Frida Kahlo Fans

Complete Biography


Home Page * Main Menu




"The only thing I that I paint because
I need to.

"I never painted dreams.... I painted my own reality.…I paint what ever
passes through my head without any other consideration.

"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone... because I am the subject I know best. "

"I've done my paintings well, not quickly but patiently, and they have a
message of pain in them.

"I am not sick…I am broken... but I am happy to be alive
as long as I can paint....

....Frida Kahlo

As a young woman, becoming a painter was not a part of Frida's career goals. Her goal in life was to become a doctor but a tragic accident at age 18 changed the course of her life forever.

Frida's life began where it ended… in the "Blue House" built by her father in Coyoacán, Mexico, then a suburb of Mexico City. Her official birth certificate says she was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Calderon at 8:30am on July 6th, 1907. But, in later years, Frida proudly claimed to have been born at 1:00am on July 7th, 1910, to coincide with the date the Mexican Revolution began, but actually she changed the date to simply make herself younger. She later changed the German spelling of her name from "Frieda" to "Frida". She was the third of four daughters born to a Hungarian/German-Jewish father and a mother of Spanish and Mexican Indian descent: Matilde (1898-1951), Adriana (1902-1968), Frida (1907-1954) and Cristina (1908-1964).

Frida's father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was the son of jeweler Jakob Heinrich Kahlo and Henriette Kaufmann. He arrived in Mexico in 1891 at the age of 19 with little money and "No Hablo Español". Once in Mexico, he changed his German name, Wilhelm Kahlo, to a more Spanish name "Guillermo Kahlo", traded his Jewish religion for atheism, and never looked back. He found employment at a fashionable jewelry store in Mexico City that was owned by the Diener brothers. Soon after his arrival in Mexico, he married Maria Cardena and had three girls with her, the second of which died days after her birth and his wife Maria herself died following the birth of their third infant, leaving Guillermo alone with his two young daughters, Maria Luisa (b. 1894) and Margarita (b.1898). Kahlo himself was not a well man, he suffered from epilepsy throughout his entire life.

On the night of Maria Cardena's death in 1898, Guillermo asked for the hand of Frida's mother, Matilde Calderón y Gonzalez , a 24 year old fellow worker at the jewelry store where Guillermo was employed. Guillermo married Matilde who was a devout Catholic and a native born "mestizo" Mexican (Matilde's mother was Spanish and her father of Mexican/Indian descent ). The Calderon-Kahlo marriage was not a match made in heaven. Matilde later confessed to her young daughter Frida that she did not love Guillermo. She only married Guillermo because he was German and he reminded her of a previous young German lover, Luis Bauer, who had committed suicide in her presence. Shortly after the marriage, Guillermo's two young daughters from his previous marriage were sent away to a nun's school. It was from Matilde's father that Guillermo learned the trade of photography and he set himself up in business as a professional photographer.

When Matilde became pregnant with Frida, she had just lost her only son who died of pneumonia just days after birth. After giving birth to Frida, Matilde was too ill to care for or even to feed her newborn daughter. Frida had to be breastfed by an Indian wet-nurse whom the Kahlo's hired for that specific purpose. This may be the reason that Frida never formed a strong mother-daughter bond with her mother. Frida's wet-nurse experience was the inspiration for her 1937 painting "My Nurse & I". The wet-nurse was eventually fired for drinking on the job.

At age 6, Frida was struck with polio affecting the use of her right leg. Her leg grew very thin, and her foot was stunted in its growth. During her nine month convalescence, her father made sure that she regularly exercised the muscles in her leg and foot. Despite their efforts, her leg and foot remained deformed. Frida attempted to hide it by wearing pants, long skirts or two pairs of socks on her right foot. She was cruelly nicknamed "peg-leg Frida" by her childhood classmates.

In 1922, after completion of her primary education at the Colegio Aleman, Mexico's German school, Frida enrolled at the Escuela National Preparatoria school, where she hoped to become a doctor. The school was located in Mexico City, an hour bus ride from Coyoacan. Frida was one of only 35 girls to attend this prestigious school of 2000 students. Frida's mother did not approve of sending Frida to a school so far from home and further thought it was unnecessary for a young woman to acquire such a formal education. After all, she had taught Frida to cook, sew and clean…all of the skills a woman of those days needed. But Frida's father had great hopes for his "favorite daughter" and was determined to see that she got the best education possible.

At first, Frida thrived on the intellectual and cultural stimulation at the school. By age 16 Frida was able to read not only in Spanish but English and German as well. But Frida soon became bored with the teachers, classes and her classmates and often skipped classes. She became a member of a political group of intellectual bohemians that supported socialist-nationalist ideas and devoted themselves intensively to literature and mischief. They named thier group "Cachuchas" after the type of hats they wore. The group consisted of 7 boys and 2 girls. The leader of the group was Alejandro Gomez Arias, a law student, journalist and later Frida's first lover. The group would often play pranks on unsuspecting students and teachers. For one of the more serious pranks, Frida was expelled but quickly managed to get the suspension revoked before her family learned of the incident.

