Freda Kahlo is probably Latin America’s most celebrated woman artist. Born in 1907, she became disabled as a result of childhood polio and again following a tram accident as a teenager. Bedridden for months following the accident she took up painting.
Despite her physical sufferings and numerous operations, Frida went on to have an extremely successful life both artistically and socially.
She married Diego Rivera, the foremost Mexican muralist of of the early twentieth century. Together they met and entertained many outstanding cultural figures and artists from all over the world.
They made their home at Casa Azul (blue house), Frida’s childhood home. The house was transformed to reflect their shared passion for all things Mexican including traditional folk art and Diego’s growing collection of pre-Hispanic antiquities.
The house was modified further in 1937 when the Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his wife, came to stay as exiles from Stalin’s Russia. Land was purchased to enable a wall to be built to shelter them from Stalin’s spies.
In due course Frida and Leon embarked on an affair which made shared living impossible for the two couples. The Trotskys moved to a house nearby where he was assassinated by an artist bearing an ice axe. That house is also open for visits – you can read about it in our blog from 2010.
Frida and Diego’s relationship remained tumultuous and at times he left Casa Azul. In 1940 he started planning a new property, Anahuacali. Using local materials including volcanic stone Anahuacali was designed as a showplace for Diego’s collection of items from Mexico’s ancient cultures. It was built in a style reminiscent of the monumental buildings the ancient past. Frida is said to have commented that the building of Anahuacali dealt with Diego’s desire to sleep surrounded by his idols! The part we were able to visit was more like a museum than house but possibly there are other, more domestic sections.
Sketches are on display for some of the murals Diego painted in Mexico and the United States. A mural commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to depict the television industry was destroyed following misunderstandings over the inclusion of the Bolshevik leader, Lenin. The American capitalist entrepreneur and the Mexican communist were unable to resolve their conflict!
Diego and Frida married twice and, despite various affairs, remained together until her death in 1954.
Dolores Olmedo Pinto, a Mexican businesswoman, was Diego’s friend and patron. She must have been fabulously rich. After Diego’s death she both funded completion of Anahuacali and ensured that Casa Azul was preserved as a memorial to Frida. It opened as a museum in 1958 and is now the most popular destination in Mexico City. As the guide states ‘every object in the Blue House tells us something about the painter….’
Dolores Pinto’s extensive home, set in beautiful grounds, is now a museum too. It houses a large collection of works by Frida, Diego and their contemporaries. When we visited the 25 works by Frida were on loan to another gallery but in their place was a fascinating collection of photographs from her life – Freda’s father was an important photographer of the early twentieth century.
In their lifetimes Diego was by far the most famous but in recent years his fame has been overtaken by his wife’s celebrity. This may be as much due to her life story as the quality of her art.
The last two pictures are by Diego, including a self portrait as a young man.
Now we’ve moved South to Nicaragua. The next post will be about animals and birds at La Mariposa Spanish School