Still Life, Roses
This is one of Frida’s very first paintings. It is done in the typical European “Still Life” style. At this point in Frida’s life she had no interest in pursuing a career as an artist. Her goal was to become a doctor. Shortly after this painting was finished, a terrible bus accident left Frida scarred physically and emotionally for life. That accident changed the course of Frida’s life forever.
Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress
This is Frida’s first self-portrait. It was painted as a gift for her student boyfriend, Alejandro Gomez Arias, who had left her. It was given as a token of love by which she hoped to restore his affection and keep her in his thoughts. Her plea for his love worked and not long after Alejandro received the portrait, they were rejoined. The aristocratic pose reflects Frida’s interest in the paintings of the Italian Renissance period. This self-portrait is Frida’s interpretation of Botticelli’s “Venus” which Alejandro admired. The same style would later appear in her “Portrait of Alicia Galant“, 1927, and “Portrait of Adriana“, 1927.
Portrait of Adriana
When Frida first began painting, she painted portraits, mostly of close friends and members of her immediate family. This highly stylized portrait of her older sister Adriana is painted in the style of a 16th century Italian Renaissance portrait, similar to the style use by Bronzino and Botticelli, two artists that Frida greatly admired. Adriana was the first of Frida’s immediate family to be put on canvas. The following year she painted a portrait of her sister Cristina and several years later one of her father. Only photographs of this portrait of Adriana remain….the whereabouts of the original painting are unknown. During this same period Frida painted three other portraits that are now missing. One of them, “Jesus Rios and Valle” she later burned because she said it disgusted her. Perhaps the other three suffered the same firey fate.
Alejandro Gómez Arias
This painting is a portrait of Frida’s boyfriend Alejandro Arias. It is painted in a conventional portrait style similar to that of a photograph…a sharp contrast to the Renaissance style of her previous portraits.
The legend in the upper right corner of the painting reads: “Alex, with affection I painted your portrait, that he is one of my comrades forever, Frida Kahlo, 30 years later”.
In 1922, Frida began classes at the National Prep School in Mexico City. There she met and fell in love with Alejandro Gómez Arias. For three years they were inseparable. Alex, as Frida called him, was with her on that rainy September afternoon in 1925 when the bus they were riding was struck by a trolley. Alejandro was not seriously injured and it was he who convinced the doctors at the Red Cross Hospital to attend to Frida after they had left her thinking she was too seriously injured to ever survive. Without his persistence Frida probably would have died.
While recovering from the accident, Frida wrote countless letters to Alex. In her letters she complained about the pain and about being bedridden, asking him sometimes, “what is going to happen in 30 years“, or “how am I going to be when I am 30“.
Frida and Alex separated in June of 1928 and Frida quickly turned her attention towards Diego Rivera.
This painting was lost for several year but was found in 1994.
Portrait of Lupe Marín
Lupe Marín was the second wife of Diego Rivera. They were married from 1922 through 1927 and had two children together. It seems that the marriage broke apart when Diego began an affair with photographer Tina Modotti. When Frida and Diego married in 1929, Frida befriended Lupe. They went shopping together and Lupe taught Frida how to prepare Diego’s favorite dishes. In gratitude for her friendship, Frida painted her portrait.
Marín later destroyed the painting in a fit of anger only to regret it. A black & white photo of this portrait is all that remains.
Self Portrait – Time Flies
This self-portrait was painted the year Frida and Diego were married. It portrays the Frida that Rivera loved. Here she has replaced the Renaisance style of her previous paintings with the more traditional Mexican folk style of painting that was being used by Diego in his murals. This painting is in sharp contrast to her first self-portrait (1926) in which she appears as the melancholy aristocrat in dark flat colors. She now uses bright vibrant colors of the Mexican culture. This trend would continue throughout the rest of her painting career. In June of 2000, this painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York City for 5 million dollars to an American collector.
