In 1939 Mexican Surrealist Frida Kahlo embarked upon a trip to France at the behest of André Breton, exhibiting her work in Paris where the 1938 oil painting The Frame became the first work by a 20th Century Mexican artist to be purchased by the Louvre. The exhibition and the purchase of her work by such an esteemed artistic institution helped to cement Frida’s position as a credible artist, independent of Diego Rivera’s fame, and helped to establish her status within the art world.

Kahlo’s association with Breton began in 1938 when he accepted a cultural commission from the French government to travel to Mexico. French writer and poet Breton had established the Surrealist movement in Paris in the early 1920s. After years of writing and collaborating with other artists, developing and evolving the ideas of the post First World War Dadaist movement, Breton published the Surrealist Manifesto in which he defined Surrealism as, “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”

In Mexico City he met Leon Trotsky and during a trip to the hidden artistic community of Erongarícuaro, he met Rivera and Kahlo. Breton became obsessed with Kahlo’s artwork, and although she didn’t adhere to any particular artistic style or movement, with Rivera arguably the greatest influence on her work, Breton labelled her a Surrealist because she utilised stylistic elements that linked her work to that of the European Surrealists. Breton described her paintings as being like, “a ribbon around a bomb”, and suggested that she travel to France to exhibit her work there. In November of 1938 Kahlo staged a highly acclaimed exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York and off the back of this success, in March of 1939, she accepted Breton’s invitation and travelled to Paris to participate on the Mexique exhibition. Mexique featured examples of Mexican painting, photography, sculpture and modern contemporary art, allowing Kahlo to gain exposure in front of a European audience.

Her work was admired by the likes of Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. Indeed, Picasso had mentioned to Rivera the previous year that, “Neither (André) Derain, nor myself, nor you, are capable of painting a head like those of Frida Kahlo”. High praise indeed. To top off a successful trip her mixed medium work The Frame was bought by the Louvre, making her the first 20th Century Mexican artist to have work purchased by the museum. The Frame is comprised of a self-portrait of Kahlo with a blue background painted with oil on aluminium, and surrounded by a border of birds and flowers that are painted on a sheet of glass that sits on top of the portrait.

However, despite the warm reception she received, and the achievement of having the Louvre buy one of her works, Kahlo was less than impressed with what she perceived to be the unbearably intellectual art scene in Paris. As she said in her own, eloquent manner, “They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore … I (would) rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.”