Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life

The New York Botanical Garden

Originally organized by The New York Botanical Garden, this exhibition celebrates Frida Kahlo’s keen appreciation for the beauty and variety of the natural world, as evidenced by the garden and decoration of her home, the Casa Azul, as well as the complex use of plant imagery in her paintings. 

Kahlo and Nature
Frida Kahlo was a collector. As a child, she gathered plant specimens from parks and natural sites in her hometown of Coyoacán. As an adult, she collected cultural objects including hundreds of devotional paintings and thousands of photographs, as well as an array of plant-based objects from botanical field guides and scientific publications about Mexican to poetry books, jewelry, traditional Mexican dress, and other objects. Kahlo also collected living plants, filling the courtyard garden at her home, the Casa Azul. 

The garden served as a place of respite and as a source of inspiration for Kahlo’s plant inspired works.

Plants appear in many of Frida Kahlo's works demonstrating both close observation of the natural world and engagement with the plants she encountered in her daily life.

Frida Kahlo's plant-inspired paintings are frequently allegorical in emotional, sexual, and cultural terms and express her sense of wit and play of double meanings. At times, she would even create half-plant, half human hybrid characters, depicting herself and those around her.

Old man cactus is a plant native to Mexico. These cacti have been found in archival photographs of Kahlo’s garden ca. 1940 and gave the garden both color and texture.

Yam, a plant native to Mexico, can be seen in archival photographs as its vines climb the buildings outside of Kahlo’s bedroom.

Organ pipe cactus is native to Mexico and can be seen in archival photographs of Kahlo’s garden ca. 1940.

In the 1940s Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, expanded the garden and the house at the Casa Azul, making way for additional plants and collections and building a new studio for Kahlo.

Marigolds, native to Mexico, were typical of Mexican garden’s during Kahlo’s life. Bouquets with the plant would sometimes fill the dining room of her home, the Casa Azul.

Kahlo also included marigolds, associated with celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in paintings such as "The Deceased Dimas".

Elephant's ear, a plant typical of Mexican gardens, was depicted in Kahlo’s artwork to explore the idea of duality by juxtaposing its tangled vines and oversized foliage with barren landscapes.

When Frida Kahlo was a young girl, her father decorated the courtyard at the Casa Azul with tropical- and temperate-climate plants, including bougainvillea, which was draped on a doorway. The plant is found in archival photographs of Kahlo’s garden during her adulthood ca. 1940.

In addition to still lifes and self portraits, Frida Kahlo drew and painted people, including noted horticulturist Luther Burbank. In her drawings and painting of him, he holds clustered vines with deeply serrated leaves that resemble philodendrons. This large group of tropical plants are native to the rain forests of Central and South America and significant to ancient Aztec culture.

Plants in Kahlo’s paintings could also take the form of other living creatures. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) uses a fuchsia as a winged insect which takes flight around her head. Fuchsia is an ornamental plant native to Mexico. The tree variety has pink flowers which bloom in summer and fall and are followed by purple fruits while the small leaved variety come in a wide variety of colors ranging from white to pink and red.

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