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Frida Kahlo had a deep affection for her father, who nourished her creative side during her childhood.
On a portrait she painted of him in 1951, she engraved the words, "character generous, intelligent and fine."Gisele Freund
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Kahlo posing with her painting "The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth, Myself, Diego and Senor Xolotl," which she completed in 1949.Smithsonian Institute
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Before she was a household name, Kahlo was mostly recognized by the art world as muralist Diego Rivera's wife, attracting attention with her bold outfit choices while the couple traveled.
In his 1930 journal, Edward Weston referred to her condescendingly as "a little doll alongside Diego" who made "people stop in their tracks to look in wonder."Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Before they married, Kahlo's father warned his future son-in-law about his daughter's fiery ways, calling her "a devil."
To which Rivera simply replied, "I know."Graphic House/Getty Images
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When the prestigious Louvre in France purchased a self-portrait from Kahlo in 1939, she became the first 20th-century Mexican artist to be featured there. Gisele Freund
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It's no secret that Frida Kahlo enjoyed love affairs with both men and women.
Her fluid sexuality and known love for gender-bending dressing has cemented Kahlo not only as an indigenous painter but also as a queer artist in history.Getty Images
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Her turbulent marriage with Rivera has become a big part of her legacy.
Kahlo famously said of her husband, "There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the streetcar, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst."Fotosearch/Getty Images
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Rivera and Kahlo with Anson Conger Goodyear, then-president of New York's Museum of Modern Art.
At the time, Diego had begun work on a series of large murals for the exhibition of his work at the museum.Getty Images
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Kahlo realized that after she was diagnosed with polio, her parents gave her more attention than they had previously. “My papa and mama began to spoil me a lot and love me more,” she said.Flickr/Rubi Joselin Ibarra and Arturo Alfaro Galán
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After she divorced her husband, Frida Kahlo gained a following of students whom she tutored in art. They were known as Los Fridos.
“To paint is the most terrific thing that there is, but to do it well is very difficult,” she told the students. “It is necessary... to learn the skill very well, to have very strict self-discipline and above all to have love, to feel a great love for painting.”Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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When Russian revolution leader Leon Trotsky arrived in Mexico to seek political asylum, he and his wife were received by Frida Kahlo.
Kahlo was later involved in an affair with Trotsky.Getty Images
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Although much of Kahlo's life was marred by her debilitated physical state and emotional turmoil, the artist was also known for her zest for life.
"It is not worthwhile to leave this world without having had a little fun in life," she once said.
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Given the wide acclaim of her work today, it's hard to believe that Frida Kahlo's first solo exhibit in Mexico wasn't until 1953.
Kahlo was in deep pain but made it to the show on an ambulance from the hospital. She greeted guests from a bed placed in the middle of the exhibit just for her.
Dan Brinzac/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images
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After they divorced in 1939, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera remarried the following year. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Kahlo was enrolled in the National Preparatory School at age 15, where she was one of only 35 girls in a student body of 2,000. Wikimedia Commons
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During her life, Frida Kahlo socialized with many leftist thinkers from all over the world. Here she is donning a traditional sari next to Indian writer Nayantara Sahgal.Wikimedia Commons
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Khalo and Rivera had many animals at their home, including deer, birds, dogs, and even monkeys.Wallace Marly/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Frida Kahlo produced some 200 works of art in her life, many of which were self-portraits.
"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best," she later admitted.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Frida Kahlo's first one-person show was at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City, and it was a critical success.
Time magazine wrote that her paintings "had the daintiness of miniatures, the vivid reds and yellows of Mexican tradition, the playfully bloody fancy of an unsentimental child.”Getty Images
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In spite of the domestic troubles she endured, Kahlo's home was never dreary nor dull. She often hosted and cooked elaborate meals with her stepdaughter Guadalupe Rivera.
"Frida's laughter was loud enough to rise above the din of yelling and revolutionary songs," Guadalupe recalled.Nickolas Murray
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It was at the National Preparatory School where Kahlo met her future husband, Diego Rivera.
Kahlo was 15 at the time and Rivera was about 20 years older than she was. Already a famous artist in his own right, he was sent to work on a project at her school. And she fell for him instantly.La Veu del País Valencià
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Very involved in Mexican politics and the communist party, Kahlo admired these same interests in her husband, who was part of a post-revolutionary movement in the country.Wikimedia Commons
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Kahlo’s boyfriend at the time of the bus accident, Alejandro Gómez Arias, was with her when the accident occurred.
