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Posts Tagged ‘Frida Kahlo’

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Frida in New York, 1946, photo by Nickolas Muray. Brooklyn Museum; Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, 2010.80. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Brooklyn Museum, New York, U.S.A.

February 8–May 12, 2019

The museum is charging a separate admission for the Kahlo show of $20 to $25, depending on the day. The museum will be open seven days a week for the run of the exhibition.

excerpted from the Brooklyn Museum website

‘Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving’ is the largest U.S. exhibition in ten years devoted to the iconic painter and the first in the United States to display a collection of her clothing and other personal possessions, which were rediscovered and inventoried in 2004 after being locked away since Kahlo’s death, in 1954. They are displayed alongside important paintings, drawings, and photographs from the celebrated Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art, as well as related historical film and ephemera. To highlight the collecting interests of Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, works from our extensive holdings of Mesoamerican art are also included.

“Kahlo’s personal artifacts—which range from noteworthy examples of Kahlo’s Tehuana clothing, contemporary and pre-Colonial jewelry, and some of the many hand-painted corsets and prosthetics used by the artist during her lifetime—had been stored in the Casa Azul (Blue House), the longtime Mexico City home of Kahlo and Rivera, who had stipulated that their possessions not be disclosed until 15 years after Rivera’s death. The objects shed new light on how Kahlo crafted her appearance and shaped her personal and public identity to reflect her cultural heritage and political beliefs, while also addressing and incorporating her physical disabilities.”

*Wonderful Readers: As of today, there are 19 more posts on Frida Kahlo on this blog, Lisa’s History Room. To see them, click here.

 

 

 

 

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Frida Kahlo photographed by Nickolas Muray 1939. Friday wears ivory earrings given to her by artist Pablo Picasso.

Frida Kahlo photographed by Nickolas Muray outside her home, La Casa Azul, Coyoacán, Mexico. 1939

Because she was ill for so much of her adult life, artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) spent much of her time in bed. Her bedroom was upstairs in her home, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán, outside Mexico City. As a result, her bedroom became her daily world. She gathered around her necessary things and things of beauty.

On the underside of the bed canopy a mirror was hung so that Frida could see herself. Lying in the bed, she could paint self-portraits using the wooden easel her mother gave her. Her paintbrushes, paints, and diary were nearby. She covered her headboard with photographs of loved ones and political idols: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. In the bedroom were her toy collections, pre-Hispanic art pieces, Judas figures, and a diorama of mounted butterflies under glass. The room was fragrant with medicines and perfumes.

The room was both her haven and her prison.

Frida Kahlo's bed at La Casa Azul

Frida Kahlo’s bed at La Casa Azul

 

Frida Kahlo painting in bed. Undated photo

Frida Kahlo painting in bed. Undated photo

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

For more about Frida Kahlo, click here.

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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.

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From ABC News/Univision

Frida Kahlo’s Closet is Opened After 58 Years

Frida Kahlo is seen smoking after a 1946 operation.

Frida Kahlo, wearing Chinese pajamas, is seen smoking after a 1946 operation.

“Imagine being in Frida Kahlo‘s childhood home and opening up a closet that has been locked for decades. Inside are hundreds of personal items – personal photographs, love letters, medications, jewelry, shoes, and clothing that still hold the smell of perfume and the last cigarette she smoked.

That is exactly what happened when Hilda Trujillo Soto, the director of the Frida Kahlo Museum opened the closets that had been locked since the Mexican artist’s death in 1954. Inside were over 300 items belonging to Frida Kahlo, and now, a wide array of what was found is on display at the Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City.

The exterior of Frida Kahlo's home called Casa Azul outside Mexico City, 1952.

The exterior of Frida Kahlo’s home called Casa Azul outside Mexico City, 1952.

The exhibit, Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo, a collaboration between the museum and Vogue Mexico, brings to an end an elaborate 50 year scheme to keep private the intimate details of Kahlo’s life. It started when she died in 1954, as a distraught Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist and Frida Kahlo’s husband, locked the doors to her closet and never let anyone enter for fear that the contents would be mishandled and ruined.”

Kahlo contracted polio when she was six, leaving her right leg shorter and thinner than her left. Then, when she was 18, a metal tube pierced  through Frida’s abdomen during a bus crash, subjecting her to painful operations and  long periods of bed rest throughout her life.

In keeping with her flamboyance and ebullient spirit, Frida wore long, flowing tehuana skirts, lacy and colorful, that hid this affliction and celebrated her Mexican heritage.

frida-kahlo-dresses-on-display-exhibition-in-mexico-city

Frida Kahlo’s dresses in the Tehuantepec style are on exhibit in Mexico City at the Casa Azul, January 2013.

Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait, 1848, shows her dressed in traditional Tehuantepec costume.

Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait, 1848, shows her dressed in traditional Tehuantepec costume.

Later in life, Frida’s right leg had to be amputated. Included in the exhibit is a ornate red boot with the prosthetic leg Kahlo wore after the amputation.

Mexico Frida Fashion

A prostetic leg belonging to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is on exhibit at the Casa Azul in Mexico City (Jan. 2013). Frida’s fashion sense combined both form and function – a red boot attached to an artificial leg. Frida Kahlo’s right leg was amputated in 1953 due to gangrene.

Also on view are three ornate corsets, one styled by Jean-Paul Gaultier in memory of Frida after her death. Frida had to wear plaster corsets to alleviate her excrutiating spine pain.

Frida Kahlo, 1941, displays her Communist sympathies with her therapeutic plaster chest cast

Frida Kahlo, 1941, displays her Communist sympathies with her therapeutic plaster chest cast

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

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"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.

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Diego Rivera shown with wife, Frida Kahlo. Frida's mother called them "the Elephant and the Dove."

Elvis Presley at his shiniest

What did Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and rock sensation Elvis Presley have in common?

They both had twin brothers who died.

Diego Rivera and his twin brother Carlos were born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajato, Mexico. Carlos, however, died eighteen months later.

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

On January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gladys Presley gave birth to identical twin boys. The first one, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn. Thirty-five minutes later, Elvis Aaron (Aron) Presley entered this world. Gladys told Elvis that, as the surviving twin, he had been destined for great things.

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

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“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.

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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.

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"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.

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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.

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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.

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In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, "Man, Controller of the Universe," Leon Trotsky makes an appearance.

In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, "Man, Controller of the Universe," Leon Trotsky makes an appearance.

In 1937, Frida Kahlo took a new lover. He was Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary. When Frida met Trotsky, he was a man without a country. He had come to Mexico as a political refugee. He had been expelled from the Soviet Union by his archrival Josef Stalin. For nine years, Trotsky and his wife Natalia had lived in exile, searching in vain for political asylum in Turkey, France, and Norway, with no country wanting to admit them permanently, fearing reprisals from the Soviets (they threatened, for instance, to cancel their large exports of Norwegian herring).

Trotskyites all over the world were frantic with worry. Frida’s husband Diego Rivera, a well-known Communist and recent convert to Trotsky’s brand of Communism, came to the Trotskys’ rescue, intervening on their behalf with the Mexican government to grant them asylum in Mexico City.

Diego was hospitalized with eye and kidney problems when, on the morning of January 9, 1937,  the steamship carrying Trotsky and his wife arrived in Tampico harbor. Natalia Trotsky refused to disembark until she was sure she was safe and saw some familiar faces. She had lived for years surrounded by guards and under threat by assassination by Stalin’s agents. She was afraid to leave the boat. Finally a government cutter approached carrying a welcoming party of Mexican authorities, Communist party members, journalists, and Frida Kahlo, who was standing in for the ill Diego. (1)

Satisfied they were in safe hands, Trotsky and Natalia walked down the wooden pier to freedom. He, wearing tweed knickerbockers and a cap, and carrying a briefcase and a cane, walked with his chin held high, his stride that of a proud soldier. She, a little dowdy in a suit and looking worn and worried, watched her feet so as not to trip on the rought planks of the narrow dock. Just behind them walked Frida, lithe and exotic in her rebozo (shawl) and long skirt.” (1)

Natalia and Leon Trotsky arriving in Tampico, Mexico, January 9, 1937, greeted by artist Frida Kahlo, center.

Natalia and Leon Trotsky arriving in Tampico, Mexico, January 9, 1937, greeted by artist Frida Kahlo, center.

A train carried them to the capital where Rivera awaited them. The two great men, lovers of Communism, embraced, then all four drove quickly to Frida’s childhood home in Coyoacan called the Blue House. There the Trotskys would live rent-free, off and on for two years, with their every need and want attended to by Frida, Diego, Cristina Kahlo, friends, and Trotskyite party members who acted as guards, chauffeurs, escorts, and advisers.

Diego had the blue house turned into a fortress. The windows that faced the street were filled in with adobe bricks. Police stood guard during the day, Trotskyites by night. Diego even bought the property next door and connected the two buildings to provide a larger garden and a wing with a studio for Frida, as she would be the Trotskys’ chief  hostess.

"Fulang-Chang and I," by Frida Kahlo, 1937. At age 29, Frida was at her loveliest.

"Fulang-Chang and I," by Frida Kahlo, 1937. At age 29, Frida was at her loveliest.

It didn’t take long for both Frida and Trotsky to start making eyes at each other. Both were notorious for conducting extramarital love affairs. Trotsky and Frida spoke English to one another, which left Natalia guessing what they were saying, as she didn’t speak English (and Diego’s English was deplorable).

The two couples saw a lot of each other. Frida was openly flirtatious with Trotsky,  calling him “love”  and hoping to make Diego insanely jealous in retaliation for his affair with her sister Cristina (See previous post, “Frida Kahlo: I Can’t Live, if Living is Without You!”).

Trotsky slipped love letters into books he loaned Frida. By late spring of 1937, the two were immersed in a full-fledged love affair. They met secretly at Cristina Kahlo’s house, which Diego probably had bought her. Frida nicknamed Trotsky “Piochitas” (little goatee) for his white beard and called him also “el viejo,” as he was 58 years old while she was only 29.

By late July, though, the affair had fizzled out. Frida had proved to herself that she could still attract men and returned, as usual, to doting on Diego. The end may have come about, though, because Natalia and Diego discovered the affair (which could have been Frida’s intention all along).  Over time, Diego and Trotsky had several philosophical disagreements about Communism. Diego ceased to be a Trotskyite. Soon, the couples grew apart, although the Trotskys remained in Mexico, they moved out of the Blue House.

Frida, though, remained friends with Trotsky. She painted a self-portrait for him. The painting shows her standing between two curtains, holding a piece of paper that says in Spanish,

‘To Trotsky with great affection, I dedicate this painting November 7, 1937. Frida Kahlo, in San Angel, Mexico.’ The date was significant because it was both Trotsky’s birthday and the anniversary of the October Revolution, according to the Gregorian calendar.” (2)

"Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky Between the Curtains," by Frida Kahlo, 1937

"Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky Between the Curtains," by Frida Kahlo, 1937

Less than three years later, Trotsky was dead. On August 20, 1940, he was attacked in his home by an assassin sent by Stalin named Ramón Mercader, who buried the pick of an ice axe into Trotsky’s skull. Trotsky died the next day.

Leon Trotsky on his Deathbed, August 21, 1940

Leon Trotsky on his Deathbed, August 21, 1940

Frida was distraught. She called Diego in San Francisco to tell him the news.

“They killed old Trotsky this morning,” she cried. “Estupido! It’s your fault that they killed him. Why did you bring him?” (1)

Frida had met the assassin once in Paris and had invited him to her house in Coyoacan to dine, which placed her under suspicion. She was picked up by the Mexican police and interrogated for 12 hours, before being released, two days later, without charge.

(1) Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1983.
(2)Zamora, Martha. Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish. San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1990.

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

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"Fulang-Chang and I" by Frida Kahlo, 1937. Fulang-Chang was Frida's favorite spider monkey.

"Fulang-Chang and I" by Frida Kahlo, 1937. Fulang-Chang was Frida's favorite spider monkey.

As discussed in a previous post, “Frida Kahlo: A Few Small Nips,” Frida was devastated to learn of her husband Diego Rivera‘s affair with her younger sister Cristina. No one really knows exactly when Diego and Cristina began their affair, but, by early 1935, Frida had moved out of her San Angel house she shared with Diego and, taking her favorite spider monkey, rented an apartment in the center of Mexico City. Frida was determined to try and create and independent life for herself. She had not yet become a celebrated artist and was financially dependent upon Diego.

But Frida couldn’t make the break. Although Frida had a strong life force, she became desperately insecure without Diego around to praise her talents and beauty. Although she had moved out to get away from Diego, she continued to see him constantly, he keeping some of his clothes in her apartment and buying her a set of blue leather furniture just like the red set he’d given Cristina for her place. 

Frida was so mixed up and unhappy. Both living with Diego made her miserable and living without him made her miserable.

Cracks began to appear in the brave face Frida showed her friends. Old boyfriend Alex Gómez Arias visited her at her flat one day. Frida, glancing out the window, spotted her sister Cristina at a gas station across the road. Frida flew into a rage.

Look!” she cried. “Come here! Why does she come and fill up her car in front of my house?”

Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera

Finally, in early July, Frida packed and took off to New York with friends. After confiding her troubles, she came to a decision. She could not live without Diego. She reconciled herself to the fact that, should she stay married to Diego, he would continue his skirt-chasing. On July 23, 1935, she wrote him a letter:

[I know now that] all these letters, liaisons with petticoats, lady teachers of ‘English,’ gypsy models, assistants with ‘good intentions,’ ‘plenipotentiary emissaries from distant places,’ only represent flirtations, and that at bottom you and i love each other dearly….

All these things have been repeated throughout the seven years that we have lived together, and all the rages I have gone through have served only to make me understand in the end that I love you more than my own skin….”

Frida returned to San Angel to live, once again, with Diego. Diego continued his philandering ways. Frida herself began a flurry of affairs with a number of people, both men and women. The relationships were often fiery and fleeting. She was fascinated by great men and women.

Diego was not jealous of Frida’s women lovers but was extremely jealous of the men. One of Frida’s lovers included the American sculptor Isamu Noguchi who had come to Mexico to do a mural.

When Rivera discovered it, he was so enraged that he sped to the Coyoacán house, where the lovers were in bed. Frida’s mozo (houseboy), Chucho, warned his mistress of Diego’s arrival. Noguchi threw on his clothes, but one of the hairless dogs pounced upon a sock and ran off with it. Noguchi…abandoned the sock, scrambled up the orange tree in the patio, and fled over the roof. Of course, Diego found the sock and did what Mexican machos are supposed to do under such circumstances.

As Noguchi tells it: ‘Diego came by with a gun. He always carried a gun.'”(1)

Diego demanded that Frida and Noguchi end the affair.

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

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Diego Rivera, seated in front of a mural depicting the American class struggle, 1933.

Diego Rivera, seated in front of a mural depicting the American class struggle, 1933.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) went into her marriage (1929) with her eyes wide open. She knew that her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, spread his affections around. Diego engaged in numerous short-lived and casual relationships with the fawning women – actresses, models, artists, photographers – who flocked around him. He was Mexico‘s most celebrated artist of his time.

"Portrait of Lupe Marin," by Diego Rivera, 1938

"Portrait of Lupe Marin," by Diego Rivera, 1938

Diego’s many extramarital affairs had destroyed his previous marriage to Lupe Marín, Once, in front of a group of guests, a jealous Lupe made quite a scene, tearing a rival’s hair, ripping up some of Diego’s drawings, and beating Diego with her fists. Another time she smashed some of his archaeological artifacts and served the broken shards to Diego in a soup bowl.

At the beginning of their marriage, whenever Frida learned of yet another of Diego’s affairs, she managed to put on a good face.  She pretended it did not hurt her, excusing Diego by saying flippantly, “How would I be able to love someone who wasn’t attractive to other women?” She retaliated by having love affairs of her own, with men and with women, once telling acquaintance Jean van Heijenoort that her view of life was

Make love, take a bath, make love again.”

She held up until the year 1934. That was the year Frida and Diego returned from living three years in the United States. Their funds were low. Diego’s Rockefeller Center mural had caused a terrible controversy. Diego had painted a heroic portrait of the Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin in the mural and had refused to paint him out. Diego was fired and the mural was then destroyed. Homesick for Mexico, Frida made Diego return home, against his wishes. Diego sulked.

"Portrait of My Sister Cristina Kahlo," by Frida Kahlo, 1928 (portion)

"Portrait of My Sister Cristina Kahlo," by Frida Kahlo, 1928 (portion)

Demoralized and broke, both of them were also in poor health. Diego had maintained a grueling painting schedule on the scaffold, turning out murals in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York, and was “weak, thin, yellow, and morally exhausted,” Frida wrote to her friend Ella Wolfe that July. Frida had been in the hospital three times that year – for an appendectomy, a therapeutic abortion, and foot surgery.

No one knows exactly when Diego began his affair with Frida’s sister Cristina; it was probably in the summer of 1934. Frida was devastated. Cristina was not just her sister but her confidante. Cristina’s husband had left her in 1930 and, since then, she and her children had spent a great deal of time at Frida and Diego’s house. Cristina had served as a model many times for Diego’s murals and they had grown very close, too close, to Frida’s chagrin. Diego had, no doubt, seduced Cristina with his clever words, and convinced her that he needed her, reminding Cristina that Frida was too sick for lovemaking and that he, Diego, was sad and needy.

"Self-Portrait with Curly Hair," by Frida Kahlo, 1935

"Self-Portrait with Curly Hair," by Frida Kahlo, 1935

In her great anguish, Frida cut off her long hair and stopped wearing the native Mexican costumes that were her signature look and that made Diego so happy. She painted a self-portrait of her new look. This little painting, 7-1/4 x 5-3/4 inches, was called “Self-Portrait with Curly Hair.” Her smallest canvas ever,  Frida gave the little painting to Ella Wolfe, Frida’s longtime friend and the wife of Diego Rivera’s biographer, Bertram Wolfe. Ella kept the painting until 2000. In 2003, “Self-Portrait with Curly Hair” was auctioned off by Artemundi & Co. and sold for $1,351,500.00. Today, Frida Kahlo remains the most expensive-selling female artist in the history of art.

During that period of terrible pain from the betrayal by both  husband and sister, Frida painted another painting quite different from “Self-Portrait with Curly Hair.” This one was morbid, bloody, disquieting. Shown below, “A Few Small Nips” features a woman being literally “murdered by life,” as Frida herself felt, murdered both physically by her chronic pain and suffering and emotionally by Diego and Cristina. The painting’s theme is based on a newspaper account of a real murder. A drunken guy threw his girlfriend on a cot and stabbed her 20 times. When interviewed, the brutal murderer protested his innocence, saying, “But I only gave her a few small nips.”

"A Few Small Nips" by Frida Kahlo, 1935, is based on a newspaper account of a real murder. A drunk threw his girlfriend on a cot and stabbed her 20 times. When interviewed, he protested his innocence, saying, "But I only gave her a few small nips."

"A Few Small Nips" by Frida Kahlo, 1935.

NEXT: Frida to Diego: I Can’t Live, if Living is Without You!

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Click here to read “Frida Kahlo’s First Bad Accident” before reading this post.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their wedding photo, 1929

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their wedding photo, 1929

Frida Kahlo once said to a friend, “I have suffered two serious accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar ran over me….The other accident is Diego.”

She was referring to her husband, Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the world famous painter and active Communist. He painted large-scale murals in Mexico, New York City, Detroit, and San Francisco. Diego was 21 years older than Frida and their marriage in 1929 offered Frida, a budding artist, to move not only in elite Mexican artistic and intellectual circles, but those in Europe and America as well. But the price Frida paid for marrying a renowned “lady chaser” was high. Their marriage was tempestuous. They divorced once and remarried a year later; they were separated several times.

Many people were surprised by what they considered a strange match. Frida once told a journalist:

When I was seventeen, Diego began to fall in love with me. My father didn’t like him because he was a Communist and because they said he looked like a fat, fat, fat Breughel. They said it was like an elephant marrying a dove. Nevertheless, I arranged everything in the Coyoacán town hall for us to be married on the twenty-first of August, 1929.”

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera, 1935

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera, 1935

Frida was 22, Diego, 43. It was Diego’s first legal marriage, although, by then, there had been many women and two long-term relationships. For ten years during the 1910s, he lived in Paris with the Russian artist Angelina Beloff. Together they had a son who died young. Then, in 1922, he married the Mexican Lupe Marín, with whom he had two daughters. Though a serious commitment, Diego and Lupe had not legalized their relationship with a civil ceremony so Diego was free to marry Frida without divorcing Lupe.

Frida’s recollection of her wedding to Diego gives an idea of how difficult a man Diego was to be married to:

I borrowed petticoats, a blouse, and a rebozo from the maid, fixed the special apparatus on my foot so it wouldn’t be noticeable, and we were married. Nobody went to the wedding, only my father, who said to Diego, ‘Now, look, my daughter is a sick person and all her life she’s going to be sick. She’s intelligent but not pretty. Think it over awhile if you like, and if you still wish to marry her, marry her, I give you my permission.'”

"Frida and Diego Rivera" by Frida Kahlo, 1931

"Frida and Diego Rivera" by Frida Kahlo, 1931

Diego added that her father mentioned that she was un demonio – a devil. Frida continues, describing her wedding reception:

Then they gave us a big party in Roberto Montenegro’s house. Diego got horrendously drunk on tequila, waved his pistol about, broke some man’s little finger, and destroyed some things. Afterward, we got mad at each other; I left crying and went home. A few days went by and Diego came to get me and took me to his house at 104 Reforma.'”

Despite their stormy relationship, Diego and Frida loved and needed each other.

NEXT: Frida Kahlo: A Few, Small Nips

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