Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Introduction

“With friendship and affection
Straight from the heart
I have the pleasure to invite you
To my humble exhibition.” 

—Invitation from Frida Kahlo to her first solo exhibition in Mexico, 1953

In 2004 a remarkable trove of personal items belonging to Frida Kahlo was brought to light at her lifelong home, La Casa Azul (the Blue House) in Mexico City. Locked away following her death in 1954 at the instruction of her husband, Diego Rivera, these materials are now on view here in San Francisco, a city that played a significant role in shaping Kahlo’s self-fashioned identity and launching her artistic path. 

Born in 1907, Kahlo lived her formative years against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) and the cultural renaissance that followed. These momentous events shaped her enduring commitment to Mexico and her communist worldview. She took up painting in 1925 while recuperating from a serious traffic accident that resulted in lifelong medical complications, multiple disabilities, and chronic pain. Although overshadowed by Rivera during her lifetime, today Kahlo is internationally renowned as a cultural icon and as one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. 

This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to examine Kahlo’s diverse modes of creativity side by side. It presents poignant items from the Casa Azul trove—newly discovered photographs and drawings, medical corsets, accessories, and vibrant garments—alongside artworks that span Kahlo’s entire adult life. The show illuminates Kahlo’s intimate world and the ways in which politics, gender, disability, and national identity informed her life, her style, and her bold, uncompromising art. 

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving is guest-curated by Circe Henestrosa, independent fashion curator and head of the School of Fashion at LASALLE College of the Arts Singapore, with Gannit Ankori, professor of art history and theory at Brandeis University, as advising curator. Hillary Olcott, associate curator of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, is coordinating curator for the de Young.

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Family Roots

Family Roots 

“I am a mixture.” 

—Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyoacán. Her mestiza mother, Matilde Calderón y González, was born in Oaxaca in 1876. Her father, Wilhelm (Guillermo) Kahlo, was a German émigré who became a photographer. He taught Frida how to pose for portraits and compose photographs.

Two traumas framed Kahlo’s childhood. At age six, she contracted polio. To cope with the debilitating illness, she invented an imaginary friend, a formative experience linked to one of her most important paintings, The Two Fridas (1939). The “doubled self” became a recurring motif in her art. On September 17, 1925, at age eighteen, Kahlo was in a near-fatal bus accident. Bedbound for months and unable to continue her studies, she began to paint. Four years later, Kahlo married internationally renowned artist Diego Rivera and soon thereafter traveled to the United States. 

Ricardo Ayluardo (Mexican, active late 19th century)

The Calderón y González Family, inscribed “Mother (Oaxaca) Matilde Calderón, age 7, 1890,” possibly 1890, reprinted 20th century

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust 

Kahlo’s mother, Matilde Calderón (circled here by Kahlo), was P’urhépecha from Morelia, Michoacán, on Calderón’s father’s side; her mother was the daughter of a Spanish general. Some of the women in this group are dressed in the style of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, including the traditional starched resplandor (lace headdress). The vibrant clothing of her mother’s region would have been familiar to Kahlo from an early age.

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Matilde Calderón y González posing as Adelita, ca. 1897 (facsimile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust 

Unidentified photographer

Wedding portrait of Matilde Calderón y González and Guillermo Kahlo, February 21, 1898 (facsimile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

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Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Portrait of the Kahlo Calderón sisters, from left to right: Cristina, Adriana, Matilde, and Frida, June 15, 1919

Gold-toned gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin into Heaven and Tabernacle, 1922

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Self-portrait in Guillermo Kahlo’s library, ca. 1897

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust 

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Self-portrait with camera, 1900–1912 

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Frida Kahlo’s father arrived in Mexico in 1890 and changed his name from Wilhelm to the Spanish equivalent, Guillermo. He became one of the leading architectural photographers for the government of President Porfirio Díaz, capturing Mexico’s cultural heritage and drive for modernity. Frida Kahlo must have been aware of the number of self-portraits her father took, and perhaps she inherited his fascination with the self.

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Prinz Adelbert train on the Metlac Bridge, May 10, 1903 (facsimile) 

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust 

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Triple Self-Portrait, 1931

Graphite on paper 

Private Collection, USA 

In this unfinished drawing, based on photographs taken at ages four, twelve, and twenty-two, Kahlo traces her growing up from toddler to young woman. This examination of her evolving self-image captures the influence of photography on her self-portraiture, which would continue throughout her life. 

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Portraits of Frida Kahlo at age 4, 1911

Gelatin silver prints

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Portrait of Frida Kahlo at age 12, July 15, 1919 

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust 

Attributed to Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Frida Kahlo’s First Communion and facsimile of photograph’s reverse, ca. 1917 

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

At age ten, Kahlo wears a white dress and veil for her First Communion, an important rite of passage in Catholicism. While her mother was intensely religious, her father was an atheist. Later in life Kahlo declared: “I do not like to be considered religious. I like people to know that I am not.” On the back of the photograph, Kahlo wrote, “Friduchita in 1920 when she made her first communion, 10 years old. IDIOT!” Kahlo changed the year of her birth from 1907 to 1910, hence the misstated date.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Accident, September 17, 1926, 1926

Graphite on paper 

Colección Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera

Kahlo composed this drawing one year after her near-fatal accident. The background visually narrates the events of the day: the collision between the bus and the tram, with the sun and a tree suggesting the time and place. In the foreground, Kahlo presents herself “splitting”—a psychological coping mechanism associated with trauma. One “Frida” appears as the bandaged body on a stretcher, while the second “Frida” appears as a separate thinking head, disassociated from the wounded body in order to survive.

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Portrait of Frida Kahlo, 1926 or 1929

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Portrait of Frida Kahlo at age 19, 1926

Gelatin silver print

Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Carlos Veraza, Alfonso Rouaix, Frida Kahlo, Consuelo Navarro, and Cristina Kahlo at La Casa Azul (the Blue House), November 2, 1926 

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Attributed to Victor Reyes (Mexican, active early 20th century)

Wedding portrait of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, August 19, 1929

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Peter A. Juley & Son (Photographic firm)

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in San Francisco, 1930 or 1931

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Revolution & Picturing Mexico

“I am a communist being.” 
—Frida Kahlo 

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 when President Porfirio Díaz won his eighth term through a rigged election. The next decade was marked by political turmoil, conflict, and armed uprisings across Mexico. The revolution aimed for widespread economic and social reform to benefit the Mexican people rather than foreign powers or the elites. Identifying as a child of the revolution, Kahlo adopted 1910 as the year of her birth.