When Kahlo started to paint during her recovery, most of her works were self-portraits, though some of her lesser-known art features other people, like her father. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
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Kahlo's obsession with self-portraits may have begun with her father, Guillermo, who showed her the basics of photography.Gisele Freund/Rubi Joselin Ibarra
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After their first encounter at her school, Kahlo and Rivera remained friends since they traveled in similar social circles.
When Kahlo began focusing on her art during her early recovery years, Diego started to visit her at her family home more frequently.Carl Van Vechten
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Despite the setbacks caused by her physical disability, Kahlo persevered. “I am more or less happy,” she had written to her doctor, “because I have Diego and my mother and my father whom I love so much. I think that is enough.” Nickolas Murray
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Kahlo was proud of her prominent eyebrows and trademark lip hair, sometimes even including them in her self portraits. Flickr
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Kahlo is rumored to have had affairs with some high-profile people, among them photographer Nickolas Muray, who took many snapshots of her.Nickolas Murray
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Over the years, Kahlo became more seasoned in painting, using her miscarriages as fodder for some of her most emotional work. Here is her painting "Henry Ford Hospital," after one of her particularly harrowing episodes.Enrique Arias.
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Frida Kahlo's style has commanded as much attention as her paintings.
Her flower crowns, braids, and skirts have become synonymous with her iconography but she also enjoyed dressing up in androgynous looks.Flickr
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In her 1946 painting "The Wounded Deer," Kahlo portrayed her suffering as a wounded deer riddled with arrows.
She gifted the eerie painting to newlywed friends, writing, "I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you."Flickr
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Kahlo's friends disapproved of her relationship with Diego, mostly due to their wide age gap and stark differences.
When the couple wed in 1929, Kahlo's parents described the union as a "marriage between an elephant and a dove."Beate Knappe/Koiart66
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Kahlo and Diego both had many extramarital affairs, sometimes even with the same women.
But Rivera's affair with Kahlo’s sister upset the artist so greatly that it later led to their brief divorce in 1939.Flickr
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Frida Kahlo in a 1937 "Señoras of Mexico" photoshoot for Vogue magazine.
The painter began receiving recognition as an artist in her own right after the showcasing of her work in the U.S.Wikimedia Commons
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Kahlo's surrealist art conveyed her emotions on canvas with remarkable poignancy. Libby Rosof/Vicente Wolf Photography Collection
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Frida Kahlo's marriage was tainted by numerous miscarriages. She was unable to have children, possibly due to her horrible accident.
After she miscarried during the couple's visit to Detroit, she poured her heart into the painting "Henry Ford Hospital."Getty Images
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Kahlo’s health continued to deteriorate due to complications from her accident and childhood polio. She had several toes amputated due to gangrene, and suffered from ongoing fungus infections in her right hand. Libby Rosof/Vicente Wolf Photography Collection.
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With Kahlo’s health on the decline, she had several more surgeries, furthering the attention she got when going under the knife. In her dramatic variation of Munchausen disorder, she turned her hospital stays into parties of sorts.
According to Amy Fine Collins, "Frida exhorted her guests to look at her oozing sore" and when doctors drained it, Hayden Herrera wrote that the artist exclaimed over its "beautiful shade of green."Libby Rosof/Vicente Wolf Photography Collection.
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Kahlo traveled with her husband to the U.S. for his work.
They had brief stints in New York City, where Kahlo was often photographed, as seen here.Nickolas Murray
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Kahlo was as poetic with words as she was with her paint brush. Once she wrote in a letter to a friend, "I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows, but now the damn things have learned to swim."Flickr
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In 1946, Kahlo endured a painful surgery in an attempt to fix her battered spine.
It was one of countless operations the artist endured during her life.Flickr
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Frida Kahlo poses for a portrait at the home and studio she shared with her husband Diego Rivera, designed by architect Juan O'Gorman circa 1940.
Her blue studio house later became known as Casa Azul and was converted into a museum after the painter's death.
Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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One of the last entries of her diary before her death was the following: "I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return."
Many have used it as supposed evidence of Kahlo's possible suicide. But others argue that her unbridled love for life was too strong for her to kill herself. Sonja Alves
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Kahlo after one of her operations. Of the doctor who performed her surgery, she wrote, "He is so marvelous this doctor, and my body is so full of vitality."Flickr
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Among the earliest works Frida Kahlo sold in her life were four portraits purchased by art collector Edward G. Robinson. He paid $200 each for Kahlo’s paintings.Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
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In 1950, Kahlo had more surgery work done on her spine, but the operation was a failure. She ended up with a draining and infected wound.Flickr
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In 1953, her entire right foot set into gangrene and her leg had to be amputated.
