Frida Kahlo


Frida Kahlo




Important artist of the mid-20th century


Jessica Fehrman


Image: Guillermo Kahlo through Wiki Commons

Birth Date

July 6, 1907


Mexico City, Mexico

Death Date

July 12, 1954


Female Mexican artist that challenged modern Mexican art

Biographical Text

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon (known throughout her life as Frida Kahlo) was raised in a suburb of Mexico City to a mestiza mother and a German father. In 1922, Frida entered the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National Preparatory School) in Mexico City; the school served as a preparatory college for university and rated as the best educational institute in Mexico. While there Kahlo encountered a group called the “Cachuchas” (named after the peaked caps the members wore as a badge). In the group, they studied and supported the socialist-nationalist ideas of the Minister of Public Education, Jose Vasconcelos. On September 17, 1925, Kahlo’s life was altered--while on her way home from school she was involved in a bus accident when the vehicle collided with a tram. The accident killed several people and left Kahlo severely injured. A metal handrail had impaled her pelvis. It was unknown if Frida would live, doctors confined her to bed for four months. She persevered and a year later doctors discovered several displaced vertebrae, leading to Kahlo wearing a plaster corset for nine months and multiple surgeries throughout her life. While immobile in bed, Kahlo poured her emotions and boredom into art, which would be her rise toward fame and rebirth.[1]

Living in a patriarchal society, Kahlo broke social norms and the popular Mexican muralist muralists movement with her small and medium-sized paintings. She often drew herself because she was the subject she knew best. In her portraits, Kahlo would cast herself against reflections that represented not only her loneliness but also the female body and female sexuality. In the 1950s, Diego Rivera (a famous Mexican muralist and husband of Kahlo) acknowledged her as “the first woman in the history of art to treat, with absolute and uncompromising honest…impassive cruelty, those general and specific themes which exclusively affected women”. Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits helped her to shape the idea of her own person and discovery of her own identity through her art[2]. Kahlo also went back to her revolutionary roots by joining the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) in 1927.

Through the Communist Party she met Diego Rivera—a celebrated Mexican artist. They married in 1929. They spent the 30s traveling the States and Mexico. Kahlo suffered multiple miscarriages and grew very depressed. In 1933, she went back home to Mexico. She wanted to be submerged in her art, but health issues faltered her success. Her relationship with Rivera was troubled as well due to Rivera’s repeated affairs with other women. Rivera and Kahlo went through periods of separation but joined together to petition the Mexican government to grant asylum to Leon Trotsky (who had been expelled from Norway because of the pressure from Russia). In 1937, Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, received asylum and stayed at Kahlo’s Casa de Azul. Frida’s artistic ability soon rocked to stardom as she traveled to New York and Paris for her own art exhibits in 1938-1939. During that period she divorced Rivera. In 1940, Rivera and Kahlo remarried though in Mexico.

Frida Kahlo harnessed her pain—both emotional and physical—to make provocative art that recast stereotypes of women. She was a financially and emotionally independent woman at time where marriage and male headship were prized. She owned her political spirit when women were told to be apolitical beings.  

[1] Andrea Kettenmann, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): Pain and Passion (Los Angeles, C.A.: Taschen,1992),7-20.

[2] Elizabeth Garber,” Art Critics on Frida Kahlo: A Comparison of Feminist and Non-Feminist Voices”, Art Education 45 (1992): 42.


Deffebach, Nancy. Maria Izquierdo & Frida Kahlo: Challenging Visions in Modern Mexican Art. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2015.

Garber, Elizabeth. “Art Critics on Frida Kahlo: A comparison of Feminist and Non-Feminist Voices.” Art Education 45, no. 2 (1992): 42-49. 

Grimberg, Salomon. Frida Kahlo: The Still Lifes. New York, NY: Merrell Publishers Limited, 2008.

Kettenmann, Andrea. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): Pain and Passion. Los Angeles, CA: Taschen, 1992.

Mirkin, Dina Comisarenco. “To Paint the Unspeakable: Mexican Female Artist’ Iconography of the 1930s and Early 1940s.” Woman’s Art Journal 29, no. 1 (2008): 21-32.            

Prignitz-Poda, Helga. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection & 20th Century Mexican Art from the Stanley and Pearl Goodman Collection. New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli Publications Inc, 2015.

Rosenthal, Mark. Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo in Detroit. Detroit, MI: Detroit Institute of Art, 2015.

Udall, Sharyn R. “Frida Kahlo’s Mexican Body: History, Identity, and Artistic Aspiration.”    Woman’s Art Journal 24, no. 2 (2003-2004): 10-18.

Primary Sources

Complete Works of Frida Kahlo:

Frida Kahlo and Contemporary Thoughts:



Date Added
June 10, 2014
Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences
Item Type
Jessica Fehrman, “Frida Kahlo,” Women Who Dared, accessed June 22, 2024,