Mexican artists forged a revolution of their own, dubbed the Mexican Renaissance. They turned to their homeland for inspiration and created a new style of public art that celebrated the nation’s ethnic diversity and deep-rooted histories. Artists, including Kahlo, were particularly drawn to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, known for its matriarchal society and rich indigenous culture. Although Kahlo never visited the isthmus, she adopted the region’s clothing as part of her distinctive identity, creating an iconic self-image as La Tehuana. 

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Pancho Villa and Adelita, ca. 1927

Oil on canvas

Gobierno del Estado de Tlaxcala, Instituto Tlaxcalteca de Cultura

One of Kahlo’s earliest paintings displays the tentative influence of Cubism and Giorgio de Chirico’s Metaphysical Art, as well as references to Mexican themes. Among them are a portrait of the Mexican Revolutionary general Pancho Villa; the Mexican volcano Citlaltépetl; and a trainload of soldiers and soldaderas, based on photographs by Agustín Casasola. Kahlo portrays herself as a bare-shouldered Adelita—the beloved mythic soldadera—wearing a low-cut evening dress rather than Mexican attire. 

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José Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1852–1913)

Song of the Coronela (Female Colonel), as reprinted in Monograph: The Works of José Guadalupe Posada, Mexican Engraver, 1930

Relief etching on zinc

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, 1963.30.16299

Tina Modotti (American, b. Italy, 1896–1942)

The Mexican Revolutionary Song, 1928

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886–1957)

Published by Erhard Weyhe (American, 1882–1972)

Zapata, 1932

Lithograph

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Hopper Fitch, 1976.1.485

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Drawing for Self-Portrait with Stalin, 1954 

Graphite on paper

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

As a teenager, Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party, encouraged by photographer and revolutionary Tina Modotti, who became her friend. Kahlo remained a political activist and avid communist until her death. Her desire to devote her art to serving the political cause, like Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists, is recorded in her diary toward the end of her life. In this late drawing, the artist depicts herself in full Tehuana dress, sitting in front of her easel upon which a portrait of Joseph Stalin is on display.

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida Painting “The Two Fridas,” Coyoacán, 1939

Inkjet print

Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Fritz Henle (German, 1909–1993)

Frida in Her Studio, ca. 1943 

Gelatin silver print

Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art 

Frida Kahlo painted herself split in two or doubled throughout her life. Linked with her dual heritage, the trauma-induced psychological split, or a yearning for self-knowledge, this recurring motif has multiple meanings. In her painting from 1939, Kahlo paints one “Frida” as a European bride and the other as a Tehuana mother holding an egg- shaped portrait of husband Diego Rivera as a baby. Painted at the time of her divorce and after she had lost several pregnancies, Kahlo visualizes her inability to perform both social roles.

Cape and skirt, early 1900s
Possibly France

Huipil (tunic), enagua (skirt), and holán (flounce), before 1954
Juchitán de Zaragoza, Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cape: Silk velvet, satin, lace trimming, synthetic lining; skirt: silk mix with metallic threads; huipil: cotton with machine embroidery (chain stitch); skirt: printed cotton

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Kahlo wore the dramatic ensemble on the left to an exhibition opening and dinner in New York in 1933. She paired the velvet evening cape with a skirt made from French silk. The huipil (tunic) and skirt on the right are from the town of Juchitán de Zaragoza in Oaxaca, on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Kahlo particularly admired Tehuana dress and wore variations upon it for most of her life. 

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Drawing for The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Me, Diego and Mr. Xolotl, 1949

Graphite on paper

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

This never-before-exhibited drawing is one of three known sketches related to Kahlo’s 1949 painting The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Me, Diego and Mr. Xolotl. The painting is based on a yin-yang diagram and it harmonizes night and day, earth and sky. In both the drawing and the painting, Kahlo appears as a Tehuana Madonna with child, as both are cradled within a series of cosmic embraces. 

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Senor Xolotl painting photo

Frida Kahlo, The Love Embrace of the Universe, The Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Señor Xolotl, 1949 Oil on canvas, 271/2 x 233/4 in. (69.8 x 60.3 cm). Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, Mexico City. Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / INBAL
 

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Portrait of Lucha Maria, a Girl from Tehuacán, or Sun and Moon, 1942 

Oil on masonite

Colección Pérez Simón, Mexico

Kahlo painted Lucha Maria sitting barefoot on a volcanic rock, within a binary setting that balances night and day, sun and moon, past and future. Tehuacán is in the state of Puebla, near the Oaxacan border, but Kahlo situated Lucha Maria between the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at the ancient site of Teotihuacán, near Mexico City. The girl holds a military toy airplane in her hands, perhaps alluding to World War II raging at the time.

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Portrait of Frida Kahlo, October 16, 1932

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Jean Charlot (American, 1898–1979)

The Rebozo, 1933

Color lithograph

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Jack Lord, 1971.30.9

David Alfaro Siqueros (Mexican, 1896–1974)

Seated Nude (Tehuantepec Bather), 1931 

Lithograph

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Hopper Fitch, 1976.1.486

Edward Weston (American, 1886–1958)

Cholula Costume (Rosa Covarrubias), ca. 1926

Gelatin silver print

Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Reunion in San Ángel, 1938 (facsimile) 

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Alongside Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Nickolas Muray, who took this photograph using a timer, this group includes Rosa and Miguel Covarrubias, as well as the two sisters Alfa Ríos Henestrosa and Nereida Ríos, seen here wearing Tehuana clothing. The sisters are believed to have given Kahlo huipiles (tunics) from their hometown of Juchitán in Oaxaca, southern Mexico. Their grandniece, Circe Henestrosa, is the guest curator of this exhibition.

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Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954
Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Skirt: cotton with machine embroidery (chain stitch); flounce: cotton

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust (skirt); Colección Cibeles Henestrosa (flounce)

Huipil (tunic), before 1954
Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Synthetic and cotton blend with machine embroidery (chain stitch)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

The Blue House

“Here I was born.” 
—Frida Kahlo

Kahlo lived in La Casa Azul (the Blue House) for most of her life and died there in 1954. Her parents built the house in 1904 and decorated it in the European style popular at the time. Kahlo and Rivera renovated it in the 1930s before they moved in. They painted the gray walls a vibrant blue and filled their home with objects reflecting their devotion to all things Mexican, including folk art, pre-Hispanic sculptures, and votive paintings. La Casa Azul became a cultural hub, attracting luminaries from Mexico and abroad.

Since Kahlo was often housebound due to her medical condition, she transformed her home into a microcosm of Mexico. Archaeological statues decorated the lush garden. Hairless xoloitzcuintli dogs, parrots, ducks, monkeys, and a fawn roamed amid the citrus trees and colorful flowers. La Casa Azul is yet another expression of Kahlo’s devotion to mexicanidad (Mexican-ness) and her brilliant creative power. 
 

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, ca. 1941

Digital file from 16mm acetate positive, clip duration: 31 sec.

Courtesy of George Eastman Museum

© Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida with Olmeca Figurine, Coyoacán, 1939

Carbro print

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of George and Marie Hecksher in honor of the tenth anniversary of the new de Young museum, 2018.68.1

Florence Arquín (American, 1900–1978)

Frida Kahlo at the Gate, ca. 1946

Agfacolor on Kodak paper

Private Collection, USA

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida with Granizo, Coyoacán, 1939

Inkjet print

Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida Painting “Me and My Parrots,” Coyoacán, 1941

Inkjet print

Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Emmy Lou Packard (American, 1914–1998)

Frida in the Doorway, 1941

Gelatin silver print

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Lisa and John Hillis, 2004.141.2

Florence Arquín (American, 1900–1978)

Frida Kahlo Feeding Ducks, ca. 1946

Agfacolor on Kodak paper

Private Collection, USA

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907–1993)

Frida Kahlo [with dog], ca. 1944

Gelatin silver print

Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Lola Álvarez Bravo Archive

Guillermo Zamora (Mexican, 1915–2002)

Diego and Frida in La Casa Azul, ca. 1952

Photograph (facsimile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Case diagram showing where objects are

 

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were voracious collectors of pre-Hispanic art; they amassed more than forty thousand works from across Mexico. The couple felt that the finely made and aesthetically appealing objects embodied the long-standing creative and technical acumen of Mexican artists. In 1941, with Kahlo’s help, Rivera began to design and build a museum to house their pre-Hispanic art collection. The Anahuacalli Museum opened in Mexico City in 1964, after both of their deaths. This case features artworks from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco that resemble objects from the Kahlo-Rivera collection.

  1. Basalt human figure, Aztec (Mexica), Central Mexico, 1200–1500
    Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of the Erle Loran Family Collection, 2008.38.127
  2. Earthenware dog figure, Colima, West Mexico, 300 BCE–300 CE
    Museum purchase, M. H. de Young Endowment Fund, 42.16
  3. Earthenware dog figures, Colima, West Mexico, 300 BCE–300 CE
    Gift of the Erle Loran Family Collection, 2008.38.142; Gift of Lewis K. and Elizabeth M. Land, 2009.1.10
  4. Earthenware human figurine, Colima, West Mexico, 300 BCE–300 CE
    Bequest of Leroy C. Cleal, 2002.84.1.105
  5. Earthenware human figurine, Michoacán, West Mexico, 300 BCE–300 CE
    Bequest of Leroy C. Cleal, 2002.84.1.155
  6. Earthenware human figurine, Teotihuacán, Central Mexico, 300–500 CE
    Gift of Lewis K. and Elizabeth M. Land, 2009.1.92
  7. Earthenware human figurine, Guanajuato, Central Mexico, 450–100 BCE
    Bequest of Leroy C. Cleal, 2002.84.1.147
  8. Earthenware bird figurine and bird-shaped ocarina (whistle), Colima, West Mexico, 300 BCE–300 CE
    Gift of Lewis K. and Elizabeth M. Land, 2009.1.123 and 2009.1.118
  9. Earthenware dog figurine, Nayarit, West Mexico, 300 BCE–300
    CE Gift of the Erle Loran Family Collection, 2008.38.185
  10. Earthenware warrior figure, Colima, West Mexico, 300 BCE–300 CE
    Gift of the Erle Loran Family Collection, 2008.38.143
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Gisèle Freund (French, b. Germany, 1908–2000)

Frida Kahlo Smoking by Figure in the Courtyard of Casa Azul, ca. 1951

Gelatin silver print

The Hecksher Family Collection

Unidentified photographer

Frida Kahlo, La Casa Azul, Coyoacán, 1951

Gelatin silver print

The Vicente Wolf Collection

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Survivor, 1938

Oil on metal

Colección Pérez Simón, Mexico

Kahlo placed this painting inside an ornate metal frame from Oaxaca. The protagonist is a ceramic warrior from ancient Colima that was in the Kahlo-Rivera collection of pre-Hispanic art. Kahlo depicts it alone in a desolate landscape with a lone stone ruin. When the painting was exhibited at Kahlo’s first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York on November 1938, the New Yorker reviewer proposed that it depicts “the survival of Mexico in a shaky world.”

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Still Life (I Belong to Samuel Fastlicht), 1951

Oil on masonite

Private collection. Courtesy of Galería Arvil, Mexico

Kahlo incorporated carefully chosen pre-Hispanic artworks into her paintings. Here she transformed the symbolism of life and death associated with the still life. She painted fruit from her native Mexico and, instead of the typical skull, depicted a ceramic dog that was unearthed from an ancient Colima tomb. Kahlo gave this painting to her dentist Dr. Samuel Fastlicht.

107

Ivan C. F. Heisler (American, 1921–1976)

Leon Trotsky, Natalia Sedova, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, La Casa Azul, Coyoacán, 1937

Film transferred to video, clip duration: 2 min., 21 sec.

Ivan C. F. Heisler Collection, Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University. © Karen E. Heisler & Karl F. Heisler

Acme Photo

Natalia Sedova, Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, and Max Schachtman, Tampico, Mexico, 1937

Gelatin silver print

Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art

Leon Trotsky, Bolshevik revolutionary and founding member of the Politburo, the highest policy-making authority of the Soviet Union, was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1929 for opposing Joseph Stalin’s regime. In 1937, Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, gained political asylum in Mexico. They stayed in the Blue House for two years as guests of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who were then living in a newly constructed house-studio nearby. Trotsky and Kahlo had a brief affair during this period.

