In 2024, we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the passing of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (Coyoacán, Mexico City, July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954). Scala is delighted to present a comprehensive profile of the artist in five points, featuring images, artworks, and lesser-known documents that will guide us in narrating the story of this remarkable woman and artist. This journey will take us through the most renowned international museums worldwide, for which Scala is the official representative.
We would like to take this opportunity to inform you that as of December 31, 2024, both in Italy and other countries, the reproduction of Frida Kahlo’s works will no longer be protected by copyright. Her works can be reproduced without any further restrictions for editorial and commercial projects. For further information on Copyright Law, please visit our website or contact us.
This rare, coloured image – part of a renowned reportage by Gisele Freund captured in 1951 within the artist’s studio at Casa Azul – mirrors Frida’s connection to her original family and to Mexico.
Frida Kahlo, born in Mexico City on July 6, 1907, was profoundly influenced by her native country and her parents in both her art and her life. Her father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was a German photographer who immigrated to Mexico in 1891, and her mother, Matilde, was half Amerindian and half Spanish, played significant roles in shaping her artistic identity. Her father was the first to encourage her to express herself through painting during the well-known period of recovery, while the indigenous culture of her mother permeated all of Frida’s work.
Frida was born three years before the 1910 Mexican revolution, and its impact echoed throughout her life. She grew up amidst the political and social consequences of the revolution, absorbing a strong collective sense of resistance and identity. Frida Kahlo identified herself as the “daughter of the revolution,” often incorporating Aztec and Mayan symbols, folkloric art, and traditional clothing into her self-representations.
Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband, also shared a deep connection with the concept of “mexicanidad”: viewed not just as a style but mostly as a political stance that both constantly expressed through their art.
Check out this gallery for photos of the artist in their youth and of Frida Kahlo.
Most widely recognized as an emblem of feminism in the first half of the 20th century, Frida Kahlo depicts her life story in an unfiltered and authentic manner. Rather than portraying her femininity in a conventional way, she often represents herself in fragments, with organs outside the body, in animalistic forms, and at times wearing constricting corsets, all of which are reminders of the pain she has endured.
Within the contours of her own body, two elements stand out: the foetus and the sickle and hammer.
The artist’s struggles with physical illness are well-documented, but even more so is her anguish over her inability to conceive. It is the honesty with which she conveys her personal narrative and the depth of her suffering that set her apart, as Frida Kahlo never conceals her femininity or doubts her place as a woman in society.
The sickle and hammer symbolize Frida’s political awareness and her dedication to communism. The artist became involved in politics and the Mexican Communist Party through the Cuban Julio Antonio Mella and the Italian Tina Modotti, ultimately becoming an enthusiastic participant. In 1928, she met Diego Rivera, and their connection will not only be romantic but also firmly grounded in their mutual political convictions. Both Kahlo and Rivera shared a belief in utilizing art as a means for social change.
Diego Rivera portrays Frida Kahlo distributing weapons in the renowned mural series “Ballad of the Proletarian Revolution”. The fresco, located on the third floor of the Palace of Education in Mexico City, depicts other militant comrades such as Tina Modotti, Julio Antonio Mella, and David Alfaro Siqueiros alongside Frida.
Born in 1886 in Mexico, Diego Rivera grew up under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. Unlike Frida, he witnessed the 1910 Revolution, an experience that shaped his involvement in politics and politically charged art, ultimately leading him to the creation of his murals. As a member of the Mexican Communist Party, his artworks are distinguished by their depiction of revolutions, class conflicts, and the indigenous population.
When Frida met Diego, he was already an established artist. Their first encounter was in 1922 when Frida was still a student. Their wedding took place 7 years later, in 1929. At the time, Frida was 22 years old and Diego 43 – him already married thrice and father of three children-. Following their marriage, they relocated to the United States for some of Diego’s most significant commissions. During their time there, Frida experienced the first of many abortions. The theme of motherhood, and its absence, is evident in Kahlo’s artworks such as “Henry Ford Hospital” and “Frida and the Caesarean.”
Upon their return to Mexico, Frida and Diego took up residence in the Casa Azul, where they each had their own studios and living spaces, connected by a bridge. Their relationship endured a divorce and a subsequent remarriage in 1940, which lasted until Frida’s death. After her passing, Rivera donated the Casa Azul to the Mexican people. Several years later, the government converted the residence into a museum, housing the most important works of Kahlo and Rivera, as well as pieces by José María Velasco, Paul Klee, Marcel Duchamp, and Yves Tanguy.
Look at this gallery to see more images of Frida and Diego.
The Diary of Frida Kahlo, which was published in its entirety in 1995 after her death, is a collection of the artist’s private writings. This diary not only allows us to reconstruct her final decade of life between 1944 and 1954 but also helps us understand the complexity of a woman who achieved legendary status as both an artist and a female role model.
The diary is a 170-page collection and features 70 watercolour illustrations and vividly annotated words. It offers a glimpse into a life defined by physical suffering, from the notorious tram accident at 18, to the documented amputation of both feet, descripted and drown in her diary page as “ALAS ROTAS” (broken wings). It also chronicles the intense, and sometimes overwhelming, love for Diego Rivera. It follows the encounters with notable figures such as Tina Modotti, Trotsky, and Breton, as well as the medical professionals who provided her care. Ultimately, her writings convey an enduring sense of creative passion and profound affection for life, despite the challenges she faced.
“Viva la vida!” These are some of the final words recorded before her death in this ‘intimate diary’ – a private memoir not meant for the public but solely written for oneself-. As Sarah Lowe pointed out in a critical essay that accompanies the facsimile edition, this diary is: “an act of transgression, irreparably charged with voyeurism”.
The 1940 exhibition “Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art” was originally meant for a French museum, but was redirected to New York due to the risks associated with shipping valuable artworks by sea during World War II. It was organized through a collaboration between the Museum of Modern Art and the Mexican government and was described as an unparalleled exhibition. “The largest and most complete exhibition of Mexican art ever realized,” the 1940 museum’s press release states.
It showcased around 5,000 examples of Mexican art categorized into four sections: pre-Columbian, colonial, popular, and modern. The exhibition occupied three galleries of the museum and a significant portion of the courtyard, where the MoMA had also arranged a Mexican market. Renowned artist José Clemente Orozco created the fresco “Submarine Bomber and Tank” specifically for the occasion, completing it in ten days in front of the crowd.
Only one work by Frida will be exhibited: “The Two Fridas,”, loaned to the museum by the painter herself. The painting is described as follows: “Provided by the artist. Almost all of Frida Kahlo’s paintings are autobiographical, expressed with a surreal dreamlike language and motivated by the psychological states of the artist’s mind.”
This will be the first of many works by Kahlo on display at the Museum of Modern Art. Three of her works are now on permanent display at MoMA: Fulang-Chang and I, My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree), Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair.
If you want to see vintage photographs of the exhibition ‘Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art’, check this gallery.
Would you like to see more of this amazing artist? We suggest a dedicated search for the movie Frida (2002) and a selection of works of art by Frida Kahlo from the most prestigious international museums and our international partners.
In the cover: detail Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America; Autorretrato en la Frontera entre Mexico y los Estados Unidos. 1932. Private Collection. Christie’s Images, London/Scala, Florence