Frida Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in Coyoacan, Mexico July 6th, 1907. She was one of four daughters born to a Hungarian-Jewish father and a mother of Spanish and Mexican Indian descent. She did not originally plan to become an artist. A survivor of polio, she entered a pre-med program in Mexico City. At the age of 18, she was seriously injured in a bus accident. She spent over a year in bed recovering from fractures to her spine, collarbone and ribs, a shattered pelvis, and shoulder and foot injuries. She endured more than 30 operations in her lifetime, and during her convalescence she began to paint. Her paintings, mostly self-portraits and still life, were deliberately naïve, and filled with the colors and forms of Mexican folk art. At 22, she married the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, 20 years her senior. Their stormy, passionate relationship survived infidelities, the pressures of careers, divorce, remarriage, Frida’s lesbian affairs, her poor health and her inability to have children. Frida once said: “I suffered two grave accidents in my life…One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego.”
During her lifetime, Frida created some 200 paintings, drawings and sketches related to her experiences in life, physical and emotional pain and her turbulent relationship with Diego. She produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida replied: “Because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
In 1953, when Frida Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico (the only one held in her native country during her lifetime), a local critic wrote:
“It is impossible to separate the life and work of this extraordinary person. Her paintings are her biography.”
This observation serves to explain why her work is so different from that of her contemporaries. At the time of her exhibition opening, Frida’s health was such that her Doctor told her that she was not to leave her bed. She insisted that she was going to attend her opening, and, in Frida style, she did. She arrived in an ambulance and her bed in the back of a truck. She was placed in her bed and four men carried her in to the waiting guests.
Both Frida and Diego were very active in the Communist Party in Mexico. In early July 1954, Frida made her last public appearance, when she participated in a Communist street demonstration. Soon after, on July 13th, 1954, at the age of 47, Frida passed away.
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!”
On the day after her death, mourners gathered at the crematorium to witness the cremation of Mexico’s greatest and most shocking painter. Soon to be an international icon, Frida Kahlo knew how to give her fans one last unforgettable goodbye. As the cries of her admirers filled the room, the 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 appeared to break into a seductive grin just as the doors closed. Her last diary entry read: “I hope the end is joyful – and I hope never to come back – Frida.”.
Her ashes were placed in a pre-Columbian urn which is on display in the “Blue House” that she shared with Rivera. One year after her death, Rivera gave the house to the Mexican government to become a museum. Diego Rivera died in 1957. On July 12th, 1958, the “Blue House” was officially opened as the “Museo Frida Kahlo”.