Fritz Bach

Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, and André Breton in the courtyard of La Casa Azul, 1938

Gelatin silver print

The Vicente Wolf Collection

Gisèle Freund (French, b. Germany, 1908–2000)

Votive paintings in La Casa Azul, 1951 (facsmile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Votive paintings

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera owned hundreds of votive paintings called ex-votos. Artists painted these small images on metal by the thousands during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Catholic worshippers would commission the paintings to hang in churches as expressions of gratitude for answered prayers, particularly following an accident, injury, or illness. Kahlo began to paint on metal in 1932 and utilized the formal and narrative power of the ex-voto, with its compression of space and time, in many of her paintings.

  1. Votive painting offering thanks to the Virgin of Talpa following a train wreck, 1928
  2. Votive painting offering thanks to the Virgin of Talpa for healing a child, late 19th–early 20th centuries
  3. Votive painting offering thanks to Our Lady of Mercy, 1915
  4. Votive painting offering thanks to the Virgin of Talpa, 1901
  5. Votive painting offering thanks to the Virgin of Talpa following a son’s accident, 1910
  6. Votive painting offering thanks to the Virgin of Perpetual Help for granting relief, 1910
  7. Votive painting offering thanks to the Holy Trinity following a car accident, 1920–1930
  8. Votive painting offering thanks to the Virgin of Talpa for recovery, late 19th–early 20th centuries
  9. Votive painting to the Virgin of Talpa for a sick child, late 19th– early 20th centuries
  10. Votive painting offering thanks to the Three Wise Men following the recovery of a child, late 19th–early 20th centuries

These ex-votos are made of oil on metal and were painted by unidentified artists. They are from the collection of the Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, 1938–1939

Oil on Masonite with painted frame

Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of an anonymous donor

Dorothy Hale (1905–1938) was a socialite and actor who was left in financial hardship after her husband’s death. On October 20, 1938, Hale invited friends to a farewell party, explaining that she was going on a long trip. The next day, in the early morning hours, Hale jumped from the window of her Manhattan high-rise apartment. Kahlo was asked to paint a commemorative portrait of Hale by their mutual friend, author and politician Clare Boothe Luce. Kahlo based the portrait on the format of an ex-voto, depicting Hale’s suicide in gory detail. Luce was shocked by the painting and wanted to destroy it.

Frida Kahlo in San Francisco

"The gringas really like me a lot and take notice of all the dresses and rebozos [shawls] I brought with me, their jaws drop a the sight of my jade necklaces."

—Frida Kahlo

Kahlo first traveled outside Mexico shortly after her marriage, accompanying Rivera to “Gringolandia” (as she called the US). He was a celebrated artist, commissioned to paint murals in San Francisco, New York, and Detroit. She was initially patronized as Rivera’s “exotic” third wife, who “gleefully dabbles in art.”

Kahlo’s US encounters (1930–1933) were complex and impactful. In San Francisco she fashioned her singular Tehuana style, made lifelong friends, was photographed by brilliant photographers, and began painting seriously. She enjoyed exploring “magical” New York but criticized the wealth gap and racism she observed. In Detroit, a traumatic miscarriage radically transformed her art, and she reinvented herself as a subversive, taboobreaking painter.

In 1940, Kahlo returned to San Francisco to remarry Rivera, whom she had divorced the previous year. At this point, she was an accomplished artist and exhibited four paintings at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, where Rivera was completing a mural.

Letter from Dr. Leo Eloesser to Frida Kahlo, October 29, 1934

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Receipt for four paintings by Frida Kahlo, April 21, 1940

Application for nonimmigrant visa, August 29, 1940

Clinical summary and diagnosis, September 13, 1940

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Kahlo returned to San Francisco in 1940 at the urging of her close friend Dr. Leo Eloesser. She came to receive medical treatment at St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission District and to reunite with Diego Rivera, who was painting the mural Pan American Unity at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. Kahlo, who now described her profession as “painter,” exhibited four of her works at the Exposition. On December 8, 1940— Rivera’s 54th birthday—after thirteen months of divorce, Kahlo and Rivera remarried at San Francisco City Hall.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Drawing for Portrait of Luther Burbank, 1931 Graphite on paper

Graphite on paper

Colección Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera

Kahlo produced an imaginative posthumous portrait of Luther Burbank, a botanist who became internationally famous for crossbreeding, grafting, and hybridizing plants. Based on a photograph she obtained while visiting his farm in Santa Rosa, Kahlo painted Burbank as a hybrid creature: a man, a tree trunk, a philodendron plant, and a cadaver all in one.

Portrait of Luther Burbank

Frida Kahlo, Portrait of Luther Burbank, 1931. Oil on hardboard, 33½ x 24 in. (85 x 61 cm). Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño, Mexico City Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / INBAL

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Portrait of Mrs. Jean Wight, 1931

Oil on canvas

Collection of Gretchen and John Berggruen, San Francisco

From November 1930 through May 1931, Kahlo and Rivera resided on 716 Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco. They lived at the house and studio of sculptor Ralph Stackpole, amid an avant-garde and close-knit community bustling with creative energy. British sculptor Clifford Wight was Rivera’s assistant. Kahlo painted his wife, Jean, in front of the San Francisco skyline visible through her window.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Frieda and Diego Rivera, 1931

Oil on canvas

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Albert M. Bender Collection, Gift of Albert M. Bender

Kahlo painted her Tehuana self for the first time in this marriage portrait. Diego Rivera is portrayed as the great artist, holding the palette and brushes in his hand. Kahlo, in contrast, holds on to her husband, defining herself not as a painter but as Rivera’s Mexican wife.

