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.
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.
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.
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.
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.