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Artist Frida Kahlo born

July 6, 1907

Frida Kahlo, well known for her striking self-portraits, her strong Mexican and feminist sensibilities, and her tumultuous passionate life, was born in Coyoacan, Mexico, on July 6, 1907. Her mother's family was of Spanish and Native Mexican descent, while her father was a German Jewish immigrant. Although she is best known for her representations of Mexican culture, her Jewish background also influenced her work.

Raised in the suburbs of Mexico City, Kahlo entered Mexico's National Preparatory School in 1922, hoping to become a doctor. Her courses in anatomy, biology, and zoology later helped her to add realistic elements to her portraits. A bus accident in 1925 left Kahlo severely injured, ending her medical studies and forcing her to stay in bed for three months. It was during this period that Kahlo began to paint, using a ceiling-mounted mirror that allowed her to be her own model. Physical pain and frequent illness would plague her for the rest of her life, and her many self-portraits are full of images of suffering.

Though she never received any formal training in art, Kahlo continued to paint. After she married muralist Diego Rivera in 1929 (the pair were divorced in 1939 and remarried in 1940), she frequently watched him paint; some of his techniques and images can be seen in Kahlo's works. In contrast to his giant murals, however, Kahlo produced almost exclusively small works, mainly portraits and still lifes. Many of these works reflect Kahlo's interest in Mexican culture and in leftist politics. Several self-portraits depict the artist in traditional indigenous dress, and many show the influence of pre-Columbian art. In addition, she painted portraits of Marx and Stalin, and had a brief affair with Leon Trotsky, for whom she painted a full-length self-portrait. Though painters Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky, and surrealist poet André Breton, were among her admirers, Kahlo's work was overshadowed in the U.S. by her husband's fame.

Kahlo's tumultuous life was cut short when she died of a pulmonary embolism on July 13, 1954. However, her fame has grown enormously in the half-century since her death, and Kahlo is now regarded as one of the most important artists of 20th-century Mexico. Her paintings have been shown in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and at the Tate Modern Museum in London. A major traveling exhibition showcased her work alongside that of Georgia O'Keefe. A 2003 Jewish Museum exhibit in New York focused on Kahlo's relationship to her Jewish roots as it was portrayed in her 1936 painting, "My Grandparents, My Parents, and I." In 2000, a 1929 self-portrait sold for more than $5 million at auction.

In recent years, Kahlo has become something of an iconic cult figure. Fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier created a collection inspired by Kahlo, and her 1933 self-portrait was featured on a 2001 U.S. postage stamp. In 2002, the film Frida, based on her biography, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Sources: www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2002-10-21-frida-timeline_x.htm;http://www.jwmag.org/page.aspx?pid=1235; www.thejewishmuseum.org/kahlo; Phyllis Tuchman, "Frida Kahlo," Smithsonian, November 2002; Malka Drucker, Frida Kahlo (Albuquerque, 1995); Hayden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo (New York, 1982); Raquel Tibol, Frida Kahlo: An Open Life (Albuquerque, 1993).

Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera
Full image
Portrait of Diego Rivera and Frida Rivera, 1932. Image by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Artist Frida Kahlo born." (Viewed on September 30, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jul/06/1907/frida-kahlo>.

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