During this same period, the "Mexican Renaissance" movement began. The government sponsored local artists to paint murals in churches, schools, libraries, and public buildings. It was at the Preparatioria school that Frida first learned of Diego Rivera, who was painting his mural "Creation" at the school's Simon Bolivar auditorium. Although students were forbidden to enter the auditorium while "El Maestro" was working, Frida would hide in the back and watch him for hours. She became fascinated by the "larger than life" man whom she nicknamed "Panzon" (fat belly). One day she shocked a friend by telling her that she one day wanted to have a child by Diego Rivera.

In September of 1925, Frida was in her senior year and looking forward to graduation and already making plans to attend medical school. But, September 17, 1925 would become the day in which Frida's destiny was changed forever. On that day, Frida and her boyfriend, Alejandro, got onto the bus to head home from school. Shortly afterwards, the bus was stuck broadside by a trolley car. Frida sustained multiple injuries; a broken pelvic bone, spinal column, and other severe injuries, leading doctors to doubt whether she would survive. She spent the next several months in bed recovering from the accident. Little did she know at the time that she would endure some 30 operations throughout her lifetime in an attempt to correct the damage sustained in that accident. Doctor's told Frida that she would probably never be able to carry a child to full term. This accident changed the course of her life forever. It was during her months of convalescence that Frida began to take painting seriously. Her only previous artistic tuition had been a few drawing lessons from the commercial printmaker Fernando Fernandez, for whom Frida worked part-time as a paid apprentice.

Frida's father, an amateur artist, gave Frida his paints and brushes and her mother had a carpenter constructed an easel that sat on her bed. A large mirror was mounted on the underside of the bed canopy so Frida could see herself. She began by painting portraits of herself, friends and still life. Throughout Frida's short life, she created 151 paintings, most of which were self-portraits and still life. Frida feared that after her death she would be forgotten and self-portraits were her way of immortalizing herself.

After the bus accident, Frida's relationship with Alejandro began to crumble. There were fewer and fewer visits. In late December of 1925, Frida started to regain the use of her legs. Her first journey was to Mexico City to visit Alejandro. She arrived at his home and knocked on the door but he never came out to meet her.

In 1926, Frida painted her first self-portrait: "Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress", her first serious work and the first of many self-portraits to come. It was painted as a gift for her boyfriend, Alejandro, who had left her suspecting her of infidelities. Alejandro admired Italian Renaissance art and would often give Frida reproductions of Old Masters paintings. "Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress" is Frida's interpretation of Botticelli's "Venus" which Alejandro admired.

Frida started the self-portrait in March of 1926 and finished it in September. Prior to sending the painting to Alejandro she wrote him a note of apology:

"Within a few days the portrait will be in your house. Forgive me for sending it without a frame. I implore you to put it in a low place where you can see it as if you were looking at me."

In March of 1927, Alejandro's parents sent him on a four month tour of Europe with his uncle….mainly to separate him from Frida of whom they did not approve. By then Alejandro had also grown tired of Frida and wanted to escape from her "possessive" grip. While he was away, Frida wrote to him often to express her feelings and love for him. Alejandro was supposed to return in July but July came and went and Alejandro was still in Europe. When he finally returned in November there was a brief reconciliation with Frida but soon their relationship diminished and they drifted apart.

By the end of 1927, Frida's health had recovered to the extent that she was once more living a largely "normal" life. Although her school friends had already graduated and moved on to the university, she resumed contact with them and joined the Young Communist League.

At the start of 1928, a friend from her school days introduced her to a group of young people centered around the Cuban Communist Julio Antonio Mella, who was currently in exile in Mexico. One of the group members was the photographer and silent film star Tina Modotti, the lover of Mella and an acquaintance of Diego Rivera. It was at a party hosted by Modotti that Frida finally met Diego Rivera face-to-face for the first time. Frida described their first encounter as distant until Diego pulled his pistol and shot the phonograph. It was then she said: "…that I began to be interested in him although I was also afraid of him". Frida left the party that night without ever speaking to Diego.

Soon after, Frida showed Diego some of her paintings and asked him what he thought of her own efforts and whether he considered her talented. "You have talent..." Diego told her and encouraged her to continue painting. Diego was not only impressed by her paintings but with Frida herself and began courting her...he became a frequent visitor on Sundays. It was during their courtship that Diego suggested Kahlo begin wearing traditional Mexican clothing, which consisted of long, colorful dresses and exotic jewelry.

Diego incorporated a portrait of Frida into his "Ballad of the Revolution" mural in the Ministry of Public Education. She appears in a panel he called "Frida Kahlo Distributes the Weapons". Dressed in a black skirt and red shirt, and wearing a red star on her breast, she is shown as a member of the Mexican Communist Party, which she in fact joined in 1928. Rivera continued to be a frequent visitor at the "Blue House".

