Frida Kahlo Biography

Frida KahloFrida Kahlo's marriage to Diego Rivera was tumultuous. Her personality was difficult and combative. And her numerous ailments and physical impediments meant that she lived in constant pain. It's easy to paint the Frida Kahlo biography as a tragedy. However, Frida did have a source of joy. Her paintings allowed her to turn her pain and her disappointments into beauty.


Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 in Mexico. Her father was a German photographer, and her mother was a native of Mexico. This dual heritage would figure in later Frida Kahlo paintings, although she would embrace her Mexican heritage with particular verve and would adopt traditional Mexican styles in her clothing and style choices.

At age 6, Kahlo contracted polio and was confined to bed for 9 months. She emerged from the illness with a permanent limp. This would be the start of many illnesses that would plague Kahlo throughout her life, but she attacked the disability with tenacity and spunk, eventually learning to dance, swim and play soccer.

Frida Kahlo attended the National Preparatory School in Mexico, and there spent time watching Diego Rivera paint his mural The Creation in the lecture hall of the school.

It is unknown if the two painters talked or became friends at this time, but the young Frida was quite taken with Rivera, and reportedly told a friend that she thought she would eventually marry and have children with Rivera.


In 1925 while traveling by bus with a friend, the bus Kahlo was on was struck by a streetcar. Kahlo was impaled by a steel bar, and fractured both her spine and her pelvis. As she was recovering, Frida spent many months in the hospital, covered by casts. It was here that Kalho's birth as an artist took place. The first Frida paintings were on her many plaster casts. She also utilized a special easel, which allowed her to paint while she was lying down. While she would, in theory, recover from her accident, the injuries would make it impossible for her to carry a child to term, and the pain from the injuries would remain with her for the rest of her life.


In 1928, Kahlo was reunited with Diego Rivera at a party, and the two were married soon after. Kahlo would accompany Rivera on his many trips to the United States during this period, as he worked on his many mural projects. Frida Kahlo paintings from this period show an artist learning to live inside the shadow of another, more famous, painter. In Frida and Diego Rivera painted in 1930, Diego is shown with his brushes and paint. He looms large in this painting, much larger than Frida, who isn't even given a last name in the painting's title. She is shown here in her traditional Mexican dress, with her long braids and bright clothing. Her feet are so small and inconsequential, she seems to float above the ground.


In 1932, Frida Kahlo artwork began to take on elements of surrealism, showing juxtaposed elements that seemingly do not belong together along with a suspension of rational narrative form. In the Frida Kahlo painting Henry Ford Hospital, the artist is shown curled on a bed with tiny pictures of flowers, snails and babies circling and attached to her. This is just one of many Frida Kahlo portraits the artist would do showing herself in the midst of a medical procedure or painful physical problem. It is likely that Henry Ford Hospital is a depiction of the artist's miscarriage.


While Kahlo would exhibit her work alongside other Surrealist painters, she rejected the term as it applied to her own work. Kahlo would often claim that her illnesses and pain set her apart from other people and forced her to life far within her own head and consciousness, which was the inner life she tried to portray in her paintings.

Frida Kahlo Portraits

As a painter, Frida Kahlo would use herself as her most cherished subject. Of the 143 paintings Frida Kahlo completed in her life, 55 are self-portraits. Frida paintings take a harsh look at Frida the person. Kahlo often accentuated her physical self in an unflattering light, accentuating her facial hair, her grim expression and her curving spine.

Kahlo would execute multiple paintings of herself surrounded by monkeys. In all likelihood this is a direct reference to her well-known virility and sexual appetite. While she was married, Kahlo often had affairs with both men and women. The monkeys are a symbol of lust in Mexican culture. Draping them around herself is a subtle self-imposed rebuke.

In 1939, depressed over Diego Rivera's infidelities, Kalho and Rivera were divorced and Kahlo painted The Two Fridas as she was healing. She is shown twice here, in white on the left and dark colors on the right. Her heart has been removed and implanted in the darker body, as she bleeds on her white dress. Kahlo and Rivera would eventually reunite and continue their marriage, although it would continue to be rocky. In Diego and I from 1949, Frida is in closeup, nearly obscured by her wild hair. Diego is shown in her forehead, in her thoughts, with a third eye of wisdom. Frida's tears tell us how she feels about her marriage at this time.

In 1944, the Frida Kahlo painting The Broken Column depicts surgeries the artist underwent to mend her back. She is encased in a brace, leaving her spine completely exposed. Her skin is pierced with tacks and metal.


The year 1950 would be difficult for Kahlo. Frida developed gangrene in her right foot and spent many months in the hospital undergoing yet more operations. She continued to paint, and Frida Kahlo paintings continued to grow in popularity, but her health continued to decline. She died in 1954, although the cause is unclear. Some claim she died of a blood clot as a result of her multiple surgeries, while others suggest she ended her life with pain medications.