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 Calderon (known throughout her life as Frida Kahlo) was raised in a blue house in a suburb of Mexico City to a Spanish-Indian (Mexican) mother and a Hungarian Jewish father. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution began and its aim was to affect fundamental changes to the dictatorial government of over thirty-years. Frida identified with the revolution as the starting point of her life. Her revolutionary ideologies became a part of her identity. In 1922, Frida became the first of thirty-five girls among 2,000 students to enter 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 as a woman, Kahlo would break taboos of the day and the Mexican muralist movement through her small and medium-sized paintings[2]. 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[3]. Kahlo also went back to her revolutionary roots by joining the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) in 1928.

Kahlo and Rivera went to the States. She suffered multiple miscarriages and grew very depressed. In 1933 went back home to Mexico. Kahlo and Rivera lived in a new house, which was two separate apartments connected by a little bridge in San Angel, a southern suburb in Mexico City. She was back in her surroundings and wanted to be submerged in her art, but health issues faltered her success. Her relationship with Rivera was troubling as well due to Rivera’s repeated affairs with other women since their marriage in 1929. Notably, he was involved with Frida’s little sister Cristina, who modeled for two of Diego's murals. Frida began to have affairs of her own with other men and later in life, women. In 1933, Diego and Frida became a duo once again as they petitioned the Mexican government to grant asylum to Leon Trotsky (who had been expelled from Norway because of the pressure from Russia). And in 1937 was accepted 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 was a woman who took her pain and made it into beautiful art. Kahlo created authentic and provocative new imagery that focused on abstracting the ideals and stereotypes of women. [4] She became independent during a time where men were breadwinners and women stayed at home to care for the children. And, politically she stood up for what defined her and transformed herself into an actual butterfly with wings.[5]

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

[2] Nancy Deffebach, Maria Izquierdo & Frida Kahlo: Challenging Visions in Modern Mexican Art (Austin, T.X.: University of Texas Press, 2015) 1.

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

[4]  Dina Comisarenco Mirkin, “To Paint the Unspeakable: Mexican Female Artist’ Iconography of the 1930s and Early 1940s”, Women’s Art Journal 29 (2008): 22.

[5] Sharyn R. Udall, “Frida Kahlo’s Mexican Body: History, Identity, and Artistic Aspiration”, Women’s Art Journal 24 (2003-2004): 13.


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:




Social Bookmarking

Date Added
June 10, 2014
Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences
Item Type
Jessica Fehrman, “Frida Kahlo,” Women Who Dared, accessed June 27, 2022,