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Who was Frida Kahlo?

A Timeline of Her Life as a Surrealist Artist

“I am my own muse. The subject I know best. The subject I want to know better,” is a famous quote by Frida Kahlo.

This revolutionary artist is known best for her surrealist portraits that took the world by storm! Take a deep dive with us into the life and art of this surrealist artist known for her provocative self-portraits.

Not a reader? That’s okay - we have a Drawing Frida Kahlo tutorial where you can draw Frida while listening to fun facts about the famed artist!

Frida Kahlo's Story

Early Life

Frida Kahlo's early life
(Left) Portrait of My Father, Frida Kahlo, 1952 (Right) Photo of young Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico City, Mexico. At the young age of 6, Frida developed an illness called polio and became bed ridden for nine months. The illness caused damage to Frida’s right foot and leg and she developed a limp. Her father encouraged her to play sports (including soccer and wrestling) to keep active and recover, which was rare for girls during her time. Her father was also extremely supportive throughout her life, which led to her unique success, despite all of her illnesses.

Frida at Prep School

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
The Creation at the National Preparatory School, Diego Rivera

Frida attended the acclaimed National Preparatory School in Mexico in 1922. She was one of the few girls to attend and became known for her spirit. She was outspoken and had a love for bright clothing. While at school, Frida met people with similar political beliefs and outspokenness, and she soon joined the Young Communist League and the Mexican Communist Party. At the Prep school, Frida saw a muralist named Diego Rivera and Frida became captivated with his work, promising her friend that she’d marry him one day.

Frida Kahlo’s Accident

Frida Kahlo Accident Painting
The Bus, Frida Kahlo, 1929

In 1925, Frida Kahlo was traveling in a bus, when an accident occurred. A streetcar hit the bus, and Frida was seriously injured. She fractured her spine and pelvis, so, once again, she was bed ridden. She was not only faced with physical harm, but emotional. Her father, who was a photographer, made an easel for her to paint while in bed. This is when Frida’s painting journey truly began.

Art Inspiration

Frida Kahlo Self Portraits
Self Portrait With Bonito, Frida Kahlo, 1941

While bed ridden, Frida began using the easel her father made her and a mirror to create the self-portraits that she is so well known for. Her artwork is inspired by Mexican culture, with the use of vibrant colours, plants, and animals. She also began to use art to express her pain and suffering, which became vivid symbols in her work. Her artwork is very raw and unique because she painted her feelings, and often her dreams. Her work depicted surrealist scenes that incorporated self-portraits within. Her main inspiration for her paintings was… herself!

Frida and Surrealism

Famous surrealist artists
Famous Surrealist Paintings (From left to right) The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali. Son of Man, Rene Magritte. The Wounded Deer, Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is often regarded as one of the most influential surrealist painters. Surrealist art tries to depict the artist’s dreams and unconscious mind. It uses real imagery and symbolism but adds some distortion so that the image might not make sense logically. Some famous surrealist artists include Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte! Although Frida is known as a surrealist, she actually rejected that title. She did not feel like her paintings were made of her dreams but, in fact, her reality. In a famous quote she said, “They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo and Husband Diego Rivera
Frieda and Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, 1931

You remember how Frida told a friend she knew she’d marry the muralist Diego Rivera? Well, she was right! Frida married Diego in 1929. Although married, the couple often remained separate and had adjoining homes and studios. Their relationship faced many challenges, but he always supported her art. Frida was bisexual and wasn’t afraid to be herself, but it was also why Diego respected her so much. The couple divorced in 1939, but remarried in 1940!

Frida Kahlo Paintings

Frida Kahlo's first self portrait
Self Portrait Wearing a Velvet Dress, Frida Kahlo, 1926

Self Portrait Wearing a Velvet Dress was Frida Kahlo’s first self-portrait. Like much of her other work, this was created after her accident while she was bed ridden.

Frida Kahlo Mexican cultural heritage
Self Portrait Along the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States, Frida Kahlo, 1932

This painting captures Frida’s journey into the US while still missing her Mexican cultural heritage.

Frida Kahlo surrealism
What the Water Gave Me, Frida Kahlo, 1938

This painting wonderfully shows Frida’s symbolic and surrealist painting skills. This piece is meant to show Frida’s memories of bath time games as a child, while also depicting all of the things that have happened to her in her life since then.

Frida Kahlo surrealist self portraits
The Two Fridas, Frida Kahlo, 1939

This work was a way for Frida to explore her identity and, specifically, her struggle during her divorce from Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo death
The Dream (The Bed), Frida Kahlo, 1940

In Mexican culture, death is often seen as something to be celebrated, not mourned (because of the Day of the Dead festival). Frida was known to have kept a skeleton above her bed as a funny reminder of mortality. This painting using symbolism (like the explosives on the skeleton and the skeleton itself) to depict Frida’s own feelings about death, while using growing plants on her own body to depict life and rebirth.

Frida Kahlo self portrait
Me and My Parrots, Frida Kahlo, 1941

In this painting, Frida creates an image of calm and peacefulness. This was her attempt at creating a comforting piece following the death of her father.

Frida Kahlo illness
Without Hope, Frida Kahlo, 1945

This painting was made in 1945 after Frida had a surgery that kept her bed ridden. It appears like a surrealist nightmare, but it actually shows a time when Frida was unable to eat and had to be force-fed through a funnel. This painting shows how Frida used painting as art therapy, before it became popular. She was able to express her suffering which was raw, emotional, and rare in self-portraits.

Frida Kahlo accident
Tree of Hope, Remain Strong, Frida Kahlo, 1946

Similar to the last work, this piece shows Frida’s injury, but presents strength. Her portrait is poised and confident, revealing the hope she has for herself.

Take a look at some more of her artwork here!

Frida’s Iconic Moments

Frida Kahlo painting in bed
Frida Kahlo Painting in Bed

In 1953, Frida had a solo exhibition at the Galeria Arte Mexicano. During this time, her health was declining drastically but Frida went to the show anyway in an ambulance and was carried in with a stretcher. Talk about dedication!

Frida Kahlo Iconic
Frida Kahlo for Vogue, 1937

Frida was also featured in the October 1937 issue of Vogue magazine. She wore traditional Mexican attire with vibrant colours and two braids. Frida was also well-known for revolutionizing fashion, as she often wore menswear, making it more acceptable for other women to do the same.

Frida Kahlo bisexuality
Self Portrait with Cropped Hair, Frida Kahlo, 1940

Frida Kahlo has also been widely known for her iconic unibrow! This was a way for Frida to reject female stereotypes on what is and isn’t considered attractive and exploring her identity as an LGBTQ artist.

Frida’s Legacy

Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, at only 47 years old, from a pulmonary embolism caused by pneumonia. Frida Kahlo is known for her love of her Mexican culture and heritage while rejecting Mexican colonialism. She is appreciated for her ability to depict real (not idealized) women and real pictures depicting tragedy, death, and suffering in paintings that have been seen throughout the world. Although she rejected the ‘surrealist’ title, she is still regarded today as one of the most influential surrealist painters. Unfortunately, due to her accident and several illnesses, she was unable to have children, so her legacy lives on through all of the people that view and appreciate her art.

Teacher Resources:

If you’re a teacher that’s interested in Frida Kahlo content for your classroom, visit these easy and accessible resources!

If you’d like more worksheets related to art, check out our teachers pay teachers page where you can get worksheets and lesson plans for your classroom! More classroom resources like this can be found on our art resources for teachers page, where we cover art history and more!

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