In this colorful painting, the influence of Rivera’s style of art is clear. Frida depicts the various classes of Mexican society and daily life as Rivera does in his murals. Sitting side-by-side in this painting are: a housewife with her market basket, a blue collar worker dressed in blue overalls, a Madonna-like barefoot Indian mother breast-feeding her baby, a little boy, a well dressed capitalist “Gringo” holding his bag of money; and a young girl who is probably Frida. There are some elements in this painting that may be referring to the 1925 bus accident in which Frida was seriously injured: the bus is wooden; passengers sit on benches along the side; the man in the blue overalls that removed the handrail that pierced her body; and the man holding the bag of gold dust that spilled over Frida’s naked bloody body during the crash.
Frida’s earlier paintings were highly influence by the style of the European Renaissance artists. In 1928, Mexico was undergoing an extraordinary transformation as it rediscovered its native roots. Frida became one of a “new generation” of artists who acknowledged pre-Hispanic and folk art and followed its artistic traditions. This was her first painting after her transformation and the first work that she ever sold. Frida now followed Rivera’s lead in depicting Mexican Indian women with strong, dignified, impassive faces. This painting features portraits of two finely drawn, clear-featured Mexican women shown in front of a tight curtain of foliage. This style of claustrophobic background which pushes the image out towards the viewer was borrowed from the painters Ramos Martinez and Henri Rousseau. Frida used this style of background repeatedly for the next twenty years.
Portrait of a Woman in White
The identity of the subject in this unfinished portrait is unknown. Based on the style, it was probably painted around 1930. Frida and Diego were in San Francisco in 1930 and 1931 and Frida painted several portraits of friends and the wives of Rivera’s assistants. This unknown woman could be a member of their circle of acquaintances or she could be a relative of the sculptor Ralph Stackpole with whom the couple lived in San Francisco.
This painting is remarkably similar in style and content to a 1929 Kahlo self-portrait entitled “Time Flies“. The subject in this painting is posed between a pulled back pair of drapes in front of a balcony window. The young woman in her white attire projects a sense of purity and innocence.
It is unclear as to why the painting was never finished. Some speculate that the mystery woman was merely a casual acquaintance and the friendship ended before the painting was finished. Others believe that the woman was Frida’s first lesbian lover and their relationship ended abruptly and so did work on the painting.
Had the banner at the top of the painting been inscribed as intended, it may have provided the answers to the mystery surrounding this painting.
This was Frida’s first work done after her marriage to Diego Rivera. In this self-portrait, Frida uses severe lines, bright colors and luminosity. She has left behind the Italian Renaissance style of her first self-portrait in favor of a more cultural “Folk Art” look. Here she has replaced the luxurious Renaissance style gown with a simple traditional peasant dress and Mexican earrings. In this self-portrait, as well as most of her others, she appears to be posing for the camera. This signature style may have been acquired while coloring photographs for her father, a professional photographer.
Frieda and Diego Rivera
This folkloric style double-portrait may have been based on their wedding photograph. It was completed about two years after their marriage while Frida and Diego were in San Francisco. The difference in height between the couple is not exaggerated. Frida’s dainty feet barely touch the ground and she appears to float beside her larger than life husband. With his palette and brushes in hand, Rivera is portrayed as an artist while she, dressed in traditional Mexican clothes, presents herself only as the adoring wife. She gave this painting to art collector Albert Bender in gratitude for the USA entry visa he helped to acquire for Diego. Diego had previously been refused entry into the USA due to his Communist party affiliation. In the title of this printing, Frida uses the German spelling of her name. The banner at the top of the painting proclaims that the double-portrait was painted “for our friend Mr. Albert Bender“. When the painting was finished in 1931, a San Francisco newspaper described the work as being valuable only because it was painted by the wife of Diego Rivera.
