Now Is Forever: A Rediscovered Portrait of Frida Kahlo

Museo Dolores Olmedo

Explore the friendship and relationship between Frida Kahlo and Alejandro Gómez Arias, and the portrait that she gave him 30 years after it was painted.

Young Love
As a portrait of her childhood sweetheart, Alejandro Gómez Arias, the painting is intimately linked to the artist's life. His portrait was inexplicably missing from the affectionate portraits painted by Frida Kahlo of her friends. It was found in a wardrobe belonging to the Gómez Arias family (apparently never opened), and was selfishly hidden but unmistakably signed by Frida, and dated 1928 with a beautiful inscription.

I lovingly painted your portrait, which is a picture of my friend for all time.
Frieda Kahlo. 1952.
30 years later.

Frida sent it to him as a memento of the unforgettable love of her youth, and her closest friend, 2 years before her death and 34 years after she painted it. At that time, she used to sign her name with its German spelling, "Frieda." She used her new signature—Frida without the "e"—for the first time in 1927, on her portrait of Miguel N. Lira. It seems that Alejandro had put it in the wardrobe and not taken it out again, which is why it survived for several decades until it was found in 1994.

Alejandro was there at the time of Frida's accident and was therefore the only person to witness the moment when her life changed forever, taking a different and tragic course.

After the Accident
It is widely known that Frida Kahlo started to paint after her accident, while confined to the house in Coyoacán. It was here that she first attempted to draw and paint, creating portraits of her friends.

She painted her first self-portrait in 1926, for Alejandro, who had been a friend of hers since they were pupils at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National Preparatory School). Their childhood friendship became a much closer, romantic relationship.

Her self-portrait became her alter-ego, permeated with a magical force that expressed her love for Alejandro. The painting itself was a message of love. Never again did Frida Kahlo paint herself in a way that was so ethereal, so affectionate and, at the same time, so distant. Her message worked, and their love was rekindled.

On the back, she wrote in German, "Heute ist immer noch" or "Now is forever," and she signed her name with its German spelling, "Frieda." The phrase acts as a spell. It is a reminder of Frida's talent as a writer and poet, and captures the hope of all lovers: that the moment will last forever.

Alejandro became the center of Frida's life after her accident. Her despair was revealed in the many letters that have been published in biographies written about her. They are cries for help aimed at Alejandro, who was her only hope in life.

A Lasting Friendship
Frida did not show or send the painting to Alejandro, but their friendship endured and they continued to exchange letters. Alejandro was her confidant, to whom to she revealed her pain, suffering, and loneliness. In this respect, their relationship did not change. He was the first person she wrote to following her difficult operation in 1946. In her letter, she drew the lines cut in her operation as she had done before, in a letter in which she depicted herself as a crying little girl in poignant, childlike drawings.

Time and again, we see evidence of their friendship and mutual respect. During the period when she became associated with surrealism thanks to André Breton, she entertained herself by creating different objects. She gave one of them to Alejandro: a balloon adored with flowers and butterflies. Some time later, she asked him to give it back to her so that she could paint it red: a sign that her joy had turned to pain.

Sending Alejandro his portrait in 1952 with the inscription to say that she would always be his friend was an act of reminiscence. It was also a counterpart to the self-portrait that she had given him in 1926 so that she would always be in that moment, and in Alejandro's thoughts. Both portraits were therefore reunited to form a double painting of the 2 young lovers; what could never be in reality was captured in a work of art.

From an art history point of view, this places Frida Kahlo in a great tradition of European painting. Betrothal portraits in the form of double paintings have existed since the beginning of the Renaissance, and are among some of Rembrandt's and Rubens' most magnificent paintings. Marc Chagall and his wife, Bella, continued this iconographic tradition beautifully in more recent years. The portraits of Frida and Alejandro are now also part of this personal iconography.

Credits: Story

Text: Erika Billeter
Translation: María Reisse
Published in "Frida Kahlo, Heute ist immer noch, now it's forever," exhibition catalog for the 25th anniversary of Arvil Gallery.

Credits: All media
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