On August 21, 1929, in a civil ceremony in the town hall of Coyoacán, Frida Kahlo married Diego Rivera. She wore a long skirt and a blouse borrowed from her Indian maid and draped herself in a red reboso shawl. Diego wore a plain gray suit, his Stetson hat and a Colt revolver at his side. Diego was 42 years old, 6' 1" and 300 pounds; Frida was 22, 5'3" and just 98 pounds. Frida's mother did not approve of the union and did not attend the wedding ceremony. She said that Diego was too old, too fat and worse yet he was a Communist and an atheist. She described the marriage as being: "… the marriage between an elephant and a dove." Frida's father however, an atheist himself, was less resistant to the marriage and did attend the wedding ceremony. He understood that Diego had the financial means to provide for his daughter's medical needs. On one of Diego's frequent visits to the Kahlo home, Frida's father took Diego aside and said, "My daughter is sick and always will be….she's intelligent but not pretty…I see that you are interested in my daughter…eh..?" When Rivera replied that he was, Kahlo said, "She is a devil". "I know…" Diego replied. "Well, I've warned you," Kahlo said and left the room. Frida's father was the only one to attend the wedding ceremony. Some of Frida's friends were shocked by her choice while others saw it as a way to advance her own career as an artist.

The local newspaper, La Prensa, described the wedding as "…modest, without ostentation, without pompous and unpretentious". The article started by identifying Frida as "….one of his [Diego's] disciples" and then went on to describe her attire as "…very simple street clothes". After the wedding Frida moved out of the Blue House to live with Diego in the center of the city.

At the wedding reception that followed, Diego proceeded to get obnoxiously drunk. In a drunken rage he broke another mans little finger, broke several items on the table and brandished his pistol. Frida was furious at his behavior. They argued and Frida left in tears. She did not move in with Diego until several days later.

Frida soon became pregnant but had to undergo an abortion because the fetus was incorrectly positioned due to her fractured pelvis. Frida disparately wanted a child but Diego did not want children partly because his painting commissions obligated them to travel a great deal.

Shortly after their marriage, Diego was expelled from the Communist Party after accepting another commission from the Mexican government to paint a series of murals at the Cortes Palace in Cuernavaca, South of Mexico City. As a result of Diego's expulsion, Frida, demonstrating her loyalty to him, also left the Communist Party. Although they distanced themselves from the Party, they did not abandon the goals of Communism and continued to support the Party from the sidelines

During this period, the North Americans were very interested in the cultural development of the so-called "Mexican Renaissance" movement in Mexico. The United States represented a powerful magnet for Mexican artists to profit from its more strongly developed art market. Rivera was determined to capitalize on the opportunity and accepted a commission to paint murals for the San Francisco Stock Exchange and the California School of Fine Arts.

On November 10th, 1930, the newly-wed couple left Mexico for a three-year sojourn in the United States. Their first stop was San Francisco where Diego was commissioned to paint murals in the San Francisco Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the California School of Fine Arts (San Francisco Art Institute). They moved into a large studio at 716 Montgomery Street that belonged to Ralph Stackpole, San Francisco's leading artist in the 1920s and 1930s. Although they arrived at the beginning of the "Great Depression", there always seemed to be money for murals and lavish welcoming parties. San Francisco's elite society idolized Diego but scrutinized Frida as just an object of curiosity. Other than her trips to China Town where she fell in love with the Chinese children, Frida was unimpressed with San Francisco. She avoided the people whom she described as "boring" and "...they all have faces like unbaked rolls". In a letter to her friend, Isabel Campos, Frida wrote: "I have no women friends…and that's why I spend my time painting".

Up to this point, Frida had painted only to amuse herself and never considered herself to be an artist. She would often accompany Diego to his worksite and paint small paintings on pieces of tin or board. In 1931, while in San Francisco, Frida painted "Frieda and Diego Rivera", a folkloric style double-portrait that may have been based on a wedding photograph. The painting, shown at the "Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists", was the first public showing of her work. A San Francisco newspaper article described the work as being "…valuable only because it was painted by the wife of Diego Rivera".

The couple remained in San Francisco while Diego worked on the commissioned murals. Diego selected the beautiful tennis star Helen Moody as his model for one of the panels in the Pacific Stock Exchange mural "Allegory of California". As was his usual practice, he began an affair with the tennis beauty. In retaliation, Frida began a sexual affair with Christina Hastings, the wife of one of Diego's assistances. During this time, the pain and deformity in Frida's right leg worsened and she was hospitalized. There she met Dr. Leo Eloesser, a well-known surgeon. He diagnosed her physical problems as being stress related and recommended bed rest and a healthy diet. Dr Eloesser became Frida's friend and most trusted medical advisor for the rest of her life. Frida painted his portrait as an expression of her gratitude for his friendship and medical advice.

