Frida Kahlo: How the Iconic Mexican Artist Made History

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As one of Mexico’s greatest artists, Frida Kahlo initially dreamed of attending medical school until a traffic accident changed her life. After she survived the collision, she turned to a career in art. Now, the iconic painter is famous for her courageous and remarkable masterpieces that are featured in major institutions around the world. She also became an important figure for the feminist movement and the LGBTQ+ movement. Read on to learn how the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo made history.

The Queen of Self-Portraits

Of Frida Kahlo’s 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits, so it’s clear why she’s known as a master in her work. The artist’s personal experiences — including her marriage, miscarriages and poor physical health — inspired many of her paintings. In fact, she began painting after she was severely injured in a bus crash. Her injuries caused a lifetime of pain and medical issues.

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As a growing artist, Kahlo produced mesmerizing and unique creations. Kahlo declared, “I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best.” Her most famous self-portraits are “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” and “The Two Fridas.”

She Had Fierce Pride in Her Mexican Culture

Kahlo lived all around the world, from New York and San Francisco to Detroit and Paris. However, she frequently returned to her hometown, Mexico City. Her deep love for her Mexican culture influenced her art and fashion.

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In fact, Kahlo was born in 1907, but she told people she was born in 1910, the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Bright colors and powerful symbolism of indigenous Mexican culture often appeared in her paintings. Her Mexican heritage also influenced Kahlo’s favorite attire. She wore colorful huipil blouses, rebozos, long skirts and dresses similar to those of the matriarchal Tehuantepec society.

She’s More Famous Than Her Husband (Now)

During Kahlo’s career, she was quite unknown as an artist and was overshadowed by her husband, the painter Diego Rivera. Rivera was a respected artist while Kahlo was called “Wife of the Master Mural Painter.” Their controversial marriage fascinated the world due to their appearances, age difference and infidelities.

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Kahlo dedicated many of her dramatic works to her marriage, including “Frida and Diego Rivera,” “A Few Small Nips” and “Diego and I.” After her death, she skyrocketed to worldwide fame thanks to art historians and political activists. Now, her reputation eclipses Rivera’s.

Kahlo Rose as a Feminist and an LGBTQ+ Icon After Death

Kahlo passed away in 1954, but her legacy continued far into the future. The feminist movement in the 1970s reignited interest in her work. Feminists found her personal art inspirational because she showed self-love, persisted through her struggles and wasn’t afraid to be different.

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It’s easy to see how proud Kahlo was of her masculine traits. She resisted gender stereotypes, featuring her natural unibrow and faint mustache in her paintings. Kahlo was also openly bisexual, having affairs with notable figures such as entertainer Josephine Baker and Soviet politician Leon Trotsky.

Her Work Broke Records Multiple Times

In 1939, Kahlo hosted an exhibition in Paris. By the end of the event, the Louvre purchased her painting, “The Frame.” Kahlo became the first Mexican artist featured in a major international collection.

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In 1990, her work “Diego and I” sold for $1.4 million — the highest price for any Latin American piece at an auction then. “Roots” sold for $5.6 million in 2006. Kahlo made history again in 2016, when her painting “Two Nudes in the Forest (The Earth Itself)” sold for more than $8 million.

Kahlo Influenced the Fashion World

Kahlo impacted more than just the art world. She also became an influence in the fashion industry. Her unique style of colorful outfits inspired many designers, such as Raffaella Curiel, Maya Hansen, Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana.

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Her influence is unmistakable in jewelry, runway collections and shoes. In fact, Vans released a collection honoring Kahlo and her famous artwork in 2019. Kahlo can also be spotted on T-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs, postcards, Barbie dolls and even Snapchat filters.

The co-curator of a Frida Kahlo exhibit in London, Circe Henestrosa, explains, “[Frida Kahlo] created her distinctive style as a blend of traditional Mexican and European fashion, combined with the fundamental effects of her disabilities and her political beliefs: Kahlo as a bohemian artist, a Tehuana, a hybrid persona.”