10 Little-known Facts about Frida Kahlo

Undoubtedly the most popular Mexican artist in the world, Frida Kahlo left her mark on art history through poignant works and moving self-portraits. This week, Rise Art takes you into the world of this fascinating Mexicana creative and reveals 10 little-known facts about her life!

By Cécile Martet | 08 Aug 2023

Undoubtedly the most popular Mexican artist in the world, Frida Kahlo left her mark on the history of art with her poignant works and moving self-portraits. Rise Art takes you into her Hispanic world and reveals 10 things you might not have known about her!

1. A simplified name

Frida Kahlo was actually born Magdalena Frida Carmen Kahlo y Calderón in Coyoacán, Mexico. Her husband, Diego Rivera, was no better off, as his birth name was Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez.

2. A controversial birthday

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Guillermo Kahlo (26 October 1871 - 14 April 1941) - Photographer Born in Baden, Germany. Died in Mexico City, Mexico. Details of the artist on Google Art Project / Public domain

Ah that Frida, always where you least expect her! Although her birth certificate states that she was born on 6 July 1907, she has always insisted that she was born on 7 July 1910. She didn't choose this year by chance, as it coincided with the Mexican revolution that lasted a decade.

Very attached to her country and deeply patriotic, Frida Kahlo always saw herself as the voice of the oppressed. So it wasn't to gain a few years!

3. Her ambition to become a doctor

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo, 1932

Before taking up painting, little Frida had a dream: to become a doctor.

Her father, a photographer, had already given her a definite interest in the arts, although this remained secondary. An excellent pupil, her life was first turned upside down by illness. Diagnosed with poliomyelitis at the age of 6, she partially lost the use of her right leg and her foot stopped growing. Her classmates even nicknamed her "Frida la coja" (Frida the lame).

But nothing could stop her from entering a prestigious Mexican school at the age of 16. She was one of only 35 students accepted out of a total of 2,000.

4. Frida Kahlo : the tragedy

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo, “The Broken Column” (1944)

The drama could have ended there for Frida. But when she was 18, everything changed.

The young student was out on the town with her boyfriend when they were involved in a terrible accident. The bus they were travelling in collided with a tram, and many people were injured that day, including Frida Kahlo.

The young woman's abdomen was pierced by an iron bar. Seriously injured, she remained in hospital for months and underwent around thirty operations.

The woman who had set out to heal others had to live as a patient for the rest of her life.

5. Queen of the self-portrait

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo, “Self-portrait with Bonito” (1941)

Frida Kahlo's disability forced her to give up her ambitions to become a doctor. What saved her was painting. Frida's parents, devastated by what had happened to their daughter, made her a made-to-measure easel that she could use while lying down to protect her very fragile spine.

Self-portraits played a very important role in her work. There are at least 55 of them in the 150 paintings she did. By portraying herself, she expressed her suffering. Her painting became a mouthpiece for her pain.

It was out of the question for her to hide her anxieties, which were an integral part of her life. Other artists, such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt, also depicted themselves in extreme conditions, leaving no doubt about their fragile mental health.

6. Politically active

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo, “Frida and Diego Rivera” (1931)

In 1928, as her health gradually improved, Frida Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party. The country's politics were unstable at the time, and she decided to make her contribution. In 1937, she offered political asylum to the communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife.

Her interest was clear: she wanted to defend the status and emancipation of Mexican women. In this otherwise macho society, she wanted to be the voice of all those silent, submissive women.

This figure of the modern woman sticks to her skin. She no longer hesitates to publicly flaunt her bisexuality. She used her painting to convey messages and even asserted her anti-Americanism in her "Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States" in 1932.

7. In love with Diego, but not only him

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo and Léon Trotski in Mexico

Despite her difficult circumstances, Frida Kahlo's love life was far from a smooth ride.

The great love of her life, Diego Rivera, also a Mexican artist, didn't even stop her from looking elsewhere. Even though they were married, they were not faithful to each other. He even got involved with Frida's younger sister...

Frida was rumoured to be having an affair with Leon Trotsky. But that wasn't all. Frida is also said to have dated Josephine Baker, an American artist who became a naturalised French citizen.

In the mid-twentieth century, Frida was already a pioneer, free of all complexes.

8. A true icon of beauty

For those who see Frida Kahlo as a scruffy woman with little elegance, think again. In Mexico, she is a true icon of beauty.

A strong, avant-garde woman, a muse and a model of commitment for many women. It's no coincidence that she has become a source of inspiration for many artists and designers.

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo, “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" (1940)

Her face is a work of art in itself. She designs her own hairstyles, which she adorns with strands of wool, colourful ribbons and flowers. With her red lips and single eyebrow accentuated on canvas, no one could remain indifferent to this elaborate allure.

Frida Kahlo also questioned women and their relationship with the body. First and foremost her own, the one that has been mutilated forever, preventing her from ever having children.

9. The talent but not the smiles

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo in sari / Unknown author, public domain

Frida Kahlo generally displays the same emotion in her self-portraits. Quite distant and straight, she doesn't let any curves show in her features. This was no coincidence: she hated her smile and her teeth. For this reason, she never depicts herself with a sketch at the corner of her lips.

10. Frida Kahlo's Blue House

10 choses à savoir sur Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo's Blue House, Frida-Kahlo Museum in Mexico / [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

This place has become a must-see in Mexico. Now the Frida Kahlo Museum, the Casa Azul (or Blue House) is located in the centre of Coyoacán. This is where Frida was born and where she died in 1954. Her ashes rest on her bed, collected in an urn in the shape of her face.

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