Oaxaca mural

Oaxaca mural

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Frida Kahlo and the "Blue House"

(image taken from the web)

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist and the wife of the mural painter Diego Rivera.  During her life she was overshadowed by her famous husband, but posthumously she is just as celebrated as Diego, and is an icon of feminism. 
Frida lived a life that would make any soap opera pale in comparison.  She was born in 1907, the daughter of a German father and a Mexican mother. She was able to overcome a childhood case of polio.  However, in 1925, when she was only eighteen, she was riding a Mexico City bus that collided with a trolley car.  She suffered extensive injuries, and, as a consequence, for the rest of her life she had health problems and endured physical pain.  While she was bedridden after the accident she took up painting to pass the time.  Diego Rivera, whom she had met previously, told her that she had talent and encouraged her to continue her artistic pursuits.
In 1929 Diego and Frida married.  Their marriage was tempestuous.  In 1939 they divorced, but they remarried the following year.  They both had frequent extramarital affairs.  It was Diego's affair with Frida's sister that led to their divorce.  Frida's affairs with both men and women included a brief relationship with the exiled Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.
Frida painted around 140 paintings.  Many of them are self portraits that often depict her physical and psychological suffering.  During her lifetime she had two gallery exhibitions of her artwork... one in New York City and another in Paris.  Her work was well received (the Louvre bought one of her paintings), but, in the Mexican art world dominated by men, she remained a minor figure.  She was better known as the wife of Diego Rivera.  It was decades after her death that interest in Frida as an artist exploded.  In 2006, one of her paintings sold for 5.6 million dollars at auction... a record for a piece of Latin American art.  Today she is just as famous as her husband... and judging from the number of tourist items for sale that are emblazoned with her image, I would dare say that she is perhaps more famous.
In 1954 at the age of 47, Frida tragically died.
"La Casa Azul" (The Blue House) was the Kahlo family home where Frida was born and died.  Much of her married life with Diego was also spent here.  Today it is one of the most visited museums in Mexico City.  It is located in Coyoacán, a neighborhood on the south side of the city.
"Frida and Diego lived in this house. 1929-1954"

This sign incorrectly implies that they spent their entire married life in the Blue House.
Diego also owned a house (with a separate apartment for Frida) in the nearby neighborhood of San Angel.
Today it is also a museum.

I visited "La Casa Azul" in 2011.  I was lucky and did not have to wait to enter.  On subsequent visits to Coyoacán I have seen long lines of visitors on the street waiting for admission.
Tourists who are expecting to see a large collection of Frida's paintings may be disappointed.  There are several rooms that display a few minor works of hers, some personal mementos and some artwork by Rivera and other Mexican painters. Most of the museum shows the home as it was at the time of Frida's death.
    The lovely garden contains many pieces from their collection of Pre-Hispanic sculpture.

Frida preferred a traditional Mexican kitchen to one filled with modern appliances.

The dining room

Frida's studio

Two years before her death, Frida's lower right leg had to be amputated due to gangrene.  She used this wheelchair when painting.
Frida's bed where she died in 1954.

Her cremated ashes are in the Pre-Hispanic urn on the dressing table.

Her death certificate lists the cause of death as a pulmonary embolism.  In her last years she was using morphine heavily to deal with the pain.  Some believe that she died of an accidental or intentional morphine overdose.  Since no autopsy was performed, we will never know for sure.

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