When we consider the key figures in the life, and more importantly for the purposes of this post, the artistic career of Mexican Surrealist Frida Kahlo, the answers may seem obvious to some. Diego Rivera may be one of the first names that comes to mind along with French Surrealist André Breton and Kahlo’s Mexican contemporaries like Abraham Ángel and Ángel Zárraga. Perhaps the influence of her father Guillermo Kahlo, her native Amerindian heritage or the socio-political impact of Leon Trotsky may appear high on some people list of influences? However a figure that many people may not be too familiar with, but who was arguably as important in the collection (and eventual promotion) of Kahlo’s oil paintings as any other figure in her life, was Dolores Olmedo.

Olmedo was born María De Los Dolores Olmedo y Patiño Suarez in December of 1908, a year after Kahlo had entered the world. She became an esteemed and socially prominent Mexican businesswoman, philanthropist and musician, but she is best remembered in the art world for her patronage of the work Diego Rivera, and in turn Frida Kahlo. Olmedo, known as Doña Lola to her family and friends, was actually acquainted with Kahlo prior to knowing Rivera since both of them had dated the same man. Doña Lola became very close friends with Rivera due to her involvement in the Mexican art scene, and when Kahlo entered the picture as Rivera’s lover, relations between the two women were less than cordial.

Some have speculated that Doña Lola, shown above posing for Rivera, eventually became his lover (or at least one of the many) and throughout his career she was not only a big supporter of his work, but a big collector of it too. By the time of her death in 2002 she had amassed a whopping 145 Rivera oil paintings – by far and away the largest collection of Rivera artwork in the world – appearing as a subject in many of his works. Nevertheless, due to the strength of Rivera’s feelings for Kahlo, he implored Donna Lola to collect her work too, and following Kahlo’s death in 1954 Doña Lola purchased 27 of her oil paintings from the estate of another Mexican collector.

It’s important to remember that Kahlo’s stature was nowhere close to that of Rivera at the time, and also that the woman who now owned the largest collection of her works also despised her due to her relationship with Rivera. As a result, Doña Lola stored the 27 Kahlo oil paintings in a closet for several years, either unable to display them or simply unwilling to. However a few months prior to Rivera’s death in 1957, he set up a trust bequeathing his possessions to the people of Mexico and instructed Doña Lola to donate the Kahlo oil paintings that she owned to the museums that he planned to create.

She clearly took his request to heart and by 1962 she had purchased a large property at La Noria, Xochimilco in the south of Mexico City, which was eventually developed into the Museo Dolores Olmedo that opened its doors in 1994. Along with the 145 Rivera oil paintings and numerous pieces of pre-Hispanic and colonial artwork, the five building complex has the 27 Kahlo canvases on permanent display, making it the largest collection of her work in the world. Doña Lola’s son Carlos is now the director of the Museo Dolores Olmedo as well as the Museo Frida Kahlo (La Casa Azul) and the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli. Although she may have viewed her as rival in life, it is thanks to Doña Lola that so many of Kahlo’s most celebrated works are still available to the public for viewing.