In a letter to her friend Isabel Campos, Frida wrote: "I have no women friends….that's why I spend my life painting". The Rivera's planed to return together to Mexico on June 8th after Diego finished the murals. Frida, however, bored with "Gringolandia", left in May. Diego left on June 8th as scheduled. While back in Mexico, Frida met the Hungarian born photographer Nickolas Muray who was vacationing in Mexico and visiting friends. Muray was a well known and socially prominent fashion photographer from New York. They were immediately attracted to one another and began a secret "on-again/off-again" love affair that would last for nearly 10 years.

In November the Rivera's sailed aboard the Morro Castle to New York to attend the opening of Diego's retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art on December 22. Upon their arrival in New York, the couple was greeted by New York's rich and famous but the spotlight again was on Diego. Frida was simply referred to as "the young Mexican girl on the arm of Diego Rivera" and described as "shy" and "...did a bit of painting herself". In New York, as in San Francisco, Frida was ignored as an artist and had no identity of her own. She continued to be referred to only as "Mrs. Rivera". Diego's exhibit consisted of 150 works and 8 mural panels. The show was an over whelming success...only adding to Diego's popularity and status.

In April of 1932, the couple moved to Detroit where Rivera had been awarded a commission from the Ford Motor Company to paint a mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. While in Detroit, they stayed in a one-bedroom furnished apartment in the Wardell, a large residential hotel. The hotel was conveniently located at 15 Kirby East and Woodward Avenue, across the street from the Detroit Institute of Arts where Diego would be working. Having lived in cosmopolitan New York, Frida was not impressed with Detroit....she referred to it as "a shabby old village". Frida became pregnant once again but after only three and a half months her second pregnancy ended in miscarriage at the Henry Ford Hospital. Diego never wanted children and Frida knew it. She took quinine in an attempt to abort, but it did not happen right away. On July 4th, Frida was hospitalized with severe hemorrhaging and later suffered a miscarriage. She spent the next 13 days recovering in the hospital. Her painting "Henry Ford Hospital" documents every aspect of the tragic event.

In early September of 1932, Frida received word that her mother was gravely ill. She and her friend Lucienne Bloch returned to Mexico. On September 8th they arrived in Coyoacán and on September 15th, Frida's mother died after suffering from breast cancer and gall-bladder surgery just two days earlier. Despite Frida's attempts to bond with her mother, they always remained distant. She referred to her mother as "El Jefe" (The Boss). Frida recalled that "I have my father's eyes and my mother's body". Frida was her father's favorite daughter. "She is the most intelligent of all my daughters and the most like me" he would say.

On October 21, Kahlo and Bloch returned to Detroit where Diego continued work on his murals.
Diego worked long hours in an effort to complete the Detroit murals on schedule…he had little time for Frida. To combat boredom, Frida began to paint. One day while painting in her hotel room, a local newspaper reporter came to Frida's room and asked if she could interview her for a featured column about "visiting homes of interesting people". Of course in the interview Frida was her own witty self and played the role of the innocent "adoring wife". When the article was published the heading read: "Wife of Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art"... but in the article Frida proclaimed that "Of course he [Diego] does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist."

After completing the Detroit murals in March of 1933, Diego and Frida traveled to New York City where Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural in the Rockefeller Center. While Diego painted the mural, Frida began work on her painting "My Dress Hangs There"… a painting that expressed her discontentment with the United States, its social decay and its fundamental human values. In this painting, Frida expresses her dim view of the United States which is just the opposite view of Diego's who was expressing his approval of the industrial progress in his own mural. Frida was homesick and wanted to return to Mexico but Diego insisted that it was for the best if they stayed in the United States.

In early May, Rockefeller confronted Rivera about the use of Lenin's portrait in the mural. Rockefeller pleaded with Rivera to paint over the portrait but Rivera refused, reminding Rockefeller that he had reviewed the preliminary sketches and approved them. As a compromise, Rivera offered to include a bust of Abraham Lincoln...but no deal. On May 9th, 1933, Rivera's Rockefeller Center commission was abruptly terminated and the unfinished mural was destroyed. Four days later, General Motors canceled the Chicago World's Fair commission.

In June, Rivera accepted a mural commission for the New Worker's School. After its completion in December, Diego was out of work. Despite all the controversy over his New York mural, Diego liked America and wanted to stay but Frida could think of nothing else but returning to her beloved Mexico. Finally, when Diego realized they were broke, he conceded and agreed to return to Mexico. Close friends of the Rivera's took up a collection to pay for their passage back to Mexico. On December 20, 1933, they boarded the Oriente for Havana and then on to Veracruz, Mexico.

Upon their return they move into a new double studio-house in San Angel designed and built for them by Juan O'Gorman. The house consisted of two separate structures and each side consisted of a studio and living side for Frida and the other larger side for Diego. The two structures were joined on the top level by a foot bridge. Frida devoted most of her time to decorating her new abode although she did find time to finish the painting she started in New York: "My Dress Hangs There".