Portrait of Eva Frederick
During her stay in San Francisco from November 1930 – June 1931, Frida painted a number of portraits of friends and acquaintances. Some who describe this painting say that the subject of the portrait was simply a model for the painting and nothing is known about her. Others say that Eva Frederick was a professional black model who had posed in Mexico for Rivera and other artists and photographers. They believe that the painting was started in Mexico and finished in San Francisco.
The legend at the top of the painting reads: “Portrait of Eva Frederick, born in New York, painted by Frieda Kahlo”.
During the same year, Frida also drew a nude pencil sketch of Eva Frederick.
Portrait of Luther Burbank
Luther Burbank was a horticulturist famed for his unusual vegetable and fruit hybrids. Frida shows Burbank himself as a hybrid – half man, half tree. In this painting her work has turned away for the first time from the straightforward representation of external reality. Since this portrait was painted in San Francisco, her contact with Surrealism in San Francisco could partly account for the change in style. Or, it could be straight from her Mexican culture, where the metamorphosis of humans into plants or animals is a common theme in art. In this painting, Burbank holds an uprooted plant, no doubt one of his hybrids, but instead of planting it, he himself is planted. His lower legs are transformed into a tree trunk whose roots are fed by what Frida said was his own corpse. This painting is the first statement of a favorite Kahlo theme that would appear in many future paintings: “the fertilization of life by death“.
Portrait of Mrs. Jean Wight
Jean Wight was the wife of one of Diego’s assistants in Detroit, Clifford Wight. It is a cold, bland and conventional portrait. Frida very much disliked Jean. She said that Jean was a hypochondriac, only talks about her illnesses and makes no effort to study anything or work. The inscription at the bottom reads: “Portrait of Mrs. Jean Wight, painted in January of 1931 in the city of San Francisco Cal. by Frieda Kahlo“. Again Frida uses a reoccurring theme in which the portrait subject is placed between drawn drapes in front of a window.
Henry Ford Hospital
On July 4th, 1932, Frida suffered a miscarriage in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. In this disturbing work, Kahlo paints herself lying on her back in a hospital bed after a miscarriage. The figure in the painting is unclothed, the sheets beneath her are bloody, and a large tear falls from her left eye. The bed and its sad inhabitant float in an abstract space circled by six images relating to the miscarriage. All of the images are tied to blood-red filaments that she holds against her stomach as if they were umbilical cords. The main image is a perfectly formed male fetus, little “Dieguito“, she had longed to have. The orchid was a gift from Diego. “When I painted it I had the idea of a sexual thing mixed with the sentimental” Frida said. The snail she said, alludes to the slow paced miscarriage. The salmon pink plaster female torso she said was her “idea of explaining the insides of a woman”. The cruel looking machine she invented “to explain the mechanical part of the whole business“. Finally, in the lower right corner is her fractured pelvis that made it impossible for her to have children.
At the encouragement of her husband Diego, Frida embarked upon a project to document the major events of her life in a series of paintings. In this painting, her first in the series, she depicts, as she put it, “how I imagined I was born.” In her diary, Frida comments that in this painting she “gave birth to herself“…a remark with numerous allusions. A frighteningly large head emerges from the mother’s womb….unmistakably the head of Frida. The half-born baby drooping into a puddle of blood refers to the child that Frida had just lost in a miscarriage. The head of the mother is covered by a sheet – a reference to the recent death of her own mother. In place of the dead mother’s hidden face, Frida painted the face of the weeping Virgin of Sorrows in a picture above the bed. Pierced by daggers and in tears, the Virgin looks on but cannot save the situation. The painting was meant to be a retablo but Frida never inscribed the unfurled scroll at the bottom. No words were necessary….there was no miracle or salvation to proclaim…the drama in this painting is brutally clear. Or, perhaps it was left bank as a way of saying that the miracle she needed could not be granted, even through intervention of the Virgin. This painting may have also been influenced by a 16th Century sculpture of the Aztec Goddess Tlazolteotl giving birth to an adult male warrior.