Philadelphia Museum of Art - Exhibitions - Frida Kahlo
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About Frida Kahlo

The Two Fridas
The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas), 1939
Frida Kahlo, Mexican
Oil on canvas
67 11/16 x 67 11/16 inches
Collection Museo de Arte Moderno, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes–Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
© 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D.F.
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, a southern suburb of Mexico City, the third daughter of a German father and a mother of Spanish and Native American descent. Her life was punctuated by adversity, beginning with polio at age six that left her with a permanent limp. In 1922 she entered the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria with plans to study medicine. She was one of only thirty-five girls out of about two thousand students at the prestigious school. It was here that she met Diego Rivera for the first time. In 1925, a streetcar collided with a bus on which Kahlo was traveling, an accident that left her with numerous broken bones and serious internal injuries. She began to paint during her recuperation. Soon thereafter, she met Rivera again, and in 1929 they were married. Kahlo and Rivera associated with an eccentric group of other intellectuals, political revolutionaries, and artists at home and abroad. Their relationship was tumultuous—neither was faithful to the other, and Rivera’s affair with Kahlo’s younger sister Cristina proved particularly traumatic. Kahlo was openly bi-sexual and took as one of her lovers Communist leader Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico. Kahlo and Rivera divorced in 1940, only to remarry shortly thereafter. Kahlo had never fully recovered from her injuries from the bus accident, and in the early 1940s her health began to deteriorate, as her reputation as an artist continued to grow. She died in her sleep in 1954 at the age of 47.

Kahlo's Paintings

Henry Ford Hospital
Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
Frida Kahlo, Mexican
Oil on metal
12 13/16 x 15 13/16 inches
Collection Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochilmilco, Mexico City
© 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D.F.
Frida Kahlo is one of the most celebrated and revered artists in the world. Between 1926 and 1954, she painted over sixty self-portraits and about eighty additional paintings, mostly still lifes and portraits of friends. Her work allowed her to both express and to construct her identity. "I paint my own reality," she said. "I paint because I need to."

Kahlo began painting in 1926 while recuperating from a near-fatal bus accident. She married Diego Rivera in 1929, recording the ups and downs of their tumultuous relationship in paint. She also illustrated her struggles with her deteriorating health: the orthopedic corsets she was forced to wear, the numerous spinal surgeries, as well as miscarriages and therapeutic abortions. Such painful subject matter is mitigated by Kahlo's folk art style and the small scale of her works, as well as her sardonic humor and extraordinary imagination.

The Broken Column
The Broken Column (La columna rota), 1944
Frida Kahlo, Mexican
Oil on masonite
15 11/16 x 12 1/16 inches
Collection Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico City
© 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D.F.
Inspired in part by pre-Columbian culture and by Mexican mass culture, Kahlo's paintings were celebrated by Surrealist André Breton when he came to Mexico in 1938 and declared her to be a self-made Surrealist. Although she resisted this designation, pointing out that rather than painting dreams she painted her own reality, she recognized the advantages of being associated with the movement, and Breton helped secure exhibitions in New York in 1938 and in Paris in 1939. Politically active, Kahlo espoused Communism and identified herself with indigenous Mexican culture, and she was a central player in both artistic and political upheavals throughout the world in the 1930s and 1940s. On the occasion of her first exhibition in Mexico in 1953, Kahlo defied doctors' orders and attended the opening, receiving guests while reclining on a four-poster bed. Although sickness prevented her from creating the jewel-like paintings she had created in earlier years, her late still lifes and self-portraits from the 1950s—many of them proclaiming her allegiance to Communism—exhibit her continued creativity throughout her life.

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