Frida and Guillermo Kahlo: An Artistic Inheritance

Fototeca Nacional, INAH

Explore the influence that the photographer Guillermo Kahlo had on his daughter, the painter Frida Kahlo, through the Fototeca Nacional (National Photographic Library) collection.

A German in Mexico
In 1891, Wilhelm Kahlo (1871–1941) arrived in Mexico from Germany, becoming a Mexican national and hispanicizing his name a short while later. After trying his luck in various jobs, he became a photographer, specializing in the architectural documentation of commercial, industrial, and public buildings.

Guillermo Kahlo became a photographer on the advice of Matilde Calderón, his second wife and Frida's mother, since his father-in-law had a business related to the field.

He specialized in "buildings, room interiors, factories, machinery, etc.," as described in an advert he placed in the magazine "El Mundo Ilustrado" (The Illustrated World) on February 24, 1901. In around 1904, Kahlo was commissioned by the Secretary of the Treasury, José Yves Limantour, to undertake a photographic survey of federal property. The photographs would be used to create a series of albums that would be published to coincide with the centenary of Mexican independence.

In 1904, Guillermo was well-established in Mexico and had a reliable job, which allowed him to buy some land and build a house in Coyoacán, now the Frida Kahlo Museum.

Frida learned how to overcome physical pain from her father, who suffered from epileptic seizures. Physical impairments and illness bound the 2 together, and it was Guillermo who took care of his daughter, both when she had polio and following her life-changing accident.

Following in His Footsteps
Influenced by her father, Frida took a great interest in art, and especially photography, from a young age. The artist used to spend time with her father in his darkroom, retouching plates and images. Guillermo also photographed Frida on numerous occasions, from childhood to adulthood. The photographer took several self-portraits, which are evocative of many of the self-portraits painted by Frida.

Frida was very close to her father. Of the 4 daughters that he had with Matilde Calderón, Frida was Guillermo Kahlo's favorite. She saw him as an intelligent, brave man. Guillermo's death in 1941 was a devastating blow to the painter.

It would be more than 10 years before Frida painted her father after his death. At the bottom of the painting, in the style of an ex-voto, the artist wrote a message: "I painted my father, Wilhelm Kahlo, of German-Hungarian origin; a photographic artist by profession; generous, intelligent, and refined in character, and brave because he suffered from epilepsy for 60 years but never stopped working, and he fought against Hitler. Adoringly, his daughter, Frida Kahlo."

It is unfortunate that the fame of the painter Frida Kahlo (1907–54), who captured the public's attention, overshadowed her father's extraordinary work. Guillermo Kahlo's work is housed in the Fototeca Nacional (National Photographic Library). It spans the first 3 decades of the 20th century and is the most important source of information for the study of colonial architectural heritage, and particularly religious buildings. More recently, his work has been studied from an aesthetic point of view, resulting in his contribution to Mexican photography receiving the recognition it deserves.

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