The woman who painted her own reality

Frida Kahlo is famous for being one of the most revolutionary of self-portrait artists.

Her life was hard but she created some of the finest paintings ever produced by a Latin American painter. She is regarded as a feminist icon for the way she lived. Here are a few biographical details.

Frida Kahlo was born 6th July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico City, but because the Mexican Revolution began three years after her birth, Frida changed her birthdate to coincide with it, giving her birth date as July 7, 1910. And so now she was congruent with the Mexican Revolution and the birth of modern Mexico.

Frida was one of six daughters born to her father. She was quite physically tough and won tequila challenges with hefty men. When she was six, Frida contracted polio and her right leg became thinner than the left. She hid this by wearing long colourful skirts.

From quite young, Frida liked to challenge the status quo. She enjoyed playing sports like boxing and then joined a gang and had an affair with its leader.

She had a reputation as a partier and was known to party till late at night, where she won tequila challenges with many men!

Kahlo was particularly well-known for wearing traditional dresses and presented herself very colourfully.

A near fatal accident changed her life and she became a painter. On September 17th 1925 Frida and her friend Alex were in a bus when it crashed into a street trolley car. As a result of the grave injuries she suffered in the accident, Frida had to undergo 35 operations in her life. She was subsequently often in extreme pain and could not have children. For three months after the accident she was immobile and took up painting, mostly self-portraits, using the mirror across her bed. This led to Frida abandoning her medical career and becoming an artist.

She is known as the master of Self-Portraits. In her career the sheer number of them almost rivals Van Gogh for self-portraits. Why this apparent self-obsession? Frida Kahlo created 143 paintings of which 55 of these are self-portraits. Kahlo said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” So, loneliness was the spur! Her self portraits often portrayed physical and psychological wounds. Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits are thought to be among the finest ever painted. Her most famous self-portrait is perhaps ‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’.

Frida married the famous painter Diego Rivera whom Kahlo admired greatly. She first approached him in 1927 and showed him her own work. Rivera was impressed with her work and encouraged her efforts which contributed to Frida becoming a dedicated artist. Soon their relationship developed happily and they married on August 21, 1929 when he was 42 and she was 22. It was Rivera’s third marriage and people often referred to the couple as “The Elephant and the Dove” due to the physical differences between them.

Frida Kahlo was a bisexual and Kahlo’s marriage with Rivera was tumultuous with both having many affairs. Rivera even had a fling with Kahlo’s younger sister Cristina which infuriated Kahlo. They divorced in 1939 but remarried a year later and they stayed together till her death.

Kahlo even had an affair with the founder of the Red Army, Leon Trotsky who came to Mexico to seek political asylum from the Soviet Union. At first he stayed with Rivera and then later had an affair with Kahlo. Kahlo painted a work titled ‘Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky’ to commemorate their brief encounter.

She eventually became famous a couple of decades after her death. Kahlo died on July 26, 1954. Before she died, she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”.

Kahlo was moderately successful during her lifetime but was only acclaimed several years later. During her lifetime, she was mainly known in Mexico as Rivera’s wife, but now she is known worldwide and Rivera is known as her husband. A bit of a reversal of roles. Frida Kahlo became a central figure in the Neomexicanismo Art Movement in Mexico which emerged in the 1970s.

Her art has been called folk art because of traditional elements in it and some suggest that it is Surrealism. She herself said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”


n May 2006, her self-portrait “Roots” sold for US $5.6 million dollars setting an auction record for a Latin American piece of art.

To learn more about this incredible artist visit:

To view a portrait of Frida Kahlo go to:,_by_Guillermo_Kahlo_3.jpg

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