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Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Portrait of Dr. Leo Eloesser, 1931

Oil on masonite

UCSF School of Medicine Dean’s Office at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center

The most profound and long-lasting relationship Kahlo forged in San Francisco was with medical surgeon and scholar Leo Eloesser. The two met on November 9, 1930, and their friendship lasted until the artist’s death in July 1954. Kahlo expressed her gratitude by painting a loving portrait of her friend and soul mate. Portrait of Dr. Leo Eloesser includes a model of the doctor’s schooner inscribed “Los Tres Amigos,” alluding to the strong bond he shared with Kahlo and Rivera.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

My Dress Hangs There, 1933

Oil and collage on Masonite

FEMSA Collection

Painted in New York during the Great Depression, Kahlo positions her Tehuana outfit as a stand-in for her absent self. She is there and not there, a reluctant witness and sharp critic of the ills of US society. Multiple collages of bread lines and political protests form the literal and ideological foundation for this composition. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Stock Market, and other emblems of American ideals are undermined by an oppressive capitalist system that fosters inequality.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

El Aborto (Frida and the Miscarriage), 1932

Lithograph

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Dr. R. Earl Robinson Estate and Achenbach for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund, 1996.38

On July 4, 1932, while living in Detroit, Kahlo suffered a traumatic miscarriage and almost bled to death. Five weeks later, she created her first and only lithograph. Kahlo divides herself and the composition in two: one half traces the development and loss of her unborn child, while the other shows nature’s fecundity and her rebirth as an artist. Kahlo gave this copy of the lithograph to her lifelong friend, Juan O’Gorman, and signed it with the year 1936.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait, July 9, 1932, 1932

Graphite on paper 

Colección Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

The Dream, 1932

Graphite on paper

Colección Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

View of New York, 1932

Graphite on paper

Private collection. Courtesy of Galería Arvil, México

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Sleeping Self-Portrait, 1932

Graphite on paper

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Disability & Creativity

"I am not sick, I am broken … but I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint."

—Frida Kahlo

Kahlo’s near-fatal accident at age eighteen brought her dream of becoming a doctor to an abrupt halt. During her convalescence, the bedridden teenager began to paint, using a folding easel and a mirror set into the canopy of her four-poster bed. “I paint myself because I am so often alone,” Kahlo said, as self-portraiture became a primary focus of her art.

Kahlo underwent dozens of medical procedures and surgeries that attempted to alleviate the acute problems that plagued her right leg, spinal column, and reproductive system. At times, she needed to wear corsets and other apparatuses, which she decorated and transformed into works of art. Conversely, she used her paintings to examine experiences of illness, disability, loneliness, and pain. Kahlo constructed a visual vocabulary with which she expressed physical and emotional suffering, while also articulating her own resilience and capacity to create meaning, joy, beauty, and art.

Unidentified photographer

Group of unidentified children, before 1954

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Thousands of photographs were found when Kahlo’s bathroom door was unlocked in 2004, including many cropped and annotated images. It is not clear whether Kahlo cut out parts of these photographs to fit into smaller frames or whether her intention was to excise various individuals or even herself.

Peter A. Juley & Son

Frida Kahlo’s head and torso, 1931

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Unidentified photographer

Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Dr. Layman, and Miss Wolf (Rivera’s assistant) at the Cathay House restaurant, ca. 1940

Gelatin silver print

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Florence Arquín (American, 1900–1978)

Frida Kahlo revealing her plaster corset, ca. 1941

Gelatin silver print

Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art

Unidentified photographer

Frida Kahlo painting in bed with Miguel Covarrubias by her side, 1940 (facsimile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida in the Hospital in New York, 1946 (fascsimile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Gisèle Freund (French, b. Germany, 1908–2000)

Dr. Juan Farill and Frida Kahlo in her studio at La Casa Azul, 1951

Gelatin silver print

The Vicente Wolf Collection

Antonio Kahlo

Frida Kahlo in Chinese pajamas at La Casa Azul and facsimile of photograph’s reverse, 1946

Gelatin silver print

Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait Reclining, 1935

Graphite on paper

Colección Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Diary page, self-portrait, 1953 (facsimile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Kahlo’s right leg was deformed by polio that she contracted at age six. The leg and foot deteriorated further because of the injuries she sustained in the 1925 accident. Both traumas resulted in lasting medical complications and, at the end of Kahlo’s life, her right leg had to be amputated. After the surgery, Kahlo expressed a death wish in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful, and hope never to return.”

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Diary page, Feet, What Do I Want Them For if I Have Wings to Fly?, 1953 (facsimile)

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait with Diego on My Breast and Maria on My Brow, 1954 (unfinished)

Oil on masonite

Private Collection

As her life waned, Kahlo expressed her pain and despair, writing in one diary entry: “I am the disintegration.” Yet she did not merely endure her suffering—she transcended it by creating art until the very end. Painted on her deathbed, this self-portrait reflects the artist’s continued desire to connect with her loved ones, here referencing Diego Rivera and their friend Maria Félix, and to embody the beautiful Tehuana. Sadly, it also communicates Kahlo’s declining health and inability to paint in her meticulous and controlled style.

In 2004, Kahlo’s bathroom and wardrobes were opened, having been sealed following her death fifty years earlier. In addition to 6,000 photographs and 22,000 documents, around 300 of Kahlo’s most intimate possessions—including medicines, orthopedic devices, clothing, jewelry, and makeup—had survived the passage of time.

C1: Painted plaster corset, ca. 1941

Plaster, medical bandages, cotton, and paint

Private Collection of Jan Hendrickx

C2: Painted plaster corset, 1944

Plaster, medical bandages, and paint

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

C3: Painted plaster corset, 1950

Plaster, medical bandages, cotton, mirrors, and paint

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Kahlo’s plaster corsets were formed from bandages dipped in plaster that were wrapped around her torso and tightened as they dried. She recalled, “Imagine, they had me hanging, just from my head, for two-and-a-half hours and then standing on tiptoe for more than an hour, while it was dried with hot air.” The hardened plaster of Kahlo’s corset had to be cut with surgical pliers in order to release her; Kahlo chose to save the front part of her corsets as works of art

Left case:

L1:

  • Prosthetic leg with embroidered silk and leather boot, 1953–1954

L2:

  • Shalimar perfume by Guerlain, 1940–1954
  • Pair of suede shoes, before 1954

L3:

  • Chanel No. 5 lotion bottle labeled “Acetone,” 1940–1954
  • Emir perfume by Dana, 1935–1954
  • Silver-and-amethyst bracelet by Antonio Pineda, 1940s
  • Plastic hair combs, before 1954

L4:

