Who Is Frida Kahlo? - Facts, Artwork & Timeline

Instructor: Ninamarie Ochoa
A brief biography of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, including descriptions of her childhood, marriage, artistic influences, and key events in her life. As a renowned surrealist painter, Kahlo's influence continues to inspire artists to this day.

Who Is Frida Kahlo?

Frida Kahlo is one of the most iconic artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and admirers all over the world have emulated both her personal style and her paintings. Her trademark eyebrows, flower crown, and colorful skirts are recognizable worldwide. Even Beyoncé has dressed as Frida for Halloween, and Salma Hayek starred in a movie about Kahlo's life in 2002. Her paintings remain, to this day, moving and vivid symbols of female and Mexican identity and among the most popular examples of the surrealist school of painting.

Childhood and Beginnings

Born 6 July 1907 at La Casa Azul (The Blue House) in Mexico City, Frida Kahlo was the third daughter of Guillermo and Matilde Kahlo. Her father was German, and her mother was mestiza (of Spanish and Amerindian heritage). As an artist, Kahlo was heavily influenced by indigenous Mexican culture and art, which her own works would later reflect. Kahlo was a prolific painter but also wrote extensively, both in letters and in private journals.

Her early life was marked by chaos and tragedy, which shaped her artistic and philosophical approaches. When Kahlo was only three years old, the Mexican Revolution began, marking what many scholars consider the beginnings of modern Mexico. This social and political upheaval lasted about a decade, ending finally in 1920.

Amidst this chaos, in 1913, when she was only six years old, Kahlo contracted polio; as a result, her right leg failed to develop properly, and remained much smaller and skinnier than her left leg. It was because of this that Kahlo wore the long, colorful skirts she has become so known for.

Although Kahlo's paintings are known for their vivid colors and brilliant images, their beginnings were much darker. In 1925, when Kahlo was eighteen years old, she was involved in a near-fatal accident when the bus she was riding in collided with a trolley. She suffered multiple, severe injuries, including a broken spine and collarbone, which left her a full-body cast for several months. One of the bus's handrails also impaled Kahlo in the crash, piercing her uterus and leaving her without the ability to have children.

Painting

As Kahlo recovered from these terrible injuries, she began painting. Painting became her way of coping with the deep sadness that came from being bound to her bed as she waited for her injuries to heal. (I mean, can you image spending that much time alone?) The crash left Kahlo with serious pain that plagued her for the rest of her life and made her feel trapped within her broken body. The bus crash and the years of resulting pain served to inspire many of Kahlo's paintings, which explore the isolation and fragmentation of identity following trauma.

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Monkey (1940)
Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Monkey (1940)

Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas (1939)
Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas (1939)

Kahlo also explored her experience of womanhood in her paintings. And what is more representative of being a woman than being a mother, right? Sadly, for Kahlo, the injuries from the bus crash caused her to suffer several miscarriages. The trauma of this became the subject of many pieces, including the example below:

Frida Kahlo, Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) (1932)
Frida Kahlo, Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed) (1932)

Although scholars often characterize her style as surrealist (characterized by a dreamlike and sometimes morbid style), Kahlo rejected the label, stating that she painted her reality. The vibrant colors and symbols prevalent in Kahlo's works reflect her Mexican heritage and still serve as powerful icons of Mexican art.

Marriage

Through Kahlo's art and her presence in the artistic community, she met her husband, Mexican painter Diego Rivera; the couple married in 1929 and made their home in La Casa de Azul. Behind this apparent 'power couple,' though, was a chaotic private life. Their tumultuous marriage was characterized by anger, jealousy, and infidelity; both had multiple affairs, and while Rivera tolerated Kahlo's relationships with women, he was known to have been extremely jealous of her affairs with other men. (Can you imagine what bloggers and tabloids would have to say about the couple today?)

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