In early 1934, after being pregnant for 3 months, Frida's third pregnancy and health was again in trouble. She underwent an appendectomy, an abortion, and an operation on her foot in which three toes were removed. At the time Frida was having an affair with the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi so it's possible that the aborted child was his. Shortly afterwards Frida learned that Diego was having an affair with her younger sister Christina. Although Cristina was married, her husband had abandoned her and their two children. Cristina had become Diego's favorite models and she began appearing in his murals. Frida suspected Diego was having yet another affair but never ever considered the fact that "the other woman" might be her own sister. Frida was devastated by the discovery and the couple separated. She felt betrayed by the two people she loved most of all....she said she felt "murdered by life". Frida left the house in San Angel for several months and took her own apartment at 432 Avenida Insurgentes in central Mexico City. Distraught over the affair with Christina and her separation from Diego, Frida painted nothing during that year. The following year she painted "A Few Small Nips" in which she projects her emotional pain onto another woman's misfortune. She occupied her time away from Diego with alcohol, parties and frequenting the cantinas in Mexico City and the local pulquerias.

By the end of 1935 Frida returned to the house in San Angel and she and Diego reconciled. Although reconciled, they lead separate lives….Frida kept to herself on one side of the duplex structure and Diego on the other. Although the two separate quarters were connected on the top level by a foot bridge, the door leading to Frida's side could be, and alsays was, locked from the inside.

Despite all of the physical and emotional pain in Frida's life, she was an outgoing person who used many 4 letter words in her conversations. She loved to smoke, drink tequila and sing off color songs to guests at the many parties she hosted. She loved telling dirty jokes just to shock her guests. People were taken by her beauty and everywhere she went, people stopped in their tracks to stare at her. Men wanted her and women wanted to be her. Beautiful, intelligent, and immensely talented, Kahlo was considered one of the most desirable women of her day. She was romantically linked with movie stars, artists, and politicians of many nationalities, many of whom came to visit her at the "Blue House" in Coyoacán. During her separation from Diego, Frida engaged in several affairs with both men and women. Diego overlooked her relationships with other women but was infuriated by her affairs with other men....Frida was careful to keep those escapades a secret.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War erupted. Frida and Diego worked together on behalf of the Republicans, raising money for Mexicans fighting against Franco's forces. In January of 1937, Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, arrived in Mexico, where Leon had been granted political asylum, largely through Diego's intervention. They took up residence with Frida's father Guillermo in the "Blue House" in Coyoacán. Shortly after their arrival, Frida and Trotsky became close and engaged in a secret relationship. Trotsky's political status and Diego's admiration for him made him a prime target for an affair that would give Diego a few more "nips" for his affair with Cristina. Frida and Trotsky would converse only in English, a language which was still foreign to his wife Natalia. They would pass love notes to each other hidden in books that they would loan each other. Sexual encounters between the two followed. Their affair some how went unnoticed by Diego but Natalia knew her womanizing husband and didn't have to understand English to notice Frida's not so subtle advances towards her husband. But Frida soon grew tired of "the old man" as she called him, and the affair ended in July. After their relationship ended, Frida painted a self-portrait and gave it to Trotsky who hung it on the wall in his study. When the Trotsky's moved from the Blue House in April of 1939, Trotsky, at the request of his wife, left the painting behind.

During 1937 Frida again began to paint and it was during this period that she produced some of her best work. Four of Frida's paintings, "My Grandparents, My Parents and I" and three other paintings, were included in a group exhibition at the Galleria de Arte at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Although she considered this exhibit to be "…small and in a rotten place", her goal was to become financially independent of Diego through the sale of her paintings. In a letter to her friend Lucienne Bloch she wrote: "I send them there without any enthusiasm..." Little did Frida know that this show would be her lucky break. During the exhibit, Frida's work caught the eye of the New York gallery owner Julien Levy. He later wrote to Frida to ask her if she would be interested in an exhibit of her works in his gallery in Manhattan. Of course Frida enthusiastically replied "YES" and sent him photographs of other paintings. Levy requested that she send 30 paintings for a November show. For the next year Frida worked long hours to complete several new paintings for the exhibition. When Diego learned of the proposed show, he encouraged her, claiming it would be good for her and her career.

In April of 1938, French poet and surrealist André Breton and his wife, the painter Jacqueline Lamba, visited Mexico in order to meet Leon Trotsky. They stayed with Guadalupe Marin, Diego River's previous wife, and meet the Kahlo-Riveras. When Breton saw Kahlo's unfinished "What the Water Gave Me", the metaphorical self-portrait of what life had given her...floating on the water of her bathtub...he immediately labeled her a "surrealist", and offered to show her work in Paris. "I never knew I was a surrealist" Frida said, "till Andre Breton came to Mexico and told me I was." In later years in a letter to a friend she wrote: "Some critics have tried to classify me as a Surrealist; but I do not consider myself to be a Surrealist…..Really I do not know whether my paintings are Surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself…I detest Surrealism."

In October, Frida traveled to New York for her first one-person exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery, (November 1 - 15). Frida was reluctant to go but Rivera encouraged her by saying it would be good for her art career. That proved to be true but Rivera's real motive was to punish her for her "not so secret" affair with Trotsky in 1937. With her she carried letters of introduction from Diego to his friends and acquaintances in the "high society" of New York's art world. This time Frida had achieved the status of "artist" and was no longer referred to as just "the wife of Diego Rivera". But not everyone was so quick and enthusiastic to receive "Señora Rivera, the artist". The poisoned pen art critics lay in wait taking aim to fire at will. However, when the smoke cleared, her exotic presence, her costumes, and her bold attitude had charmed them all. She was an immediate sensation. On opening night she rubbed elbows with New York's elite and was the "belle of the ball". Frida had finally arrived. Twenty-five of Frida's paintings were exhibited and the show was a great success. About half of the paintings sold and she also managed to acquire a few commissions as well. American collector and film actor Edward G. Robinson purchased four of Frida's paintings prior to the opening and then lent them to Levy for the exhibit.

While in New York for her solo exhibition, Frida continued her relationship with the Hungarian born photographer Nickolas Muray. They had previously met while Muray was visiting Mexico from New York. While in Mexico, he and Frida worked together to produce and publish a catalogue for her New York show. Muray was an extremely handsome and self-confidant man and, without Diego lurking around in the background, the romance was free to flourish...and it did.

In January of 1939, Kahlo traveled to Paris where Breton had promised her a show. However, upon her arrival, she learned that no arrangements for her show had been made and her paintings were still being held in customs. Frida quickly lost her patience with the Parisians and in a letter to a friend she refers to Breton as "…the S.O.B. who organized the show…." and the Parisian Surrealists as "coo-coo lunatic sons of bitches". Shortly after her arrival in Paris, Frida was hospitalized for a kidney inflammation. Once released from the hospital, she left the Breton's residence and moved into the apartment of Mary Reynolds, a close friend of Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp helped to arrange Frida's entry into the "Mexique" exhibition being held at the "Pierre Colle", a gallery known for "surrealist" exhibitions. The exhibition featured examples of Mexican painting, sculpture, photography and popular art. After seeing Kahlo's paintings, the exhibit curator declared all but two of Kahlo's paintings too "shocking" for public view. Eventually the curator allowed 17 of her paintings to be shown. The exhibit opened on March 10th and included the work of photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Breton's own collection of Mexican popular art and Frida's paintings. Among her paintings was the self-portrait "The Frame" which was purchased by The Louvre…the first work by a 20th Century Mexican artist to be purchased by the Louvre. Unfortunately, that was her only sale.

While in Paris, Frida herself did not go unnoticed. Dressed in her native Mexican Tehuana costumes, she became the center of attention where ever she went. The fashion designer Madame Elsa Schiaparelli created a dress, "La Robe Madame Rivera", based on her exotic apparel and the French Vogue magazine featured Frida on its cover.

Frida was not at all impressed with the French and could not wait to leave. After "Mexique", she had had enough of the Parisian people and on March 25th of 1939, Frida sailed back to New York to pursue her relationship with Muray. Upon her arrival she learned that Muray was having an affair with another woman and they were engaged to be married. Muray wanted to marry Frida, but when it became apparent that Frida wanted Muray as a lover and NOT as a husband, Muray ended the affair and married his new fiancé. He and Kahlo remained good friends until her death in 1954.

Broken hearted, disgusted with the French, exhausted from her travels and in poor health, in April Frida returned to Mexico and took up residence in the "Blue House" in Coyoacán. During that summer, Frida and Diego's relationship continued to deteriorate. Frida now felt deserted and betrayed by all of the men in her life. All that remained was a fragmented relationship with Diego, bound together only by the unspoken terms of their separation. Frida was now desperate to restore some sense of "normal" in her life. Over the years of marriage to Diego, Frida had learned that she received the most attention and affection from Diego when she was ill or in physical pain….whether it be real or imagined. Desperate to save their relationship, Frida once again played the "sympathy" card and complained of severe back pain. But this time Diego trumped her hand with the "Divorce" card. Diego filed for divorce and on November 6th, 1939, the Kahlo/Rivera divorce was finalized.

Devastated by the divorce, Frida once again turned to painting to express her emotions. The painting "Las Dos Fridas" (The Two Fridas) portrays two Fridas sitting side-by-side and hand-in-hand….one is the Frida that Diego rejected and the other the Frida that he loved.

Rivera's rejection made Frida more open about her affairs, particularly her affairs with women. In the past Diego had many sexual affairs with other women and justified them to Frida by saying "it was just sex…like a handshake…nothing else…". At this point Frida began to view sex as just another form of entertainment. "Have sex… take a bath… and have sex again…" was her new attitude.

