Artists & Movements6 min
10 things to know about Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is undoubtedly the most famous woman artist in the world. The Mexican painter has marked the art history with her stunning self-portraits and non-conformist artworks. Art Shortlist invites you to learn more about Frida Kahlo through 10 key facts.

Art Shortlist
by Art Shortlist - May 24, 2021

1 - She voluntarily changed her birth date

Incredible as it may seem, Frida Kahlo always proclaimed that she was born on July 7, 1910, which was inaccurate because she was actually born on July 6, 1907.

Frida Kahlo taken by Guillermo Kahlo in 1932

Very attached to the Mexican culture and to her homeland, she did not choose this date by chance. Indeed, the year 1910 was marked by the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, a series of revolts and armed conflicts that took place in Mexico between 1910 and 1920.

Also read: 8 things to know about Yayoi Kusama

2 - She was not of Mexican origin

Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City, but she was not of Mexican origin. Her mother, Matilde Calderón y González, came from a Spanish military family and her father, Carl Wilhelm Kahlo Kauffmann, was born in Germany to a father who was a jeweler and goldsmith and a mother from the German bourgeoisie.

Frida Kahlo's parents

At the age of 19, Frida Kahlo's father moved to Mexico to work as a photographer. To facilitate his integration, he changed his name to Guillermo Kahlo.

My Grandparents, My Parents and Me, Frida Kahlo, 1936

In this painting created in 1936 and entitled My Grandparents, My Parents and Me, Frida Kahlo talks about her origins and illustrates her family tree.

3 - She had a tough childhood

Frida Kahlo arrived just after her mother lost a child, which made her mother depressed who even entrusted Frida to a nanny who was in charge of her education. The family atmosphere was heavy and tensions arose between her mother and father. During the Mexican Revolution, the activities of Frida's father were far from flourishing.

Frida Kahlo photographed by her father in 1919

Frida Kahlo was diagnosed with poliomyelitis at the age of 6 and partially lost the use of her right leg.In class, her classmates made fun of her and nicknamed her "Frida la coja" (in English: Frida the lame). Her first years of school were difficult and her father decided to enroll her in a German school, but she was quickly excluded because of her behavior and disobedience.

Afterwards, the little Mexican girl was accepted in a professional school for teachers, an establishment that she left suddenly when her parents discovered with horror that she had been sexually abused by a teacher.

Also read: 8 things to know about Mark Rothko

4 - She wanted to be a doctor

Before becoming a painter, Frida Kahlo had only one idea in mind: to become a doctor. At the age of 16, she was even one of the first 35 girls out of 2000 students to be accepted into the best school in the country: the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. There she showed great aptitude, especially in medicine and natural sciences.

For sale on Art Shortlist: Frida by Lucia Schautz

At the same time, a family engraver friend came regularly to the house to give her drawing and painting lessons. She also helped her father develop and colorize his photographs. Frida was therefore immersed in art, but at first she considered it more of a hobby.

5 - A terrible bus accident made her become an artist

On September 17, 1925, Frida Kahlo's life was turned upside down. She was only 18 years old when the bus in which she was riding violently collided with a tramway; many people were injured, including Frida.

She remained bedridden for many months and underwent no less than 32 surgical operations. She had a vocation to take care of others by healing them and was finally forced to live her life as a patient.

Frida Kahlo painting in her bed

When she was released from the hospital, she had to stay in bed at home because her spine was still very fragile, she said: "I am not dead and I have a reason to live. That reason is painting". The girl draws a line on her medical studies and begins to paint, her parents buy her a suitable easel and a canopy bed with a mirror on the ceiling, art becomes her outlet.

6 - She painted many self-portraits

Of the 143 paintings that Frida Kahlo painted, 55 are self-portraits, this is largely explained because she could only paint this from her bed. These representations that can be described as autobiographical or self-centered allowed her to express her emotions and her suffering.

Photo taken by Tina Modotti in 1939, Frida painting The Two Fridas

Among her most famous self-portraits is The Broken Column (1944), in which we see her body marked by her operations. In My Nurse and I (1937), Frida depicts herself as a baby and in Henry Ford Hospital (1932), she recalls her many miscarriages.

Left: The Broken Column, 1944. Top right: My Nurse and I, 1937. Bottom right: Henry Ford Hospital, 1932.

7 - Involved in politics

In 1928, Frida Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party, she wanted to commit herself to Mexican society. In 1937, she welcomed the Russian communist Leon Trotsky and his wife to Mexico.

Frida Kahlo was an avowed feminist, she advocated the emancipation of women and defended equality between the sexes. Even today, Frida Kahlo is an icon for feminists around the world.

Left: Marxism will restore health to the sick, 1954. Right: Self-portrait with Stalin, 1954.

Two of her paintings reflect her political commitment: Marxism will restore health to the sick (1954) or her Self-Portrait with Stalin (1954) which is one of her last paintings.

"The art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon around a bomb" André Breton.

8 - She had an animated sentimental life

Frida Kahlo's love life was full of ups and downs. The love of her life was the muralist Diego Rivera, a man with whom she married a first time in 1929 and a second time in 1940.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in 1932

Frida and Diego loved each other, but their story was complicated. Diego Rivera had an adventure with Frida Kahlo's sister and Frida had one with the singer and dancer Josephine Baker and with Leon Trotsky.

Frida Kahlo said: "I had two serious accidents in my life. One was because of a bus, the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst". In spite of everything, they formed a mythical couple in the history of art and remained married until the death of Frida Kahlo on July 13, 1954.

9 - The end of her life was an ordeal

She suffered terribly from her injuries throughout her life, her injuries ranged from her back to her feet. From 1950, her health deteriorated significantly.

The Dream (the bed), Frida Kahlo, 1940

In 1954, suffering from pneumonia, she died at the age of 47, she was cremated according to her wishes. She made this choice because she did not want to be buried in a horizontal position as she was bedridden throughout her life.

10 - Her Blue House became the Frida Kahlo Museum

Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Coyoacán

The Casa Azul (in English: Blue House) located in the southern suburb of Mexico City in Coyoacán has become a must-see place for fans of the Mexican artist. Frida Kahlo was born and died in this house with its colorful facade, and her ashes rest in a pre-Columbian urn in her room.