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Frida Kahlo's The Wounded Table: Analysis & Loss

Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

The life of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was traumatic, but she is now recognized as one of the twentieth century's most important artists. In this lesson, you will learn about her famous painting ''The Wounded Table,'' which has been lost since 1955.

The Mystery of the Missing Painting

Kahlo painted The Wounded Table (La Mesa Herida) in 1940, and it was first displayed in Mexico City that same year. A few photos were taken of the painting. Kahlo gave, or lent, the painting to the Russian ambassador to Mexico. It was last exhibited in 1955 in Warsaw, and its whereabouts since then are unknown. A replica of The Wounded Table is on display at a museum in Germany so visitors can enjoy the next best thing, but the real painting is at large. Could the painting be sitting forgotten in some museum's basement? Or perhaps a secret collector has it hidden from public view? Hopefully, the mystery will one day be solved.

Kahlo's Self-Portraits and the Expression of Pain

As is typical of her works, The Wounded Table features a self-portrait, with the artist herself seated at the center of a bloody table. Kahlo experienced several traumas in her life: she was crippled with polio at a young age, and when she was 18, she was severely injured in a bus accident that impacted the rest of her life. Many of Kahlo's paintings explore expressions of pain that art historians see as linked to these experiences. In The Wounded Table, for instance, the table has bleeding sores, and there is a skeleton holding up a portion of Kahlo's hair to the right. To the left, there is a large, grotesque, puppet-like figure with a small head covered in dynamite, who drapes one arm over Kahlo's shoulder. Kahlo's injuries left her unable to bear children, and her beloved niece and nephew appear on the painting's left as a sign of both pain and love for children.

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo

Kahlo and Rivera

Another source of grief in Kahlo's life was her tumultuous relationship with the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The two married in 1929, and though they were passionate and supportive of each other's art, their marriage was marked by numerous affairs and frequent turbulence. Both partners had affairs, but after Rivera became involved with Kahlo's younger sister, the two divorced in 1939. Astoundingly, they remarried only a year later. The Wounded Table was created in the midst of this tumult, and seems to reflect it. For example, the dynamite-covered figure on the left of the picture wears overalls; a clear allusion to Rivera, who frequently wore them when painting. A table is a center of any home, and to see it wounded in this painting shows pain in the heart of domestic space. The whole scene is positioned on a stage, with red curtains drawn to the left and right, and a backdrop with a stormy sky and vegetation, adding to the dramatic feel.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Social and Personal Identity in The Wounded Table

The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 transformed the nation's government and deeply impacted its culture. One result was an increased emphasis on native Mexican culture as opposed to the legacy of Spanish colonial rule. The Wounded Table expresses the very politically-minded Kahlo's interest in Mexican identity. In the painting, Kahlo wears a traditional Tehuana dress, for example. Likewise, to the immediate right of Kahlo there is a smaller brown statue in the style of a Pre-Columbian figure from the Nayarit region of Mexico.

Kahlo's self-portrait places her in the midst of things that are figuratively close to her: Rivera, her niece and nephew, native Mexican identity -- even her pet deer Granizo on the far right. At the same time, The Wounded Table visually represents these connections in tangible ways: the Rivera and skeleton figures are both touching Frida, seated at the table, the Nayarit statue is literally joined to her right arm (which is cut off just below the shoulder), and her niece and nephew and pet deer are all turned to face her. In spite of all the pain that they represent, Frida seems intimately connected to all of them.

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