  • Neo-Hebaral supplement (for pain relief), before 1954
  • Sodium salicylate (an antiinflammatory), before 1954
  • Drilitol (respiratory medicine), 1951–1954
  • Chloroform (an anesthetic), before 1954
  • Riboflavin tablets (synthetic vitamin B2), before 1954
  • Farmacía de la Concepción medicine bottle, before 1954
  • Cellothyl methylcellulose (a laxative), before 1954
  • Dr. Roussel’s Hemostyl (medicine containing vitamin B12), before 1954
  • Stein adrenaline solution (to stop bleeding), 1938–1944

L5:

  • Embroidered silk and leather boot, 1953–1954
  • Jar of hair pomade, before 1954
  • Revlon emery boards, before 1954
  • Gold-plated metal, silver, and glass earrings, 1900–1930
  • Revlon eyebrow pencil, before 1954
  • Doll, before 1954
  • Sewing box with painted lid, before 1954
  • Clutch bag, 1940s
  • Unlabeled perfume bottle, before 1954
  • Jean-Marie Farina perfume by Roger & Gallet, before 1954

L6:

  • Plastic sunglasses, 1950s
  • Revlon lipstick in Everything’s Rosy, 1944–1954
  • Revlon blush compact in No. 3 Clear Red 59, 1944–1954
  • Revlon nail polish in Frosted Pink Lightning, before 1954
  • Revlon nail polish in Frosted Snow Pink, before 1954
  • Revlon Seal-Fast top coat, before 1954

Right case:

R1:

  • Leather, cardboard, and metal orthopedic corset, 1944–1954
  • Leather, cotton, felt, and metal orthopedic corset, 1944–1954

R2:

  • Pair of embellished satin ankle boots, 1948–1952

R3:

  • Silver-and-greenstone necklace attributed to Héctor Aguilar, 1940s

R4:

  • Principles and Practice of Obstetrics, by Joseph B. De Lee. Philadelphia and London: W. B. Saunders, 1920
  • Silver-and-agate ring, before 1954
  • Silver-and-obsidian ring, before 1954
  • Silver-and-turquoise ring, before 1954
  • Gold-plated copper ring, before 1954
  • Silver-and-glass ring, before 1954
  • Silver ring, before 1954
    Private Collection
  • Terpionyl (an antiseptic), before 1954
  • Trofoseptyl ointment (rash treatment), before 1954
  • Gelotanin (for stomach pain), before 1954
  • Hipoglo’s Ointment (rash treatment), before 1954
  • Terramycin (an antibiotic), before 1954
  • Thiamine solution (synthetic vitamin B1), before 1954
  • Pond’s Dry Skin Cream, 1941–1954
  • Medical-grade alcohol, before 1954
  • Taxol (for stomach pain), before 1954
  • Opobyl Bailly pills (for liver function), 1924–1954
  • Painted wooden matraca (rattle), before 1954
  • Poems, by Walt Whitman. Translated into Spanish by Armando A. Vasseur. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Schapiere, 1943

R5:

  • Taylor spine brace, ca. 1946
  • Cotton and steel orthopedic corset, 1944
109

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Appearances Can Be Deceiving, ca. 1946

Charcoal and colored pencil on paper

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Kahlo depicts her Tehuana costume as camouflage, an elaborate sartorial mask that hides an injured spine, represented by a crumbling column, and a medical corset that barely keeps her body intact. Her full skirt covers her withered right leg and her healthy left one, decorated here with butterflies. Kahlo reiterates the visual message in her own words: “Appearances can be deceiving.”

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Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait Drawing, ca. 1937

Pencil and colored pencil on tracing paper

Private Collection, USA

Art & Dress

“Madame Rivera seems herself a product of her art, and, like all her work, one that is instinctively and calculatedly well composed.”

—Bertram D. Wolfe, Vogue Magazine, 1938

Kahlo’s powerful self-portraits, the photographs for which she posed, and her meticulously composed fashion acted as complementary modes of artistic self-creation. As a teenager she dressed in unconventional ways to express her individuality and hide her damaged leg. In her twenties she embraced traditional Mexican garb and wore it throughout her life. Although she created a unique hybrid style, mixing elements from diverse regions and periods, she especially identified with the women and matriarchal culture of Tehuantepec.

Kahlo adopted their embroidered blouses, long skirts, elaborate hairstyles, and woven rebozos (shawls) as her own mesmerizing version of mexicanidad (Mexicanness). At the same time, these fashion choices accommodated her medical condition and drew attention away from her disabilities and injuries. As the darning, cigarette burns, stains, and brushstrokes found on many of the garments indicate, Kahlo’s outfits were an integral part of her life, her art, and her identity.

Resplandor and skirt

Resplandor (lace headdress) and skirt, before 1954

Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico

Resplandor: machine-made lace ribbon; skirt: cotton; flounce: cotton-thread embroidery

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

The huipil grande, or resplandor as it has come to be known in recent years, is a ceremonial headdress modeled after the radiating headpieces of statues of the Virgin Mary and worn by the women of Tehuantepec for Mass, weddings, and processions. Its origins are unknown, as is the function of the two vestigial sleeves that are glued fast by starch and never used. The garment is worn in two ways. During Mass, the headdress resembles a cape, with one sleeve to the front and the second hanging behind. On other ceremonial occasions, the wide frill frames the face.

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Blouse and shawl

Blouse, before 1954

San Gabriel Chilac, Puebla, Mexico

Cotton with silk-thread hand embroidery (including satin, buttonhole, zigzag stem, and French knot stitches)

Rebozo (shawl), before 1954

Possibly Guanajuato or Santa María del Río, Mexico

Rayon hand-woven (ikat) with knotted-net fringe

Rabona (skirt), before 1954

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Satin

Faja (waist sash), before 1954

P’urhépecha community, Santa Fe de la Laguna, Michoacán, Mexico

Cotton and wool with warp patterning

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

European blouse and flounce

European-style blouse, before 1954

Possibly United States

Polyester

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico

Skirt: silk complex weave; flounce: cotton with cotton thread embroidery

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust (blouse and skirt); Colección Cibeles Henestrosa (flounce)

Peacock and skirt

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Mazatec community, Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cotton with cotton-thread hand embroidery (stem stitches)

Skirt, before 1954

Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico

Synthetic blend complex weave, applied satin ribbon

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Although peacocks are not native to Mexico, they became popular subjects for traditional needlework. This huipil was probably made to sell at the market, as the embroidery is on a larger scale than that of garments worn by the local community. The skirt is embellished with a wide band of satin and was made especially for Kahlo.

