Frida Kahlo, a suffering artist

Who was Frida Kahlo? It is not possible to find an exact answer. So contradictory and multiple was the personality of this woman that it may be said that many Frida existed. Perhaps none of them was the one she wanted to be. (Alejandro Gómez Arias)

Frida Kahlo Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest

From July to November, the Hungarian public had the opportunity to admire the masterpieces of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo brought from the Dolores Olmedo Museum of Mexico City. Well known at international level because of her touching works and of the American movie Frida (2002, with Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina), the Mexican artist is an outstanding representative of fine arts through a sensibility born from a deep suffering. Her painting is denoting authenticity, and the artist is defined as a feminine character, an icon of the fine arts of the 20th century.

In the exhibition which took place at the Museum of Fine Arts – National Hungarian Gallery in Budapest, has been presented a selection of thirty artworks of Frida Kahlo, offering the viewer an intimate look into her inner universe, a mythic reality born from a tormented psychic: her first painting from 1927, evocative and distinctive self-portraits, and other paintings revealing events from her life.

Are Frida Kahlo’s ancestors from Arad?

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) has inherited the enthusiasm and love for art and literature from her father, Guillermo Kahlo, who has come to Mexico at the age of 19 and worked as a photographer, being from the first ones who documented the monuments of Mexico, at the beginning of 20th century. Extremely interested of her family’s origin, almost at the end of her life Frida has insisted on the idea that her grandparents were from Arad: My paternal grandparents, who were Hungarians, were born in Arad, Hungary, and moved to Germany when they were already married. It was here, in Baden-Baden, that their children, including my father Guillermo Kahlo, were born. Doesn’t matter that Frida „dogged” intensely to obtain this information going public in the ’50, her biographers, Gaby Franger și Rainer Huhle, are supporting the idea that Frida’s family was attested in the German provinces from the middle of 18th century.

Initial, Frida has wanted to be a doctor, probably because of poliomyelitis she was suffering of from 6 years old and it caused a malformation on her right leg. As a teenager Frida was implicated into a terrible bus accident: her spinal cord was broken, one shoulder was dislocated, her right leg was fractured in multiple places and her foot’s paw was crushed.

For sure, at that time, Frida’s ”reconstruction” has meant a ”revolution” for medicine, and her survival was based on her amazing will to stay alive. The multiple fractures of her spine and pelvis have bounded her to bed for a few months, and she was enduring unbearable pain. Only in art, she has found the way to forget about her suffering, and the spring of her art was inside her: I am not sick. I’m broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint, Frida used to say. This thing can be seen in her rigid and hieratic self-portraits, where the artist had represented herself frontal or half-section as in her work the Broken column in 1944.

The Broken Column

The pain and suffering are constant subjects in Frida’s works explained in a simple and terrifying way: in the work the Broken column, her body is sectioned, like the Earth after an earthquake, her spinal cord was replaced, from her hips to her chin, by a broken column, ready to collapse, and her body is sustained only by a corset and screws which are ripping through her flesh

suggesting the terrible pain she is in. If in the first self-portraits she has represented herself nude, in her artistic maturity period artworks she has covered her body with a sheet, often with blood stains on it. However, instead of an image of a shattered human being, we have in front of our eyes a beautiful woman, powerful and energetic, with a striking and decent attitude, ready to challenge the world. With the tears flowing on her cheeks, fixing with her eyes the viewer, she is instigating him to be a part of her suffering. The whole work is showing a unique simplicity and sincerity.

The Broken Column, 1944, courtesy of

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Frida’s passion for painting has brought her on the path of Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the famous Mexican painter, whom she married at 22, twenty years her senior. Their relationship was a stormy one, with ups and downs like a rollercoaster. Volcanic natures, they did ”small” infidelities to each other: Diego went back to his ex-wifes or lovers, also he had a relationship with Cristina, Frida’s younger sister, and Frida had relationships with women (Josephine Baker) or other men (the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, the communist Leon Trotsky or with the Hungarian photographer Nickolas Muray).

So, Frida and Diego got divorced in 1939 and remarried in 1940, staying together until Frida’s death. About her relationship with Diego, Frida said: There were two great accidents in my life… Diego was by far the worst. In the same time, Diego saw her …acid and tender, hard as steel and delicate and fine as a butterfly’s wing, lovable as a beautiful smile, and as profound and cruel as the bitterness of life.

Frida and Diego 

Museum Dolores Olmedo and Frida’s Legacy

In her artwork, Frida Kahlo has a classical approach (with elements inspired from Botticelli, Bronzino, Leonardo da Vinci, Lucas Cranach and Pieter Bruegel the Elder), and one can find elements from the Mexican popular culture with ethnographic symbols of Mexico before the Spanish conquest. Because of this, the curators of the exhibit showed historical, archaeological and ethnographical objects from the Dolores Olmedo Museum’s collection. This museum was established  by the philanthropist and businesswoman Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City, and has an impressive collection of Mexican art from pre – Hispanic, colonial, modern and contemporary (donated by the collector) and also the highest collection of works done by Frida Kahlo (25 paintings), Diego Rivera (145 paintings) and Angelina Beloff (1879-1969).

The paintings exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts – National Hungarian Gallery in Budapest, outline the intrinsic and organic union between the life and art of Frida Kahlo. A tormented artwork and destiny, a life lived at maximum intensity. I hope the leaving is joyful – and I hope never to return, declared Frida toward the end of her life.

Silvia Suciu







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