My Dress Hangs There
After more than three years in America, Frida wanted desperately to return to her native Mexico. Diego, however, remained fascinated by the country and his popularity and did not want to leave. Out of the conflict came this painting. The only collage in the artist’s oeuvre, it represents an ironic portrait of American capitalism and superficiality. Filled with symbols of a modern American industrial society, it points to social decay and the destruction of fundamental human values. In this painting, Frida takes an opposite view to her husband, who was expressing his approval of industrial progress in a mural in the Rockefeller Center.
What is missing from this painting is the focal point of nearly all of Frida’s paintings…herself. Instead, Frida’s Tehuana dress hangs empty and alone amidst the chaos in the background. It may be her way of saying “I may be in America but only my dress hangs there…my life is in Mexico.”
Frida started this painting while still in New York and finished it after she and Diego returned to Mexico. The painting was given to Frida’s trusted medical advisor Dr. Leo Eloesser of San Francisco. When Dr. Eloesser died in 1994, he willed the painting to his long time companion Joyce Campbell. Some years later, Campbell sold the painting when there was a boom market for Kahlo’s works.
Display Window in a Street of Detroit
This painting appears to be a simple “still life” painting of objects in a store window. However, the theme is very patriotic and perhaps an allegory of the United States. In the background she seems to imply that the country is still “under construction” and the objects in the vacant store window are just a façade for distraction.
The lion and horse in the painting very closely resemble ceramic and terracotta figures in Frida’s personal collection.
The painting is clearly dated “1931” but Frida was in New York in 1931 and wasn’t in Detroit until 1932. She may have started the painting in New York and then finished it in Detroit. Frida’s friend Lucienne Bloch recalls being with Frida in New York when they saw the display window that inspired the painting.
However, in an opposing account, Lucienne recalls she and Frida wondering about in the poorer sections of Detroit where they walked past a long-closed store that contained the 4th of July window display.
The inscription in the lower right corner reads: “Display window in a street of Detroit“.
Tree of Hope, Remain Strong
Frida painted this self-portrait for her patron, the engineer Eduardo Morillo Safa, after a botched operation in New York. She wrote to him about the painting and about the scars “which those surgeon sons of bitches landed me with“. In the message “Tree of Hope, Remain Strong“, which is written on her flag, she seems to be giving herself courage. The phrase is taken from one of her favorite songs, Cielito Lindo.
In this painting we see two Fridas; the one on the left is the Frida who has just been rolled out of the operating room on a hospital trolley and the other is the forceful, upright and confident figure of Frida. The painting is divided into two halves, one day and one night. The maimed and bleeding body is assigned to the sun, which in Aztec mythology the sun is fed by sacrificial human blood. The two gaping wounds in her back are echoed in the fissures in the barren landscape behind. The other Frida, looking strong and optimistic, is assigned to the moon, symbol of womanhood. In her hand she holds the corset that she has “Hope” of casting off forever after the surgery. Unfortunately, this surgery was terribly botched and resulted in numerous complications. It has been described as “the beginning of the end” for Frida.
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.
This is Frida’s second self-portrait in which she appears wearing the traditional Tehuana headdress that Diego loved so much. In this portrait, the lace ruff closes off space and makes her look trapped. She is over-dressed and her finery becomes a mask. The contours of her face are full and coarser and her features hardened. Her signature slight mustache makes her look more obviously masculine. The years of pain have taken their toll as is shown by three tears glistening down her cheeks like the tears of the Madonna of Sorrows.
This painting was commissioned by Frida’s dentist and personal friend, Dr. Samuel Fastlight. In a January 1948 letter to Dr. Fastlight, Frida apologizes for taking so long to complete the painting due to her poor physical condition and the pain that it is causing her. She writes: “This whole mood is naturally reflected in my self-portrait“, an obvious reference to the tears in her eyes. She continues by saying: “Perhaps you won’t like it at all…..I do like it, because it is the exact expression of my emotions…“. She tells him that her paintings are now selling for $3,000 but because he has been so kind to her that she will sell it to him for just $2,500….and he can keep $500 of that in payment for the recent dental work he has performed on her. In later years, Dr Fastlight performed his professional services on Frida for which she paid him with 2 Still Life paintings with inscriptions dedicating them personally to him.
Self Portrait – The Frame
In this unusual self portrait by Kahlo, she seems to be experimenting with “mixed medium”. The self portrait of Frida and the blue background are painted on a sheet of aluminum while the boarder of birds and flowers is painted on the back side of a glass that lays on top of the portrait. In 1939, Frida traveled to Paris to participate in “Mexique“, an exhibition which featured examples of Mexican painting, sculpture, photography and popular art. Included in the exhibit was this painting. Although the exhibition was not a financial success, this painting became the first work by a 20th century Mexican artist to be purchased by the Louvre.