Huipil and skirt

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Mazatec community, Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cotton with applied satin ribbons and rickrack braid, cotton-thread embroidery (cross-stitch), and machine-made lace

Skirt, before 1954

Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico

Synthetic

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Huipil, skirt and flounce

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Probably San Blas, Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Printed cotton with machine embroidery (chain stitch)

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Probably Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico

Skirt: satin with hand and machine embroidery; flounce: cotton

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Coat skirt and blouse

Coat, before 1952

San Marcos, Totonicapán, or Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Cotton brocade

Skirt

Modern reproduction

Blouse, before 1954

Nahua community, Coapa, Puebla, Mexico

Cotton with cotton-thread hand embroidery

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

112
Huipil, skirt and flounce

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cotton muslin with cotton-thread hand embroidery

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico

Skirt: silk complex weave; flounce: cotton gauze weave with lace trim

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Huipil skirt and rebozo

Huipil (tunic), before 1939

Q’eqchi’ community, Cobán, Guatemala

Hand-woven cotton

Skirt, before 1954

Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico

Cotton

Rebozo (shawl), before 1938

San Luis Potosí, Mexico

Rayon, warp-resist dyed (ikat) with knotted-net fringe

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

This short, wide huipil was made by weavers from the Q’eqchi’ community in Alta Verapaz, who specialize in gauze and brocading techniques. The patterns include rows of maize, figures, and animals. It is paired with a voluminous skirt restyled from an older garment. The handwoven ikat shawl was one of Kahlo’s favorites and can be seen in several color photographs taken by Nickolas Muray in the late 1930s.

Rebozo skirt and flounce

Rebozo (shawl), before 1954

Guanajuato, Mexico

Rayon with knotted net fringe

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Coyoacán, Mexico

Skirt: silk with panel of Chinese hand embroidery (silk stitch); flounce: cotton

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust (skirt and shawl); Colección Cibeles Henestrosa (flounce)

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blouse enagua sash

Blouse, before 1941

Nahua community, San Gabriel Chilac, Puebla, Mexico

Cotton with glass bead hand embroidery

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Probably Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico

Skirt: satin with machine and hand embroidery; flounce: cotton

Faja (waist sash), before 1954

Zapotec community, Santo Tomás Jalieza, Oaxaca, Mexico

Synthetic

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust (blouse, skirt, and sash); Colección Cibeles Henestrosa (flounce)

European blouse

European-style blouse, 1930–1937

Mexico

Shantung

Rabona (skirt), 1930–1937

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Satin

Rebozo (shawl), before 1954

Tenancingo, State of Mexico, Mexico

Cotton hand-woven (ikat) with knotted-net fringe

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

This outfit is similar to one worn by Kahlo when she was photographed by Toni Frissell for Vogue in October 1937, on view in a nearby case. Kahlo mixed a high-necked blouse made in the European style with a rabona, which has a pleated flounce of the same material.

orange huipil

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Satin

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Coyoácan, Mexico City, Mexico

Skirt: silk; flounce: cotton with machine lace

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Yellow and red huipil

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cotton muslin with machine embroidery (chain stitch)

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1939

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Skirt: printed cotton with machine embroidery (chain stitch); flounce: cotton

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust (tunic and skirt); Colección Cibeles Henestrosa (flounce)

114
Yellow print blouse and skirt

Blouse, before 1954

Probably Mazahua community, State of Mexico, Mexico

Printed cotton

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Skirt: velvet with machine embroidery (chain stitch); flounce: cotton with lace trim

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

purple huipil

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cotton velvet with machine embroidery (chain stitch)

Enagua (skirt) and holán (flounce), before 1954

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Skirt: printed cotton; flounce: cotton with lace trim

Rebozo (shawl), 1900–1930

Guanajuato, Mexico

Rayon hand-woven (ikat) with knotted-net fringe

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Rebozo and Chinese skirt

Rebozo (shawl), before 1954

Altepexi, Puebla, Mexico

Hand-woven cotton with cotton tassels

Skirt, early 1900s

Han people, Qing dynasty, China

Silk with hand embroidery

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

During her first visit to San Francisco in 1930–1931, Kahlo became fascinated by Chinatown, where she may have acquired this skirt. She wrote to her father: “Imagine, there are 10,000 Chinese here, in their shops they sell beautiful things, clothing and handmade fabrics of very fine silk.” Pleated and exquisitely embroidered skirts of this type were worn with a short robe or jacket by Han Chinese women during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). It is shown with a plain, fringed shawl finished with handformed cotton balls.

Tomicotón (sleeved top), before 1948

Nahua de Hueyapan, Tlatlauqui, Puebla, Mexico

Wool with hand embroidery (cross-stitch)

Zagalejo (skirt), before 1948

P’urhépecha community, Santa Fé de la Laguna, Michoacán, Mexico

Wool, cotton, and silk

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

The tomicotón is one of the few indigenous garments worn by both men and women in Mexico. This one has a tree-of-life motif worked in cross-stitch using naturally dyed wool yarn. Kahlo teamed it with a heavy black skirt of the type worn by married women on ceremonial occasions in the P’urhépecha region of Santa Fé de la Laguna, Michoacán, where the weather can be cold and damp. She can be seen wearing this outfit in a photograph taken by Florence Arquín circa 1946, on view in this exhibition.

Blouse and skirt

Huipil (tunic), before 1954

Villa Hidalgo Yalálag, Oaxaca, Mexico

Cotton with applied rayon braid and tassel

Skirt

Modern reproduction

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait, 1933

Stucco and pigment

Private Collection, USA

While Diego Rivera was painting a series of movable fresco panels in New York, his assistant brought Kahlo a prepared fresco panel with paint and brushes. Kahlo composed this portrait of herself wearing a greenstone necklace. Her friend Lucienne Bloch recalled that Kahlo was “quite disgusted with her [fresco] and wrote . . . ‘No sirve—Absolutely rotten—horrible—very ugly—Frieda . . . oh boy!’” Kahlo broke the fresco and wanted to throw it in the trash, but Bloch saved it from destruction.