In early 1940, Frida's reputation as an artist began to soar and her paintings were shown at exhibitions in New York and San Francisco. In September of 1940 while in San Francisco, Frida sought a second opinion from Dr. Eloesser regarding her physical condition. Dr. Eloesser rejected the Mexican doctor's recommendation for more surgery. His tests on Frida revealed a severe kidney infection, anemia, exhaustion and alcoholism. He immediately checked her into the St. Luke's Hospital for extended bed rest, other treatments and therapies and to "dry out".

Dr. Eloesser was also a close friend of Diego who was also in San Francisco at the time. While Frida was recuperating, Dr. Eloesser convinced Rivera to reconcile and remarry Frida. Frida agreed to remarry Diego under two conditions: No Sex and No Money. There would be no sex between the two of them and Frida would not accept any money from Diego…she would pay her own way to include half of the expenses of maintaining the residence they shared. On December 8th, Diego's 54th birthday, Frida and Diego were married for a second time in a civil ceremony. This time Frida took a pragmatic approach to their marriage by saying: "Diego is not anybody's husband and never will be, but he is a great comrade". Shortly after the wedding, Frida returned to Mexico. Diego, wanted by Mexican authorities for questioning in the attempted assassination of Leon Trotsky, had to remain in the United States. In February, no longer under suspicion, Diego returned to Mexico.

On April 14th, 1941, Frida's father died of a heart attack. The Rivera's returned to the "Blue House" in Coyoacán to live and Diego used the house in San Angel only as his studio. Over the course of the next two years Frida's notoriety continued to grow and her paintings were shown in exhibitions in Mexico City, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

After the death of her father, Frida's physical decline became more acute over the next few years. She underwent spinal taps, confinement in a series of 28 corsets, and, over the next decade, several radical operations on her back and leg which she said did more damage than good. She became very depressed and in 1944 she began keeping a diary to document her emotional feelings in text and drawings. She continued to make entries in the diary until her death ten years later. This diary would later become the key to better understanding the woman and her art.

Despite her pain and heavy use of painkillers, Frida continued to paint and her works were shown in group exhibitions in Mexico. As yet Frida had not had a solo exhibition of her work in Mexico.

In late 1948, Rivera began an affair with the actress Maria Felix that caused a public scandal. Maria had a weakness for ugly men that no one understood. The press nicknamed the couple "Beauty and the Beast". Convinced that the actress would marry him, Diego asked Frida for a divorce. Thinking that it was all just a big joke she agreed…but it was no joke. Diego told Frida that he had come to pack his clothes and was moving in with Maria. Frida was devastated. The Rivera/Kahlo relationship was always in crisis: if it wasn't their love that was in question, it was their health, their finances or something else…but this was too much. Her uncontrollable jealousy and desire to possess Diego drove her into a fit of rage and revenge. She called the newspapers to tell them of the "illicit" relationship between Diego and Maria. The next day the story broke on the front page creating a flaming scandal among the Catholic Mexicans who frowned on such affairs. They sided with Frida and to save her career, Maria quickly ended the affair. Strangely enough, but typical of Frida, the relationship between Frida and Maria continued.

In 1950, Kahlo was hospitalized due to recurring spinal problems. She underwent a total of 7 operations on her spine during that year. Her hospitalization was due in part to a severe infection in a bone graft she received the previous year in New York. She spent most of the year in the hospital and most nights Diego slept in a room next to hers. "When I leave this place [hospital]", Frida said, "there are three things that I want to do….paint…paint…and paint". She spent a total of nine months in the hospital.

Following her discharge from the hospital in 1951, she was confined to her bed for much of the time. Full-time nurses were hired to care for her and give her injections of pain killers. She continued to paint but was only able to do so for short periods of time. Over the next 2 years she completed about 15 paintings, most of which were Still Life paintings of fruits and vegetables that she arranged on her bedside table.

Realizing that Frida was near death, Lola Alvarez Bravo wanted to honor her during her lifetime with her first solo exhibition in Mexico. Lola proposed the idea to Diego and together they broke the news to Frida. Frida was delighted and started designing and creating the invitations herself. Her health actually seemed to improve as she began planning and thinking about the event. The 1953 exhibition ran from April 13th through the 27th at the Galería de Arte Contemporáneo. Frida's doctor told her she was not well enough to attend the opening and she was not to leave her bed. The day before the exhibition opening, Frida's health took a turn for the worse but Frida was determined to attend the opening. Her bed was loaded into the back of a truck, driven to the exhibition opening and set up in the center of the gallery. Minutes before the scheduled opening, Frida arrived in an ambulance accompanied by a motorcycle escort. Upon arrival, Frida made her "Grand Entrance"….she was carried into the gallery on a stretcher and placed in her bed. Although heavily sedated, Frida's presence turned the opening into a display of personal sentiment and emotion, rather than an artistic celebration....she became a part of her exhibit. The exhibit was a great success for Frida and the gallery as well.

In August of 1953, the gangrene on Frida's right foot worsened and doctors were forced to amputate her right leg below the knee. She was fitted with a wooden leg but her addiction to pain killers and alcohol left her balance unstable making it hazardous for her to walk with the prosthetic. In her diary, Frida drew a sketch of her amputated leg with the caption: "Feet…what do I need them for if I have wings to fly." Frida's physical and emotional condition worsened. Before the amputation, Frida told her friend Gisele Freund that "should her leg be amputated, she would kill herself: 'I am suffering so much...I know I don't have much longer to live'." After three months Frida did learn to walk short distances and that lifted her spirits enough to start painting again. She eventually grew accustom to the prosthetic leg and would twirl in front of her friends to show off her new freedom of movement. She told a friend "These marvelous legs…and how well they work for me!".

In April of 1954, Frida contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized for two months. On July 2nd, while still convalescing, and against the advice of her doctors, she, in a wheelchair, and Diego took part in a four hour street demonstration against North-American intervention in Guatemala. This would be her last public appearance.

July 7th was Frida's 47th birthday. That morning, dressed in a traditional white Yalalag huipil with a lavender tassel, make-up on and flowers in her hair, Frida was carried down the stairs into the dining room. There she entertained more than 100 guests throughout the day. At 8 o'clock in the evening she was taken back upstairs to rest but continued to hold court.

The night before Frida died she was critically ill with pneumonia. Diego sat beside her bed until 2:30 am. That night Frida gave Diego a ring that she had bought for him as a gift for their 25th anniversary....still seventeen days away. When asked why she was giving it to him so early Frida replied "Because I feel I am going to leave you very soon".

Frida was a strong woman but in a weak body....and in the early morning of Tuesday, July 13th, 1954, Frida died in the "Blue House" where she was born 47 years earlier. The cause of death was officially reported as "pulmonary embolism". Suicide was suspected but never confirmed. Diego refused to believe that she was actually dead claiming that she still showed signs of life. To prove to him that she was really dead, a doctor cut open a vein and she did not bleed. Later that morning, a group of women came to the Blue House and lovingly dressed their friend in her favorite huipil from the Yalalag district. They braided her hair and adorned her with jewels. Friends came throughout the day to pay their last respects.

Frida's old schoolmate from the Preparatoria, Andrés Iduarte, now the director of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, gave Diego permission for Frida's body to lie in state in the huge high-ceiling hall. Andrés' only request was that there would be no political banners or speeches.....referring to Frida and Diego's affiliation with the Communist Party. Diego agreed. But, later that afternoon, one of Frida's former students and fellow "Cachuchas", Arturo Garcia Bustos, burst from the crowd and ran to Frida's coffin where he quickly draped it in a red Communist flag. Horrified by his actions, Andrés demanded that the flag be removed but Diego refused. That night, dressed in Tehuana attire and over accessorized with jewelry, Frida's body lay in state in the foyer of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, with Diego at her side the whole night. By noon the next day more than 600 mourners had passed by her coffin to pay their last respects.

Once when asked what to do with her body when she dies, Frida replied: "Burn it…I don't want to be buried. I have spent too much time lying down…just burn it!".

The following afternoon, Diego and five others hoisted Frida's coffin onto their shoulders and carried it down the marble steps to the hearse waiting in the rain. A procession of more than 500 mourners followed behind the hearse as it slowly made its way to the crematorium at the Panteón Civil de Dolores cemetery. The coffin was taken inside and Diego and family members lovingly lifted Frida's body out of the coffin and onto the crematorium trolley. Lead by Diego, the mourners sang Lenin's funeral march and other political songs. At 1:50pm, the doors to the oven were opened and the crowd began to sing farewell ballads. As the trolley slowly moved towards the open oven doors mourners held on to Frida's hand, threw themselves on top of her and began to strip her of her jewelry just so they could have something that belonged to her. As the cries of her admirers filled the room, a sudden blast of heat from the open incinerator doors caused her body to bolt upright. Her hair, now on fire from the flames, blazed around her head like a halo. Frida's lips seemed to break into a seductive grin just as the doors closed. (View Funeral Photos)

Her ashes were placed in a pre-Columbian urn which is on display in the "Blue House" that she shared with Diego. On November 24, 1957, Diego Rivera died of heart failure in his San Angel studio. He had requested that he be cremated and his ashes commingled with those of Frida. However, Diego's two daughters and his wife at the time refused to respect his last wishes. They felt that it was in the best interest of the nation for him to be buried in the "Rotunda of Famous Men" in Mexico City. One year after Frida's death, Diego gave the Casa Azul to the Mexican government to become a museum. On July 12th, 1958, the “Blue House” was officially opened as the “Museo Frida Kahlo”.

"Larga Vida a Nuestra Frida"
(Long Live Our Frida)


Home Page * Main Menu * Top of Page