Heard of The Two Fridas? That would be counted probably as one of the most notable works of the great Mexican Painter, Frida Kahlo. Born on July 6, 1907, this splendid painter is known for painting extensive self-portraits, symbolic subject matter, and colorful canvases.
Greatly inspired by “whatever passes through the head without any consideration”, her paintings were deeply emotional and personal. Her paintings were based on her real-life events and her heart would bleed onto the canvas, painting the turmoil of emotions swirling within her.
Given the intimate and emblematic nature of her pieces, their messages and motifs may seem too obscure to interpret. However, once one started to discover the message behind them, the poignancy of the paintings would begin to materialize.
Her paintings depict conflicts and dilemmas and explore various themes in her oeuvre, varying from her interest in her ancestry and heritage to her struggles with childishness and femininity.
Her most profound paintings uncover the two major incidents in her life: her traumatic divorce from fellow artist Diego Rivera, and a nearly fatal accident when she was a teenager. Without understanding her struggles, it would truly be difficult to decipher the meaning and significance behind Kahlo’s paintings.
Some of the notable works by Frida Kahlo include the following:
The Two Fridas
Las dos Fridas or The Two Fridas is one of the notable paintings by Frida Kahlo made in 1939 which was made in response to Kahlo’s disturbing divorce from her co-artist husband, Diego Rivera. This oil-on-canvas masterpiece explores her dual identity and emotional struggles.
On the left, she depicts herself and a broken-hearted woman clad in a traditionally European gown. On the right, her heart is whole, and is wearing a modern Mexican dress- a style she adapted while married to Rivera. It represents her conflicting Mexican and European heritage and reflects her sense of displacement and her pain.
In the painting, the two Fridas share a bench as they hold hands. They are, however, at a more emotional level; from their hearts sprout a single vein that branches out and wraps around their arms. On the left, Frida cuts the vein, causing it to bleed. While on the right, the vein leads to a tiny portrait of Rivers, clutched by Frida and nearly invisible to an unobservant eye. This uniquely represents her inner identity struggles as she dealt with the divorce. Kahlo insists that such iconography was rooted in real-life and, therefore, is a direct reflection of her true persona.
Read the analysis of the painting “The Two Fridas”
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
Amongst the many self-portraits Kahlo painted of herself, even today “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” remains her most widely-recognized self-portrait due to the moving context in which it was created and the symbolic nature of its imagery.
This painting was completed in 1940, a year after her tumultuous divorce from the Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. It is widely believed that the painting is a reflection of her emotional state following the couple’s split.
In this painting, Kahlo is positioned in front of the foliage and between a strolling panther and a monkey. It is often believed that she and Rivers had kept many monkeys as pets, which led many to speculate that they had served as surrogates for the children the couple was tragically unable to conceive.
Around her neck, she wore a thorn necklace and adorned it with a seamlessly lifeless hummingbird while she sat calmly with a stoic face. This calm approach to pain is typical of Khalo, who even though devastated over her divorce, poignantly stated that:
The Broken Column
“La columna rota” or “The Broken Column” is a painting that highlights one of the two most tragic accidents in her life. In 1925, the 18-year-old was involved in a streetcar accident which left her with lifelong injuries. The accident left her with a broken spinal column, along with many major injuries. The original piece is now housed at the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico.
The painting depicts Kahlo after the spinal surgery. Naked except for the hospital sheet and a metal and plaster corset, her body is pierced with nails. It was possibly a Christian iconography of Christ on the cross. Visible in the cracks that bisect her body is a crumbling ionic column, which has replaced her spine and depicts her broken body. In the background, a barren landscape is similarly drawn, and a stormy sky looms overhead.
Unlike her many self-portraits which would include parrots, dogs, monkeys, and other people, in this painting Kahlo is alone. Her solitary presence on such a broad landscape is symbolic of both her isolation and the external forces that have impacted her life drastically. It is a powerful representation of her physical and emotional anguish, and her determination to endure and find strength amid pain.
Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair
Kahlo was determined to reinvent herself following her divorce. In an act of defying her husband, she painted Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair in 1940. She is seen to be seated on a bright yellow chair with scissors in her hand and locks of hair surrounding her.
The artist is shown with a short haircut and clad in a man’s suit. Above her floats a pertinent lyric of a Mexican folk song. Translated in English, it means: “Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don’t love you anymore.”
Kahlo’s androgynous approach to her appearance is a far cry from her long hair, flowing dresses, and feminine jewelry exhibited in most of her paintings. Even this painting depicts her isolation, the pain, and the strength that accompanies her.
My Grandparents, My Parents, and I ( Family Tree)
“My Grandparents, My Parents, and I” is one of the two family paintings painted by her with oil and tempera on zinc, documenting her family lineage. It depicts her cross-heritage values with her Mexican and German parents.
The family tree painting is drawn with her Mexican mother and Mexican maternal grandparents on the left, and her German father and the German grandparents on her right. It includes her depiction as a young naked child, standing at the center, holding the ribbon that ties all of these figures together.
These were one of the most famous words said by Frida Kahlo in her explanation of her self-portraits. Her artworks were a direct representation of the two major accidents in her life- the streetcar incident and her husband.
Despite all odds, Kahlo emerged as an icon for both female society and the LGBTQ+ community, which was not recognized a century ago. Kahlo was a gem for artists all over the world for her crude artwork, depicting her raw emotions on the canvases, without fear of being judged for her Polio-infected right leg or her broken spine, she was a hero and an inspiration to those who came across such beauty.