Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘biographies of sick women’

About a month before doctors amputated her right leg at the knee, Frida Kahlo drew a picture of her severed feet on a pedestal. It is one of many diary entries in which she expresses her anguish at the impending operation. In public, though, she acted lighthearted, saying playfully to friends, "Did you know they are going to cut off my paw?"

From Frida Kahlo’s diary, “Why do I need feet if I have wings to fly.”

About a month before doctors amputated her right leg at the knee, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo drew a picture of her severed feet on a pedestal. Instead of healthy veins protruding from the amputated feet, dead, thorny vines snake out. The flesh is yellow, anemic, and the page is stained with her blood.

This is one of many diary entries in which Frida explores her anguish over the impending operation. She knew that she had no other choice but to cut off her leg. In truth, her right leg was skinny, crippled, shriveled, and lame. It hung from her body as if it were broken. Two toes were missing from the foot. The leg was infected with gangrene. It hurt her terribly.

Her husband Mexican muralist Diego Rivera urged her to accept her fate and submit to yet another operation. Maybe she would be able to get a good prosthetic leg, he urged, and walk a little.

For Diego’s sake, she said to the doctors,

“Prepare me for the operation!”

Then, putting on a brave face for her friends, she asked them, 

“Did you know they are going to cut off my paw?”

For more on Frida Kahlo on this blog, click here.

Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1983.
The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait. Introduction by Carlos Fuentes. Essays by Sarah M. Lowe. New York: Abradale, 1995.

Read Full Post »

"What I Saw in the Water or What the Water Gave Me," by Frida Kahlo, 1938. Frida painted herself in the bath. The right foot shows a bleeding sore between the deformed big toe and second toe. By the early 1940s, Frida would be in constant pain from her back and right foot. She would be forced to take to her bed and wear a series of body casts.

(First see “Frida Kahlo Had Childhood Polio Part 1.”)

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo‘s childhood polio caused more than a slight deformity in her right leg. The decreased circulation to the limb caused her lifelong problems and pain.

From November 1-15, 1938, the first exhibition of Frida’s paintings was held at the avant-garde Julien Levy Gallery in New York City. At her opening, Frida looked spectacularly exotic in her Mexican costume, her starched bouffant skirts falling below her ankles.

"Frida on White Bench," photograph by Nickolas Muray, 1939

While the effect of her unusual outfit was striking and a perfect complement to her 25 paintings displayed in Mexican folkloric frames of metal, glass, and tin, Frida’s skirts played more than a decorative role. Frida explained:

“I must have full skirts and long, now that my sick leg is so ugly.”

The press was delighted with the paintings and Frida was the “flutter of the week in Manhattan.” During the course of the exhibition, Julien Levy wanted to show Frida the town. He took her bar-hopping in Harlem. He recalls:

“She didn’t jump to it, possibly because she was tired, and she couldn’t enjoy herself late at night. Bar-hopping is not easy to do if you are not light on your legs. She couldn’t overcome invalidism. After walking three blocks, her face would get drawn, and she’d begin to hang on your arm a little bit. If you kept walking, that would force her to say, ‘We must get a cab.'”

Frida’s right foot was the problem – again. She had developed warts on the sole of her foot. Of course, her spine ached. After her exhibit closed, she fell seriously ill. She saw a round of specialists, finally discovering Dr. David Glusker, who succeeded in closing the trophic ulcer that she had had on her foot for years.

Frida Kahlo in bed c.1950s

That was in 1938. Frida was to suffer pain for many more years, her degenerative spinal condition a result of the childhood polio and her streetcar accident in 1926. Some historians have suggested that Frida may have suffered from yet a third problem. They think that Frida could have been born with spina bifida, which further complicated her spine and leg issues.

Over the course of her lifetime, Frida would endure over 30 surgeries, multiple hospitalizations, and countless months of bedrest. Frida managed the constant pain with copious amounts of brandy and pills.

In 1953, gangrene set into her right foot and her leg had to be amputated below the knee. Frida was devastated.

After the 1953 amputation of her right leg below the knee because of her gangrenous right foot, Frida drew this image of her feet in her diary. She tried to make light of the loss, writing the poignant phrase, "Pies para que los quiero, si tengo alas pa' volar?" (Feet, why do I want them if I have wings to fly?)

The next year, Frida was dead from a morphine overdose, self-administered, probably a suicide.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

Read Full Post »

“Portrait of My Father,” (1951), Mexican artist Frida Kahlo shows us her photographer father Guillermo Kahlo with the tool of his trade – a camera.

From an early age, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) identified with her German-born father, Guillermo Kahlo, a portrait photographer. In her diary, she wrote (in Spanish):

“My childhood was marvelous because, although my father was a sick man [ he had epilepsy], he was an immense example to me of tenderness, of work (photographer and also painter)….”

Frida Kahlo as photographed by her father, Guillermo Kahlo (1872-1941) in 1926 at about age 19. This was taken after Frida's horrific bus accident.

Guillermo Kahlo taught young Frida how to use a camera and how to develop, retouch, and color photographs. He adored Frida and photographed her often. Perhaps this is when Frida developed her obsession for self-portraiture.

Frida Kahlo (l) at about age 19 with her family (c. 1927)

Definitely, by this time, Frida Kahlo had discovered how to seduce the camera. In this 1927 (perhaps 1924?) family photo, Frida appears androgynous, flouting convention by wearing a man’s suit and slicking back her hair. She was quite the rebel. Meanwhile, her sisters and mother pose demurely nearby in period flapper attire. Frida, however, has adopted a jaunty pose and an expression that says:

“Don’t look at them. Look at me!”

We can’t help staring at her.  At 19 she is already an exotic creature. Thus began Frida Kahlo’s long and celebrated career of using personal dress as theatre.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

Read Full Post »

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

At the age of six, Frida Kahlo was stricken with polio. It affected her right leg. She spent nine months in bed.

“‘It all began with a horrible pain in my right leg from the muscle downward,” she remembered. ‘They washed my little leg in a small tub with walnut water and small hot towels.'”

Once she was out of bed, her doctor insisted that Frida exercise to build up her weaker leg. Her father got her involved in all kinds of sports, a decidedly male domain in 1914 Mexico. However, Frida played soccer, boxed, wrestled, and became a champion swimmer. (1) She climbed trees, rowed on the lakes of Chapultepec Park, and played ball.

Frida Kahlo is shown at far right, with sister Cristina (l) and best friend Isabel Campos (c). The photo was taken by Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, in 1919, when Frida was about 12.

Despite her best efforts, her right leg remained very skinny. To disguise that fact, she wore three or four socks on her thin calf and shoes with a built-up right heel. While some of her friends admired her stamina despite her deformity, other children teased her:

“Frida’s childhood friend, the painter Aurora Reyes, says: ‘We were quite cruel about her leg. When she was riding her bicycle, we would yell at her, ‘Frida, pata de palo!’ [Frida, peg leg], and she would respond furiously with lots of curses.'”

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at a demonstration of the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, May 1, 1929

In this photo, Frida is shown marching in a skirt that hits below the knee – thus exposing her obviously thinner right calf. Not long after this photo was taken, Frida began to wear elaborate, floor-length skirts –  to hide her emaciated leg from public view.

Frida Kahlo with pigeons, ca. 1940s by Juan Guzmán.

(1) Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York, Harper, 1983.

Now read: “Frida Kahlo Had Childhood Polio Part 2.”

READERS: For even more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

Read Full Post »

"The Broken Column," by Frida Kahlo (1944). This self-portrait shows the artist's spine as a broken Ionic column. Frida's health had deteriorated to the stage that she had to wear a steel corset.

"The Broken Column," by Frida Kahlo (1944). This self-portrait shows the artist's spine as a broken Ionic column. By 1944, Frida's health had deteriorated to such a degree that she had to wear a steel corset to sit up. Her persistent health problems stemmed from childhood polio, a traffic accident, and botched spinal surgeries.

For her entire adult life, artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) suffered unbearable pain from her spine and foot. (See “Frida’s First Bad Accident.”) She endured over thirty surgeries to correct the problem (in both Mexico and the U.S), was subjected to batteries of tests, X-rays, and spinal taps, given blood transfusions, physical therapy, and strong medicine . Yet, despite such extreme measures, Frida’s health continued to deteriorate.

After 1944, Frida’s doctors prescribed months of  bed rest, encasing her tortured body in a succession of plaster or steel corsets that helped her to sit or stand. Frida described these corsets and the treatments that accompanied them as “punishment.”

“There were twenty-eight corsets in all–one made of steel, three of leather, and the rest of plaster. One…allowed her neither to sit nor to recline. It made her so angry that she took it off, and used a sash to tie her torso to the back of a chair in order to support her spine.

There was a time when she spent three months in a nearly vertical position with sacks of sand attached to her feet to straighten out her spinal column. Another time, Adelina Zendejas, visiting her in the hospital after an operation, found her hanging from steel rings with her feet just able to touch the ground. Her easel was in front of her. “We were horrified,” Zendejas recalls. “She was painting and telling jokes and funny stories….”