Edward Weston (American, 1886–1958)

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, 1931

Gelatin silver print

Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Edward Weston Archive

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883–1976)

Frida Kahlo, 1931

Gelatin silver print

Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Gift of Ansel and Virginia Adams

Beads, 250–900 CE, necklaces assembled by Frida Kahlo, mid-20th century

Probably Maya, Mexico or Guatemala

Greenstone and thread

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust; Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia de México

Torzales necklaces, before 1939

Gold

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

These long chains have distinctive four-lobed links that interconnect to create a twisted, rope-like effect, giving them the name torzales (twine). The coin-laden dowry necklaces of Oaxaca were a way of displaying a family’s wealth. One of these necklaces includes an ornamental slide made of gold and pearls; another, a 1903 twenty-dollar gold coin from the United States; and the third, a bird-shaped pendant, likely dating to 700–1500 CE.

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida in a Blue Satin Blouse, New York City, 1939

Carbro print

The Hecksher Family Collection

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida with Magenta Rebozo, New York City, 1939

Carbro print

The Hecksher Family Collection

115

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida on White Bench, New York City, 1939

Inkjet print

Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida on the Roof Deck of Nick’s Apartment, New York City, 1946

Inkjet print

Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida with Picasso Earrings, Coyoacán, 1939

Carbro print

The Hecksher Family Collection

Kahlo’s close relationship with photographer Nickolas Muray, whom she met in 1931 through artist Miguel Covarrubias, developed into an on-again, off-again love story and a lifelong friendship. It also resulted in many of the most iconic photographs of her. These color photographs provide valuable information about the way she composed her outfits and the care she took with her palette, from matching her rebozo to the flowers in her hair, to her lipstick and nail polish.

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida in Pink and Green Dress, Coyoacán, 1938

Carbro print

The Hecksher Family Collection

“Señoras de México” by Alice-Leone Moato, photographs by Toni Frissell, in Vogue, October 1, 1937

Gannit Ankori Collection

“Rise of Another Rivera” by Bertram D. Wolfe in Vogue, November 1, 1938

Gannit Ankori and Circe Henestrosa Collection

Headdress, 1940s

Aluminium, paper, and wire

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Blades, before 1500, necklace assembled by Frida Kahlo, mid-20th century

Obsidian and thread

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust; Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia de México

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Itzcuintli Dog with Me, 1938

Oil on canvas

Private Collection, USA

Kahlo sits bolt upright on a green straw chair. Her Mexican identity is expressed through her outfit and hairdo. Her accentuated connecting brows, pronounced mustache, and unwavering gaze present a radical, nonconforming persona. A tiny xoloitzcuintli dog stands nearby but seems alienated from Kahlo. The ancient breed derives its name from two Nahuatl words: Xolotl, the god of death; and itzcuintli, or dog. Kahlo loved the hairless dogs and included them in several of her paintings.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Leo Eloesser, 1940

Oil on masonite

Private Collector, Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The portrait, painted for her confidant, reflects the nonsexual nature of her second marriage, which he helped negotiate. Kahlo wears a nun’s habit, its dull color symbolizing mortification and humility. A crown of thorns surrounds her throat like a necklace. Her Christian asceticism contrasts with the flowers in her hair, the hand-shaped earring, and the plants that grow behind her. Kahlo exposes herself as a deeply divided being, split between sensual desire and the celibacy that perpetuates her unrequited love for her husband.

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Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait, 1948

Oil on masonite

Private Collection

Painted for one of her doctors, this self-portrait displays Kahlo’s head peering from a pink opening of an elaborate Tehuana headdress, the resplandor. Kahlo’s brooch depicts a bird trapped within an analogous oval frame. The tense contrast between the tearful, three-dimensional face and the flattening lace costume is reinforced by the yin-yang symbols embedded in the lace headdress.

117

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Self-Portrait with Monkey, 1945

Oil on wood

Robert Brady Museum

Kahlo often painted herself with her pets, most often her spider monkeys, who appeared to be surrogate children, Darwinian ancestors, alter egos, or symbolic entities. In this painting, Kahlo wears an embroidered huipil as she and her simian companion are linked by the similar ribbons that decorate their hair. The monkey’s embrace seems both comforting and menacing. The dark background and the withered, perhaps dying, tree behind the pair exude an ominous feeling of danger or grief.

Guillermo Kahlo (Mexican, b. Germany, 1871–1941)

Kahlo family portrait, February 7, 1926

Gelatin silver print

The Vicente Wolf Collection

Frida Kahlo flaunts gender fluidity within a conventional family setting. She wears a three-piece suit and tie, which according to a later inscription may have been her father’s. Some years later, she painted Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940), where she presents an ambiguous gender identity, combining feminine and masculine features.

Self Portrait with Cropped Hair

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940. Oil on canvas, 153/4 x 11 in. (40 x 27.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., 1943, 3.1943. Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust

Unidentified photographer

Frida Kahlo with cropped hair, ca. 1940

Gelatin silver print

The Vicente Wolf Collection

Lucienne Bloch (American, b. Switzerland, 1909–1999)

Frida Kahlo with Cinzano Bottle, New York, 1935

Gelatin silver print

The Hecksher Family Collection

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Memory or The Heart, 1937

Oil on metal

Private Collector, Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Here Kahlo links growing up, dressing up, and the performance of identity. She appears as three distinct though fragmented selves. The central protagonist, with her unusual costume and hairdo, is familiar from photographs of Kahlo from 1934 to 1935, when she cropped her hair and experimented with a different style of dress. The two costumes that flank her are the girl’s school uniform and the iconic Tehuana outfit, demonstrating Kahlo’s use of clothing to express her identity and to represent different versions of herself. The ship-shaped shoe alludes to her childhood polio, whereas the rod that perforates her body references her accident.

Nickolas Muray (American, b. Hungary, 1892–1965)

Frida with Cigarette, Coyoacán, 1941

Gelatin silver print

Gannit Ankori Collection

Although best known for her self-presentations as an iconic Tehuana woman, Kahlo also used garments, hairstyling, and accessories to fashion alternative gendered identities. “I have the mustache and in general the face of the opposite sex,” she professed. Kahlo also engaged in sexual relationships with men and women. In today’s terminology, it could be suggested that Kahlo rejected gender binaries and espoused a gender-fluid or queer identity.

Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

Untitled, Undated

Charcoal on paper

Museo Frida Kahlo, Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust