Visit the places that made an impact on the iconic artist's life and career
Frida Kahlo has achieved a legendary status in modern day artistic and feminist culture, and the locations that impacted her life were often just as vibrant and compelling as she was. Take a tour of some of the places the artist visited, from the joyful to the poignant.
1. La Casa Azul, Mexico City
La Casa Azul provided the book ends for Frida Kahlo’s life. As her family home, she was born here in 1907, and it's where she began developing her artistic talents when she was confined to her bed after a trolley accident that almost killed her. After marrying Diego Rivera, Kahlo moved from her childhood home to be with her husband, but was a frequent visitor to her beloved family. This is also where Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived at the invitation of the artists, cementing the house’s reputation as a meeting point for intellectuals and creatives alike: other notable visitors included Dolores del Río, María Félex and Fritz Henle.
Frida moved back into the cobalt walls of La Casa Azul after she temporarily separated from Diego, and lived here until her death 13 years later. After she died, Rivera placed her belongings in the bathroom of the house and requested that no one was to open it until 15 years after his own passing. The room wasn’t opened until 2004 and you can see the collection, here.
2. San Ildefonso College, Mexico City
In 1922, Frida attended the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, then housed in the San Ildefonso college building, where she was one of only 35 female students. At the time, the Mexican government was sponsoring prominent muralists to create artworks on the walls of the school, centering on the country’s history and politics of the post-Revolution era. One of these muralists was Diego Rivera, and it was here that Frida met her future husband while he was painting Creation in the building’s Bolívar Auditorium.
In his interviews with Gladys March compiled in My Art, My Life: An Autobiography, Rivera recounts that his first Frida encounter was with her disembodied voice, as she called out to him teasingly and played pranks. Later, she approached the then-married artist and asked to watch him work. It wasn’t until a few years later that their paths crossed again.
3. Casa Municipal, Mexico City
Frida and Diego Rivera married on August 2, 1929 in a modest civil ceremony at the colorful town hall of Coyoacán, the borough in Mexico City where Frida grew up. Frida was 22, and Diego was 42. Frida wore a long skirt and blouse with a shawl draped round her shoulders, and Rivera was outfitted in a gray suit, a Stetson hat and a Colt revolver in his waistband, which he reportedly began aimlessly firing at the wedding reception in drunken celebration. You can see their wedding portrait, here. Frida’s mother opposed the wedding, and only her father attended, pleased that Diego would be able to support Frida and fund her expensive ongoing medical treatment. This was Frida and Diego’s first wedding, with their marriage lasting for 10 years, before they briefly separated and remarried in 1940.
4. 716 Montgomery Street, San Francisco
In late 1930, Frida and Diego moved to San Francisco, where Diego had been commissioned to paint some murals at San Francisco Stock Exchange and the California School of Fine Arts. Frida’s time in San Francisco was productive, and the artworks she produced there, including Frieda and Diego Rivera and The Portrait of Luther Burbank, adopted a more folkloric style. The couple met and socialised with influential artists such as Edward Weston, Timothy Pflueger, and Nickolas Muray, and lived in artist Ralph Stackpole’s studio at 716 Montgomery Street. In a letter to her mother, Frida described it as “fashioned in Parisian style with one very large room, about three times as big as the living room in our own house in Coyoacán.”
Frida spent her time exploring the city dressed in her colorful, native costume and walking around Chinatown, where she looked for Oriental silks to make her iconic long skirts with. The couple spent 6 months here before returning to Mexico.
5. Legion of Honor, San Francisco
While in San Francisco, Kahlo participated in her first exhibition when Frieda and Diego Rivera was displayed at in the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists. The painting was on display from November 4 until December 3, 1931 at California Palace of the Legion of Honor, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The painting is based on her and Diego’s wedding photograph; in the top of the portrait the text reads: "Here you see us, me Frieda Kahlo, with my dearest husband Diego Rivera. I painted these pictures in the delightful city of San Francisco California for our companion Mr. Albert Bender, and it was in the month of April of the year 1931."
6. Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit
The following year, in April 1932, Frida and Diego made their way to Detroit, where Rivera had been commission to paint murals for the Detroit Institute of Arts by the Ford Motor Company. While in the city, Frida became pregnant. Due to her passion for her work, and her ongoing health conditions, Frida had mixed feelings about having a baby and debated having an abortion. She miscarried in July, and was rushed to hospital with a serious hemorrhage that caused her to be hospitalized for two weeks. The turmoil of the situation and her stay at Henry Ford Hospital became the inspiration for her surreal painting Henry Ford Hospital. Kahlo had asked to see the fetus of the child so she could paint it, but her request was refused by doctors at the hospital.
7. Ford Motor Company River Rouge Plant, Detroit
The couple visited Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant, which was the subject of Diego’s Detroit Industry murals at the DIA. The plant, the largest factor complex in the world at the time, also features in some of Kahlo’s works , such as in the background of the aforementioned Henry Ford Hospital and Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States. Largely, despite her interest in Detroit’s industrial and mechanical development, she didn’t enjoy her time in the city and felt discomfort at the disparity between the lifestyles of the rich and the poor. Frida didn’t exhibit any of her own work while in Detroit, but was interviewed by Detroit News in an article titled “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art”. She was quoted as saying "Of course he [Rivera] does well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist".
8. The Kahlo and Rivera San Ángel Home and Studio, Mexico City
When Frida and Diego returned to Mexico City, they moved into a new house in the wealthy neighbourhood of San Ángel. The house was designed by Juan O’Gorman, a student of Le Corbusier, and was made up of two separate sections joined together by a bridge. One side was Rivera’s, painted pink and white, and the other side was Frida’s, painted in the same cobalt blue as her childhood home La Casa Azul. The bridge represented their love for each other. The house caused controversy for its design, as it combined organic Mexican architecture with the avant-garde architecture of functionalism. The couple lived and painted there, until Frida moved out upon learning of Rivera’s affair with her sister Cristina. She later forgave them and returned, and the work she painted while living here gained her more and more artistic recognition. Frida later moved back to La Casa Azul, where Rivera joined her in 1941 until her death. He then returned to San Ángel, which is now a museum about the couple.
9. 42 Calhoun Terrace, San Francisco
Frida and Diego had a tumultuous relationship, scattered with numerous extra-marital affairs on both sides, culminating in a divorce in November 1939. The pair remained friendly, and were shortly reunited in San Francisco, where Kahlo was visiting for medical treatment for back pain from her trusted doctor and good friend Dr. Eloesser. Rivera was in San Francisco working on a commision having fled Mexico City after Trotsky was murdered, and Eloesser, also a friend of the muralists, encourage the couple to reunite. He wrote to Frida saying: “Diego loves you very much, and you love him. It is also the case, and you know it better than I, that besides you, he has two great loves: 1) painting 2) women in general. He has never been, nor ever will be, monogamous".
After their reconciliation, the couple remarried on December 8, 1940 before Frida returned home shortly after—Diego stayed as he was under suspicion for Trotsky’s assassination. During their time in San Francisco together, they lived at 42 Calhoun Terrace with incredible views of the Oakland Bay Bridge.
10. Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
By the end of her life, Kahlo’s health had severely declined after several operations and the artist had her right leg amputated in 1953 after suffering from gangrene. She was found dead in her bed at La Casa Azul at the age of 47. The cause of death was given as a pulmonary embolism, but there is speculation that she could have overdosed on her pain medication. Her body was taken to the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and she was laid in state in her Tehuana costume and jewelry while 600 of her friends and family came to pay their respects. A Communist flag was draped over her casket, which Diego didn’t let anyone remove, despite the scandal it caused. Frida’s body was cremated and her ashes are now displayed in a pre-Colombian urn at La Casa Azul. Before she died, the last words she wrote in her diary read: “"I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida".