Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera... : Passion, Politics and Painting
Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera...
Passion, Politics and Painting
H.H., April 9, 2012
An extraordinary exhibit focusing on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is headed to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto next Fall season.

Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is set to arrive at the gallery in the fall and will include 75 key works from the renowned 20th century painters. Drawn mostly from the collection of Mexico's Museo Dolores Olmedo, it examines the lives of the artists both together and apart, as well as their politics.

The AGO says the selected paintings also reference the couple's support for the Communist movement and identification with their Mexican roots.

Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting, set to run from Oct. 20 to Jan. 20, 2013, is a collaboration with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Bio_Express

In 1953, when Frida Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico (the only one held in her native country during her lifetime), a local critic wrote: 'It is impossible to separate the life and work of this extraordinary person. Her paintings are her biography.' This observation serves to explain both why her work is so different from that of her contemporaries, the Mexican Muralists, and why she has since become a feminist icon.

Frida Kahlo by Nicolas Muray, 1944_Mexico
Frida Kahlo by Nicolas Muray, 1944_Mexico


Frida Kahlo_Workers Unite
Frida Kahlo_Workers Unite


Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo


Kahlo was born in Mexico City in July 6, 1907, the third daughter of Guillermo and Matilda Kahlo. Her father was a photographer of Hungarian Jewish descent, who had been born in Germany; her mother was Spanish and Native American. Her life was to be a long series of physical traumas, and the first of these came early. At the age of six she was stricken with polio, which left her with a limp. In childhood, she was nevertheless a fearless tomboy, and this made Frida her father's favourite. He had advanced ideas about her education, and in 1922 she entered the Preparatoria (National Preparatory School), the most prestigious educational institution in Mexico, which had only just begun to admit girls. She was one of only thirty-five girls out of two thousand students.

Frida Kahlo_Roots, 1943_Collection of Marilyn O. Lubetkin
Frida Kahlo_Roots, 1943_Collection of Marilyn O. Lubetkin


In 1925, Kahlo suffered the serious accident which was to set the pattern for much of the rest of her life. She was travelling in a bus which collided with a tramcar, and suffered serious injuries to her right leg and pelvis. The accident made it impossible for her to have children, though it was to be many years before she accepted this. It also meant that she faced a life-long battle against pain. In 1926, during her convalescence, she painted her first self-portrait, the beginning of a long series in which she charted the events of her life and her emotional reactions to them.

Frida Kahlo_The Broken Column, 1944_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_The Broken Column, 1944_Mexico


Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait, 1940_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait, 1940_Mexico


A poster child for Freud’s theories, she adored her father and resented her mother. Frida had three sisters, and though her status as daddy’s favorite set her apart from the others. During her recuperation, her father lavished attention on his favorite child, who had once been an energetic tomboy. He helped Frida exercise and, in an attempt to find ways of entertaining her, he gave his daughter some paints. It was during Kahlo's convalescence from the bus accident that she began painting. She began to express her explosive feelings trough painting. Her dramatic work consisted primarily of self-portraits, although she did capture her family and friends on canvas on occasion. At that time, she painted mostly,  animals, fruits from her garden or the local market that could be placed on a table by her bed. Kahlo identified herself with nature by personifying these fruits. The small flagpole that jabs the flesh of the green orange in the foreground recalls the arrows, nails, and thorns that pierce her flesh in various self-portraits. The skull-like coconuts feel her pain and weep as she does.

Frida Kahlo_Fruits of Earth, 1938_Collection Banco Nacional de Mexico
Frida Kahlo_Fruits of Earth, 1938_Collection Banco Nacional de Mexico


Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait with Monkeys, 1938_Albright Knox Art Gallery_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait with Monkeys, 1938_Albright Knox Art Gallery_Mexico


Frida Kahlo as a Tehuana_Diego on my mind, 1943_Gelman Collection_Mexico
Frida Kahlo as a Tehuana_Diego on my mind, 1943_Gelman Collection_Mexico


She met Rivera again in 1928, through her friendship with the photographer and revolutionary Tina Modotti. Rivera's marriage had just disintegrated, and the two found that they had much in common, not least from a political point of view, since both were now communist militants. They married in August 1929. Kahlo was later to say: 'I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down... The other accident is Diego.' It was there that she met her husband-to-be, Diego Rivera, who had recently returned home from France, and who had been commissioned to paint a mural there. Kahlo was attracted to him, and not knowing quite how to deal with the emotions she felt, expressed them by teasing him, playing practical jokes, and by trying to excite the jealousy of the painter's wife, Lupe Marin.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1932
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1932


The political climate in Mexico was deteriorating for those with left-wing sympathies, thanks to the reactionary Calles government, and the mural-painting programme initiated by the great Minister of Education Jose Vasconcelos had ground to a halt. But Rivera's artistic reputation was expanding rapidly in the United States. In 1930, the couple left for San Francisco; then, after a brief return to Mexico, they went to New York in 1931 for the Rivera retrospective organized by the Museum of Modern Art. Kahlo, at this stage, was regarded chiefly as a charming appendage to a famous husband, but the situation was soon to change. In 1932 Rivera was commissioned to paint a major series of murals for the Detroit Museum, and here Kahlo suffered a miscarriage. While recovering, she painted Miscarriage in Detroit, the first of her truly penetrating self-portraits. The style she evolved was entirely unlike that of her husband, being based on Mexican folk art and in particular on the small votive pictures known as retablos, which the pious dedicated in Mexican churches. Rivera's reaction to his wife's work was, however, both perceptive and generous: Frida began work on a series of masterpieces which had no precedent in the history of art - paintings which exalted the feminine quality of truth, reality, cruelty and suffering. Never before had a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas as Frida did at this time in Detroit.


Frida Kahlo_Portrait of Diego Rivera, 1937_Gelmann Collection_New York
Frida Kahlo_Portrait of Diego Rivera, 1937_Gelmann Collection_New York
Diego Rivera + Portrait_Express

Painter, muralist. Born on December 8, 1886, in Guanajuato, Mexico. Now thought to be one of the leading artists of the twentieth century, Rivera began drawing as a child. He studied art at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts while in his teens and then traveled to Europe to live and work on his art. He had some success as a Cubist painter, but the course of world events would strongly change the style and subject of his work. Inspired by the political ideals of the Mexican Revolution (1914-15) and the Russian Revolution (1917), Rivera wanted to make art that reflected the lives of the working class and native peoples of Mexico.


In 1921, through a government program, Rivera began to express his artistic ideas about Mexico, its people and its history by starting a series of murals in public buildings. In the 1930s and 1940s, Rivera painted several murals in the United States. Some of his works created controversy, especially the one he did for the Rockefeller family in the RCA building in New York City. The mural, known as Man at the Crossroads, featured a portrait of Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin. The Rockefellers protested, but Rivera refused to remove the portrait. The Rockefellers had Rivera stop work on the mural and had it destroyed.

His personal life was as dramatic as his artwork. In 1929, he married artist Frida Kahlo, who was roughly 20 years his junior. The two had a passionate, but stormy relationship, divorcing once in 1939 only to remarry later. She died in 1954. He then married Emma Hurtado, his art dealer. Rivera died of heart failure on November 24, 1957, in Mexico City, Mexico.

Frida Kahlo_Loose Hair, 1947_Private Collection
Frida Kahlo_Loose Hair, 1947_Private Collection


Frida...

Partly through his initiative, she was offered a show (1937) at the fashionable Julian Levy Gallery in New York later in 1938, and Breton himself wrote a rhetorical catalogue preface. The show was a triumph, and about half the paintings were sold. In 1939, Breton suggested a show in Paris, and offered to arrange it. Kahlo, who spoke no French, arrived in France to find that Breton had not even bothered to get her work out of customs.

Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait (dedicated to Leon Trotsky), 1937_NMWA
Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait (dedicated to Leon Trotsky), 1937_NMWA


Kahlo, however, pretended not to consider her work important. As her biographer Hayden Herrera notes, 'she preferred to be seen as a beguiling personality rather than as a painter.' From Detroit they went once again to New York, where Rivera had been commissioned to paint a mural in the Rockefeller Center. The commission erupted into an enormous scandal, when the patron ordered the half-completed work destroyed because of the political imagery Rivera insisted on including. But Rivera lingered in the United States, which he loved and Kahlo now loathed. When they finally returned to Mexico in 1935, Rivera embarked on an affair with Kahlo's younger sister Cristina.

Frida Kahlo_Tree of Hope, 1946_Isadore Ducasse Fine Arts_New York
Frida Kahlo_Tree of Hope, 1946_Isadore Ducasse Fine Arts_New York


Frida Kahlo_The Two Fridas, 1939_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_The Two Fridas, 1939_Mexico


Though they finally made up their quarrel, this incident marked a turning point in their relationship. Rivera had never been faithful to any woman; Kahlo now embarked on a series of affairs with both men and women which were to continue for the rest of her life. Rivera tolerated her lesbian relationships better than he did the heterosexual ones, which made him violently jealous.

Frida Kahlo_Me, My Perrots, 1941 by Dr. Nicolas Muray_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_Me, My Perrots, 1941 by Dr. Nicolas Muray_Mexico


One of Kahlo's more serious early love affairs was with the Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky, now being hounded by his triumphant rival Stalin, and who had been offered refuge in Mexico in 1937 on Rivera's initiative. Another visitor to Mexico at this time, one who would gladly have had a love affair with Kahlo but for the fact that she was not attracted to him, was the leading figure of the Surrealist Group, André Breton. Breton arrived in 1938 and was enchanted with Mexico, which he found to be a 'naturally surrealist' country, and with Kahlo's painting.

Frida Kahlo_What the Water Gave Me, 1938_Isadore Ducasse Fine Arts_New York
Frida Kahlo_What the Water Gave Me, 1938_Isadore Ducasse Fine Arts_New York


Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait with the Portrait of the Doctor Farill, 1951_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait with the Portrait of the Doctor Farill, 1951_Mexico


The enterprise was finally rescued by Marcel Duchamp, and the show opened about six weeks late. It was not a financial success, but the reviews were good, and the Louvre bought a picture for the Jeu de Paume. Kahlo also won praise from Kandinsky and Picasso. She had, however, conceived a violent dislike for what she called 'this bunch of coocoo lunatic sons of bitches of surrealists.' She did not renounce Surrealism immediately. in January 1940, for example, she was a participant (with Rivera) in the International Exhibition of Surrealism held in Mexico City. Later, she was to be vehement in her denials that she had ever been a true Surrealist. 'They thought I was a Surrealist,' she said, 'but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.'

Frida Kahlo_Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
Frida Kahlo_Henry Ford Hospital, 1932


Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait, 1926_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait, 1926_Mexico


Frida Kahlo_The Love Embrase of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Me and Senor Xolotl, 1949_Collection of Jorge Contreras Chacel_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_The Love Embrase of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Me and Senor Xolotl, 1949_Collection of Jorge Contreras Chacel_Mexico


Early in 1940, for motives which are still somewhat mysterious, Kahlo and Rivera divorced, though they continued to make public appearances together. In May, after the first attempt on Trotsky's life, led by the painter Siqueiros, Rivera thought it prudent to leave for San Francisco. After the second, and successful attempt, Kahlo, who had been a friend of Trotsky's assassin, was questioned by the police. She decided to leave Mexico for a while, and in September she joined her ex-husband. Less than two months later, while they were still in the United States, they remarried. One reason seems to have been Rivera's recognition that Kahlo's health would inexorably deteriorate, and that she needed someone to look after her.


Frida Kahlo_Paintings Two Fridas, 1939_Mexico
Frida Kahlo_Paintings Two Fridas, 1939_Mexico


Her health, never at any time robust, grew visibly worse from about 1944 onwards, and Kahlo underwent the first many operations on her spine and her crippled foot. Authorities on her life and work have questioned whether all these operations were really necessary, or whether they were in fact a way of holding Rivera's attention in the face of his numerous affairs with other women. In Kahlo's case, her physical and psychological sufferings were always linked. in early 1950, her physical state reached a crisis, and she had to go into hospital in Mexico City, where she remained for a year.

Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait II, 1940_Private Collection
Frida Kahlo_Self Portrait II, 1940_Private Collection


Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1940
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1940


While the 1940s had seen her produce some of her finest work, her paintings now became more clumsy and chaotic, thanks to the joint effects of pain, drugs and drink. Despite this, in 1954 she was offered her first solo show in Mexico itself - which was to be the only such show held in her own lifetime. It took place at the fashionable Galeria de Arte Contemporaneo in the Zona Rosa of Mexico City. At first it seemed that Kahlo would be too ill to attend, but she sent her richly decorated fourposter bed ahead of her, arrived by ambulance, and was carried into the gallery on a stretcher. The private view was a triumphal occasion.  In the same year, Kahlo, threatened by gangrene, had her right leg amputated below the knee. It was a tremendous blow to someone who had invested so much in the elaboration of her own self image. She learned to walk again with an artificial limb, and even (briefly and with the help of pain-killing drugs) danced at celebrations with friends. But the end was close. In July 1954, she made her last public appearance, when she participated in a Communist demonstration against the overthrow of the left-wing Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz. Soon afterwards, she died in her sleep, apparently as the result of an embolism, though there was a suspicion among those close to her that she had found a way to commit suicide. Her last diary entry read: 'I hope the end is joyful - and I hope never to come back - Frida.'"

For more, read Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera

Frida Kahlo by Nicolas Muray, 1944_Mexico
Frida Kahlo by Nicolas Muray, 1944_Mexico


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