After losing her leg, the resilient artist wrote in her diary, "Pies para que los quiero, si tengo alas pa' volar?" (Feet, why do I want them if I have wings to fly?)Wikimedia Commons
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Frida Kahlo never considered her works surrealist. Indeed, the artist said of her art: "I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality."
Sandra Gonzalez and Edward Weston
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Frida Kahlo remained passionate about her political views until the end.
Days before her death, she attended a protest against CIA intervention in Guatemala.Gisele Freund
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The home Kahlo lived in for a large part of her life, Casa Azul in Coyoacán, Mexico, is now a museum to honor the troubled artist. Monica del Corral
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Her legacy remains: On an individual level, people connect with Kahlo’s portrayals of feeling damaged and alone.
At a broader level, modern-day indigenous artists honor her work in the midst of celebrating their heritage and history.Flickr
During her lifetime, Frida Kahlo produced some 200 striking works of art, which have been widely described as surrealistic. But the iconic Mexican painter never saw her pieces as things that she imagined.
"I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality," Kahlo said.
Kahlo lived a colorful life: She traveled the world for work, grew a fantastical garden, and enjoyed infamous affairs with both men and women. Yet she was tormented by the endless pain caused by a horrible accident that changed her life.
The Early Life Of Frida Kahlo
Getty ImagesFrida Kahlo painting one of her portraits of an unidentified woman.
Before she became "Frida," she was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón. She came into the world on July 6, 1907, as the third child of four daughters.
Although most often identified by her Mexican heritage, Frida Kahlo was also German on her father's side. He was an immigrant named Guillermo Kahlo, who had moved to Mexico in 1891. Her mother was Matilde Calderón, a devout Catholic of primarily indigenous as well as Spanish descent.
Frida Kahlo was a remarkably bright child with an adorable face. Her intelligence and bold temperament deepened her emotional bond with her father, with whom she remained close to even as she got older. Kahlo's physical health, however, plagued her entire life.
Wikimedia CommonsFrida Kahlo was the third of four sisters.
After contracting polio at age six, Kahlo's right leg was withered and her right foot was stunted. Nevertheless, she maintained an active childhood playing soccer, swimming, wrestling, and more. To explore her creative side, her photographer father also taught her proper camera techniques at an early age. She also took drawing lessons from a family friend.
In 1922, Frida Kahlo enrolled in Mexico's elite National Preparatory School, where she met muralist Diego Rivera, who later became her husband. In his autobiography My Art, My Life, Rivera recalled their encounter at her school — where he had been asked to work on a project.
He wrote, "All of a sudden the door flew open, and a girl who seemed to be no more than ten or twelve was propelled inside... She had unusual dignity and self-assurance, and there was a strange fire in her eyes."
FlickrKahlo (far left) was a bright and active child who occasionally enjoyed dressing up in trousers and suits.
Sadly, three years later, Kahlo found herself the victim of a horrible accident between a bus and a streetcar where she was impaled by a steel handrail. It went in near her hip — and came out the other side. She suffered horrendous injuries, especially to her spine and pelvis.
In many ways, it was a miracle she had survived, though she had to go through an intense recovery phase, which forced the active tomboy to be bedridden for months. But it was during the initial year of recovery that she first put brush to canvas, and expressed her pain — both physical and emotional — through art.
Frida Kahlo's Portraits
Getty ImagesFrida Kahlo began focusing on painting while she recovered from her accident.
As an artist, Frida Kahlo is known for her distinct surrealist style imbued with vibrant colors, which harken to her indigenous heritage. It is a technique that was formed as she began to acquaint herself with the canvas during her recovery years. The accident had indelibly changed the young creative.
To her then-boyfriend Alejandro Gómez Arias, Kahlo wrote, "Life will reveal [its secrets] to you soon. I already know it all... I was a child who went about in a world of colors... My friends, my companions became women slowly, I became old in instants."
Her injury was so severe that she was unable to sit up straight for months, and she was required to wear a stabilizing corset made out of hard plaster.
Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesMuch of Kahlo's art reflected the severe pain she endured due to her injuries.
To allow her daughter's creativity to flourish while confined to the bed, Kahlo's mother set up a portable easel and installed a mirror to the underside of Kahlo's bed canopy, which enabled her to paint herself while laying down. Many of Frida Kahlo's paintings were self-portraits.
"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best," the artist confessed years later. Indeed, it is estimated that about 55 of her paintings she produced during her life were self-portraits.
Getty ImagesKahlo with her famous "The Two Fridas," which some have interpreted as a depiction of her torn identities as Diego Rivera's forlorn wife and a carefree Mexican artist.
The personal anguish she magnificently translated into her art resonated with the public. As a result, Frida Kahlo's self-portraits later became her most popular paintings. Among her most esteemed works are the The Two Fridas (1939), Self-Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), and Broken Column (1944).
Much like the style of dress she became known for, Frida Kahlo's art was imbued with her politics. As she became comfortable in her skin as an artist in post-revolutionary Mexico, many of the country's intellectuals whom Kahlo befriended were embracing Mexico's traditional roots or "Mexicanidad."
Her communist beliefs and Mexican nationalism are visibly ensconced in paintings like her Self-Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States (1932) and My Dress Hangs There (1933).
Frida And Diego
Getty ImagesDiego Rivera and Frida Kahlo married in 1929, divorced in 1939, then remarried in 1940.
Another big influence on Frida Kahlo's art was her tumultuous relationship with her husband, the acclaimed Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
After their serendipitous encounter at Kahlo's school, Kahlo and Rivera — who were 20 years apart in age — began an affectionate relationship as the two ran in similar social circles. When Kahlo began to pick up the paint brush more frequently as she recovered, Rivera visited her at her family's Casa Azul more often.
Rivera was already an established artist at the time. But he was enamored by Kahlo's natural gift and encouraged her artistry as much as possible.
Getty ImagesKahlo and Rivera had a troublesome relationship but they remained devoted to each other until the end.
"It was obvious to me," Rivera later wrote, "that this girl was an authentic artist." Frida Kahlo's friends were displeased with their courtship and made their feelings plainly known.
A friend of Kahlo's called Rivera "a pot-bellied, filthy old man." When she and Rivera married in 1929, her parents referred to the union as "marriage between an elephant and a dove," an obvious jab at the couple's mismatched appearance.
But Kahlo's and Rivera's spirits were inseparable and they shared a strong love and respect for each other. Yet that did not prevent woes in their marriage.
"It is not worthwhile to leave this world without having had a little fun in life."
Diego Rivera was a renowned philanderer as was Frida Kahlo, who had affairs with both men and women during their troubled marriage. Their union was also tormented by Kahlo's miscarriages — its symbolisms apparent in her paintings — due to infertility possibly caused by her accident. The couple divorced in 1939 only to remarry the following year.
Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty ImagesAn exhibit visitor views one of Frida Kahlo's corsets that the artist wore when she was alive.
"There have been two great accidents in my life," Kahlo once said. "One was the streetcar, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst." Still, they remained devoted to their love and their art.
Rivera wrote tenderly of his wife's work while recommending the paintings to his friend:
"I recommend her to you, not as a husband but as an enthusiastic admirer of her work, acid and tender, hard as steel and delicate and fine as a butterfly's wing, loveable as a beautiful smile, and profound and cruel as the bitterness of life."
The Legacy Of Frida Kahlo
Getty ImagesFrida Kahlo continues to be celebrated as one of the most talented artists of the 20th century.
Frida Kahlo died at the age of 47 on July 13, 1954. The official cause of death was pulmonary embolism set on by pneumonia, but some people suspected that she had overdosed on painkillers and committed suicide.
After her death, Frida Kahlo's portraits have become some of the most recognizable artworks in the world. While she sold few paintings during her life, her work is now exhibited alongside esteemed artists like Salvador Dalí and Georgia O'Keefe. Her individual pieces now sell for millions of dollars.
As Janet Landay, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, put it: "Kahlo made personal women's experiences serious subjects for art, but because of their intense emotional content, her paintings transcend gender boundaries. Intimate and powerful, they demand that viewers — men and women — be moved by them."
Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty ImagesKahlo's popularity has spurred discussions about the commodification of art and the artist.
Kahlo's gripping artwork has also found its way into the pop culture lexicon of the 21st century. But the adoration for her work has also given way to an obsession that borderlines commodification of the artist's image.
In 2002, Mexican actress Salma Hayek portrayed the late painter in the feature film Frida. Nowadays, items like bags, T-shirts, and mugs with Frida Kahlo's unmistakeable face are highly sought-after merchandise.
Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty ImagesKahlo's art and her images are showcased all over the world.
The capitalization of an anti-capitalist artist is an irony that many observers have pointed out and sparked critical discussion about art, remembrance, and the self-autonomy of women artists.
Nevertheless, fans of her work can rejoice in the fact that an indigenous queer artist like Frida Kahlo has become such a recognizable talent — even though it happened decades after she passed.
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.