10 Facts About Frida Kahlo

The Mexican painter and political activist led a troubled life and left a lasting legacy

By Google Arts & Culture

Frida Kahlo, June 15, 1919 (1919) by Guillermo KahloMuseo Frida Kahlo

A young talent

As a child, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón filled notebooks with sketches, though she never intended to become an artist. In 1925 at the age of 18, as she was preparing to study at medical school, she was severely injured in a bus accident.

Corset (0) by Frida KahloMuseo Frida Kahlo

Her pelvis, her spine, her right leg, and shoulder were crushed, and her uterus was pierced by a metal spike. It was a miracle that she survived, but she would never fully recover. For three months after the accident she was confined in bed to a plaster corset.

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During this period of recovery, she once again took up art to pass the time. She briefly considered becoming a medical illustrator, but started painting self portraits. Later saying, "I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best."

Photograph of Diego and Frida taken by their friend Lucienne when the last panel of the fresco at the New Workers School in New York was finished (3 de diciembre de 1933) by Lucienne BlochMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Join the party

In 1927, Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party and was introduced to a wide circle of politically-engaged people, such as the photographer Tina Modotti and activist Julio Antonio Mella. At a gathering in June 1928, Kahlo met Diego Rivera. The next year, the two were married.

Weeping Coconuts (Cocos gimientes) (1951) by Frida KahloLos Angeles County Museum of Art

A daughter of the revolution

Born in 1910, Kahlo saw herself as a daughter of the Mexican Revolution of the same year, and promoted the revolutionary ideals. She began to emphasise Mexican national identity and anti-colonial practices through her Mestiza dress and peasant-inspired art.

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Kahlo combined folk imagery and syles with the Cubist and Surrealist avant-garde across the Atlantic, though she later held the Surrealists in contempt, writing to a friend that they "are so crazy 'intellectual' and rotten that I can't even stand them anymore."

Kahlo and Rivera moved into a new house in the wealthy neighborhood of San Ángel, Mexico City. The building was designed by Le Corbusier's student Juan O'Gorman. The bohemian residence became an important meeting place for artists and political activists from Mexico and abroad.

Arriving of Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova (1937/1937) by Mayo BrothersArchivo General de la Nación - México

Harbouring the Exiled Trotsky

She and Rivera successfully petitioned the Mexican government to grant asylum to former Soviet leader Leon Trotsky and his wife. The couple lived there from January 1937 until April 1939, with Kahlo and Trotsky not only becoming good friends but also having a brief affair.

Frida painting "Naturaleza viva" (Living Nature) in bed, with Diego at her side (1952) by Juan GuzmánMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

An ongoing struggle

Her bouts of surgery continued into her later years. She suffered from post-operative infections and became bedridden. Yet she continued to paint, using a wheelchair and an adjustable easel. Eventually, she had her right leg amputated.

Frida Kahlo, Juan O’Gorman, and Diego Rivera in the last photograph taken of Frida before her death, at a demonstration against US intervention in Guatemala (2 de julio de 1954) by autor no identificadoMuseo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

A fighter to the end

Kahlo continued to campaign even in her final days. On the 2nd of July, 1954, less than two weeks before her death, she joined a protest against the CIA invasion of Guatemala. When she died on the 13th, her body was laid under a communist banner at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Today, you can take a tour of La Casa Azul, the family home of Frida Kahlo, and now the Museo Frida Kahlo. Inside, the house remains in almost exactly the same condition as when Kahlo and Rivera lived there, filled with art that shows their admiration for the culture of Mexico.

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