Musement takes a look at eight of Frida Kahlo’s most famous paintings.
Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) was an icon not only for her colorful Tehuana dresses and prominent unibrow but also for her personality, which emanated great strength and intelligence. Kahlo’s short, though intense life was full of suffering, and this is evident in art, which made her the most internationally known Mexican painter.
“I paint flowers so they will not die,” the Coyoacán artist once said, and her artwork that is both personal and metaphorical. Here’s a look at eight of Frida Kahlo’s most famous works.
1. ‘The Two Fridas’, 1939
As one of her most representative pieces, the ‘Two Fridas’, Kahlo’s largest painting, most strongly expresses her suffering. She painted during her divorce from Diego Rivera. On the right of the painting is the Frida with whom Diego fell in love and on the left is Kahlo as a recognized artist who Diego abandoned and left with a broken heart. Kahlo worked to maintain this duality, uniting the exposed hearts of “both Fridas” in the attempt to reconcile the two versions of herself. Where: The Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City
2. ‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’, 1940
In this self-portrait, Frida wears traditional Mexican attire and a thorn necklace that represents the pain she suffered as a result of her divorce. A dead hummingbird, which represents good luck, dangles from the necklace while a black cat sits on her left shoulder, representing bad luck, trying to capture the hummingbird. A monkey, which represents, symbolizes Diego and his indifferent attitude. Despite everything, Kahlo decided to paint herself in this work to reclaim her sense of self. Where: Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
3.’ The Broken Column’, 1944
A life marred with health problems due to a car accident at the age of 18 (the 30 or so surgeries she underwent were a testament to this), Kahlo had to wear a metal corset to support her torso. In this painting, we can see the corset straps and a number of nails over her entire body. The one on her heart represents that her pain was not only physical. With tears in her eyes, Kahlo reveals that she was an isolated woman with a “broken” body who suffered immensely. Where: Dolores Olmedo Collection, Mexico City
4. ‘Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress’,1926
“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Kahlo’s quote explains why her work consists of so many self-portraits. ‘Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress’, however, is special because it was the first of this broad collection. Here Kahlo depicts herself as Venus from Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” which she painted as a gift for Alejandro Gómez Arias, with whom she had just ended a relationship. Thanks to the painting, she managed to reclaim his love. On the back of the painting she wrote, “Today still goes on.” Where: Private collection
5. ‘Henry Ford Hospital’, 1932
The car accident had left Kahlo with reproductive issues, and this painting represents one of her worst episodes when, in 1932, she suffered a miscarriage at the Detroit hospital for which this work is named. Frida painted herself naked and crying in the center of the canvas, surrounded by bloody sheets. Six different umbilical cords emerge from her stomach, one representing the baby she had just lost while the rest represent her anguish, such as the pelvis that impeded her from having a healthy pregnancy and the snail symbolizing the slow loss of her baby. Where: Dolores Olmedo Museum, Mexico City
6. ‘Self-Portrait with Loose Hair’, 1947
This self-portrait is another example of Kahlo reclaiming her identity. She painted it at the age of 37 at her childhood home in Coyoacán. She let her hair down, unlike the way she usually wore it–Diego loved her loose dark hair so much that she exaggerated it in this painting. Even though her health was fragile at the time, she is depicted with a relaxed expression. Where: Des Moines Art Center, Iowa
7. ‘Self-Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States’, 1932
‘Self-Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States’ illustrates two opposing worlds. On one side is her native country of Mexico with a warm landscape and typical Mexican symbols, with the United States, where she lived for three years and where she was when she painted this painting, sits on the other. The work depicts a world dominated by nature versus a world dominated by technology, only connected by an electric generator on the United States’ side that obtains energy from the Mexican soil. Frida appears on a pedestal between both worlds with a Mexican flag in her hand, to show that she is true to her roots. Where: María Rodríguez de Reyero Collection, New York
8. The Wounded Deer, 1946
In this painting, Kahlo painted her face onto the body of a wounded deer. The multiple arrows piercing the deer are an expression of her intense back pain, which no operation was ever able to fix–not even the intervention she underwent in New York the same year she painted this work. She eventually fell into a depression that led her to create chilling works like this one. Where: Private collection