced her to have an abortion to prevent both her and the baby from losing their lives.

8. The relationship beetween Frida Kahlo and Diego could be considered an “open marriage“, more because of Diego’s infidelities than by choice of Frida, who suffered greatly from her husband’s betrayals, who even had an affair with Frida’s younger sister, Cristina.

Given the impossibility of relying on Diego’s loyalty, the two decided to live in separate houses, joined together by a small bridge, so that each of them could have their own “artistic” space.

Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas
Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas, 1939, Oil on canvas, 173.5 cm × 173 cm (68.3 in × 68 in), Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

Frida and Surrealism

9. The works of Frida kahlo have often been compared to the Surrealist movement, but Frida has always rejected this closeness, arguing: “I have always painted my reality, not my dreams”.

Viva la vida

10. Coldplay’s album Viva la vida or Death and All His Friends (2008) is inspired by a famous phrase that Kahlo wrote on her latest painting, eight days before her death at the age of 47.

Frida Kahlo, Viva la vida, 1954

Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Published by Marco Lovisco

Journalist, communication specialist and writer.

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