Yet another gruesome tale comes from Frida’s friend the pianist Ella Paresce. A Spanish doctor who knew nothing about orthopedics put a plaster corset on Frida….”[D]uring the night, the corset began to harden, as it was supposed to do. I happened to be spending the night there in the next room, and about half past four or five in the morning, I heard a crying, nearly shrieks. I jumped out of the bed and went in, and there was Frida saying she couldn’t breathe!….The corset had hardened…so much that it pressed her lungs. It made pleats all around her body. So I tried to get a doctor. Nobody would pay any attention at that hour…so…I took a razor blade…and made about a two-inch cut [in the cast over her chest] so that she could breathe….[S]he painted the corset, which is still visible in the museum in Coyoacán.” (1)

Diego Rivera kisses his wife Frida Kahlo at the ABC Hospital in Mexico City, 1950

Diego kisses Frida at the ABC Hospital 1950

In the photo here, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera tenderly kisses his wife Frida Kahlo at the Hospital Ingles ABC in Mexico City, 1950. Frida’s botched spinal fusion of 1946 began the “calvary that would lead to the end,” said her friend Cachucha Miguel N. Lira. Her leg was in constant pain. Four toes on her right foot had turned black; gangrene had set in. An amputation was advised. Frida spent a year in the hospital. In the photo, notice that Frida had painted the Communist symbols, a hammer and sickle on her plaster corset. Visitors also signed Frida’s corsets and decorated them with feathers, mirrors, photographs, pebbles, and ink. When Frida’s doctors removed her paints from her sick room, instead, she used lipstick and iodine to paint her cast. (1)

(1) Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo.New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1983.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

Read Full Post »

Frida Kahlo sits on a white bench, wearing traditional Mexican clothing, in her heavily ornamented and embroidered signature look. Photographed in 1939 in New York by her friend and lover, Nickolas Muray.

Frida Kahlo, New York, 1939, photo by Nicholas Muray. She sits on a white bench, wearing traditional Mexican clothes in the heavily ornamented and embroidered style that became her signature.

“Frida was often heard to say, ‘I look like a lot of people and a few things,’ as if everything that made up her personal appearance was a matter of chance. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Dressing each day was an almost ceremonial affair during which she would try innumerable combinations of blouses and skirts. Her clothes were always immaculately clean and freshly ironed; she was meticulous about the appearance of her pleated petticoats, pure white and starched. She wore native Mexican costumes long after her sophisticated friends had given up this nationalistic gesture, in part for the long skirts that hid her thin leg [from childhood polio] and orthopedic shoe [from a bus accident]….

Frida selected her jewelry each day with equal care, especially the rings she wore on the fingers of both hands. She meticulously applied her make-up and painted her fingernails, sometimes purple, green, or orange….Only a little over 5′ 2″ tall, she seemed taller bcause of the heightening effect of her long skirts, accentuated even more by her elegantly long neck and her upswept hairdo with bows and flowers arranged on top of her head. Her olive skin was covered with a light fuzz; her upper lip had a pronounced moustache, which she made obvious in her self-portraits. The heavy dark eyebrows that grew together across her forehead she turned into a trademark….

When she was finally finished dressing, she looked “like a princess, like an empress’….Scrupulously clean and heavily perfumed…” (1)

Frida Kahlo smoking,  photograph by her friend and lover Nickolas Muray, ca. 1940

Frida Kahlo smoking, photo by her friend and lover, Nickolas Muray, ca. 1940

Frida was a heavy smoker and is often photographed holding a lit, unfiltered cigarette. She seldom smiled for the camera – with good reason. The few photos that have caught her laughing reveal blackened teeth.

(1) Zamora, Martha. Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

Read Full Post »

Frida Kahlo photographed by New York art dealer, Julien Levy (1938)

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo as photographed by New York art dealer, Julien Levy (1938)

“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint.”

To Julien Levy, who prepared Frida Kahlo‘s 1938 New York art exhibition, Frida wrote (in English):

“I never thought of painting until 1926, when I was in bed on account of an automobile accident. I was bored as hell in bed with a plaster cast (I had a fracture in the spine and several in other places), so I decided to do something. I stoled [sic] from my father some oil paints, and my mother ordered for me a special easel because I couldn’t sit down [she means “sit up”], and I started to paint.” (1)

Frida Kahlo paints in bed.

Frida Kahlo paints in bed.

(1) Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1983.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »