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Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón (de Rivera)

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Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter best know for her surrealist self-portraits, depicting her intense emotional and physical pain. She was three years old at the onset of the Mexican Revolution, a fact which colored her from the very beginning of her life, including accounts of how her mother would rush her and her three sisters into the house because of outbreaks of gunfire in the streets outside her house. Sometimes her mother would even invite the hungry revolutionaries in for dinner.

Frida was not a stranger wither to pain or to physical disfigurement. She contracted polio at the age of six, which left her right leg thinner than her left, a fact which she disguised by wearing long skirts. When she was a student at the Preparatoria in 1922, she was in a terrible bus accident. A trolley collided with the bus that Kahlo was riding in, and she suffered sever injuries, including a broken spinal column, broken collarbone, broken ribs, broken pelvis, and her right leg was fractured in eleven different places. Her right foot was also crushed and dislocated, as was her shoulder. The bus’ iron handrail also pierced her abdomen and uterus, leaving her barren for the rest of her life.

As Kahlo was in a full body cast, she began painting to pass the time and ease her pain. She eventually recovered enough to walk again, but severe pain, keeping her in bed rest for months at a time, would plague her for the rest of her life. In her early painting career, she approached Diego Rivera, a renowned Mexican muralist, for advice on her paintings. He did more than gave her advice, and the couple was soon married. Kahlo and Rivera had a tumultuous relationship, both of them having hot tempers and extramarital affairs. They were once divorced in 1939, but remarried again in 1940. Rivera and Kahlo were both active communists, who befriended Leon Trotsky, with whom Kahlo also had an affair, and who came to live with them upon fleeing Stalinist Russia.

The year before her death, her right leg was amputated due to complications with gangrene, and she suffered complications from bronchopneumonia. Kahlo died one week after her 47th birthday. The official cause of death was a pulmonary embolism, although an autopsy was not performed, and some suspected it was a suicidal drug overdose. She was at first remembered only as Diego Rivera’s wife, but has since enjoyed a surge in popularity with the artistic movement of Neo-Mexicanismo. Her legacy now includes a number of books and feature films, and exhibitions of her works, which have been placed on United States postage stamps as well as Mexican currency.

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Frida Kahlo de Rivera (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈfɾiða ˈkalo]; born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón; July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) was a Mexican artist who painted many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico. Inspired by the country's popular culture, she employed a naïve folk art style to explore questions of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Her paintings often had strong autobiographical elements and mixed realism with fantasy. In addition to belonging to the post-revolutionary Mexicayotl movement, which sought to define a Mexican identity, Kahlo has been described as a surrealist or magical realist.

Kahlo's work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and Indigenous traditions, and by feminists for what is seen as its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.

Born to a German father and a mestiza mother, Kahlo spent most of her childhood and adult life at her family home in Coyoacán, La Casa Azul, now known and publicly accessible as the Frida Kahlo Museum. She was left disabled by polio as a child, and at the age of eighteen was seriously injured in a traffic accident which caused her pain and medical problems for the rest of her life. Prior to the accident, she had been a promising student headed for medical school, but in its aftermath and long recovery she had to abandon higher education. Although art had been Kahlo's hobby throughout her childhood, she began to entertain the idea of becoming an artist.

Kahlo was also interested in politics, and in 1927 joined the Mexican Communist Party. Through the Party she met the celebrated muralist Diego Rivera. They were married in 1928, and remained a couple until Kahlo's death. The relationship was volatile due to both having extramarital affairs; and while they divorced in 1939, they remarried the following year.

Kahlo spent the late 1920s and early 1930s traveling in Mexico and the United States with Rivera, who was working on commissions. During this time she developed her own style as an artist, and drew her main inspiration from Mexican folk culture. She began painting, and painted mostly small self-portraits which mixed elements from pre-Columbian and Catholic mythology. Although always overshadowed by Rivera, her paintings raised the interest of Surrealist artist André Breton, who arranged for Kahlo to have her first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1938. The exhibition was a success, and was followed by another in Paris in 1939. While the French exhibition was less successful, the Louvre purchased a painting from Kahlo, The Frame, making her the first Mexican artist to be featured in their collection.

Throughout the 1940s, Kahlo continued to participate in exhibitions in Mexico and the United States. She also began to teach at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado "La Esmeralda", and became a founding member of the Seminario de Cultura Mexicana. Kahlo's always fragile health began to increasingly decline in the same decade. She had her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953, shortly before her death in 1954 at the age of 47.

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