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 Renaissance 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.
Self Portrait with Bonito
On December 8th, 1940, while in San Francisco, Frida and Diego remarried. Shortly thereafter, Frida received word that her father, Guillermo Kahlo, had died. Frida returned to the family home in Coyoacán, Mexico, to live. Shortly after her return, she painted this self- portrait. In it she is dressed in black to mourn the death of her father. On her shoulder is her beloved parrot Bonito who has also recently died. She wears no jewelry nor the usual flowers in her hair…this is a portrait of sadness and grief.
Although Frida is in mourning, the background is full of life. The painting seems to have a “Life and Death” theme, a common theme in many of Kahlo’s paintings.
Self Portrait with Small Monkey
In this self-portrait, Frida is tied to her pet monkey, her dog (Señor Xólotl), a pre-Columbian idol and her signature by a yellow ribbon. The ribbon loops around a nail driven into the beige clouds that form the painting’s background. As in most of her paintings, the images in the painting are flat and without perspective. However, in this one, the nail and the ribbon appear to have dimension.
Self Portrait with Necklace
While still in Detroit, Frida slowly overcame her unhappiness following her miscarriage and took up painting again. In this self-portrait, as well as many others, Frida wears a piece of pre-Columbian jewelry. This one, from her collection of many, is a necklace of jade beads. She appears fresh and attractive and expresses greater self-confidence than in her earlier self-portraits. For the first time Frida appears in a self-portrait with a shadow of a mustache.
This painting was purchased in early 1938 by the American actor Edward G. Robinson.
Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns
In this painting, Frida paints herself in a frontal pose to enhance the immediacy of her presence. She has unraveled Christ’s crown of thorns and wears it as a necklace, presenting herself as a Christian martyr. The thorns digging into her neck are symbolic of the pain she still feels over her divorce from Diego. Hanging from the thorny necklace is a dead hummingbird whose outstretched wings echo Frida’s joined eyebrows. In Mexican folk tradition, dead hummingbirds were used as charms to bring luck in love. Over her left shoulder the black cat, a symbol of bad luck and death, waits to pounce on the hummingbird. Over her right shoulder the symbol of the devil, her pet monkey…a gift from Diego. Around her hair, butterflies represent the Resurrection. Once again, Frida uses a wall of large tropical plant leaves as the background.
This painting was meant to be a gift for Frida’s lover, the photographer Nickolas Muray. However, after her divorce from Diego she had to sell the painting to raise money for a divorce lawyer.
This painting is signed and dated “Frida Kahlo 40”, indicating the painting was done in 1940. However, she tells Nickolas that she has sold the painting in a letter to him dated October 13, 1939.
Self Portrait with Loose Hair
In 1946, Frida again traveled to New York for a spinal fusion. This operation has been called “the beginning of the end” for Frida. Although she consulted numerous, perhaps too numerous, doctors, her condition grew steadily worse after this operation. This self-portrait was painted while she was recovering from the operation. In it, Frida looks thin and frail yet relaxed and almost smiling. The text on the scroll at the bottom reads: “Here I painted myself, Frida Kahlo, with the reflection in the mirror. I am 37 years old and this is July, 1947. In Coyoacan, Mexico, the place where I was born”. In this self-portrait Frida has greatly exaggerated her hair… perhaps to please Diego who loved her long flowing hair.
The photograph below the painting , taken the same year, may have been used as a study for this painting.
Self-Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill
This painting is a portrait of Frida with her surgeon Doctor Juan Farill. In 1951 Dr. Farill performed a series of 7 operations on Frida’s spine. She remained in the hospital in Mexico City for 9 months. In November of that year Frida was finally well enough to paint. Her first painting was this self-portrait which she dedicated to Dr. Farill. “I was sick for a year….seven operations on my spine” she noted in her diary, and “Dr. Farill saved me“. The fact that she gave Dr. Farill credit for saving her life may explain why this self-portrait is in the style of an “ex-voto (retablo)”. In the painting Dr. Farill appears in place of the usual saint and Kahlo as the unfortunate victim who has been saved. Frida, confined to a wheelchair, paints with her own blood using her heart as a palette….maybe her way of saying this painting is from her heart. The brushes she holds firmly in her hand look more like bloody surgical instruments.
Frida may have borrowed the idea for this painting from Goya, who, during his last years painted a ‘retablo style” self-portrait entitled “Goya Attended by Doctor Arrieta“. In that painting he included an inscription thanking the doctor for saving his life.