The relationship between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is not your typical love story… They had messy fights, multiple extra-marital affairs and even divorced in 1939 only to remarry a year later. The duo painted each other for 25 years. We take a look at Kahlo's ‘Frida and Diego Rivera’ (1931) and ‘Diego on My Mind’ (1943) paintings to get an insight into their unique and tumultuous relationship.
Background and first meeting
Rivera was an important artist in the Mexican mural movement, while Kahlo was best known for her self-portraits - 65 of the 150 works she produced depicted herself. The two met when Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party and sort advice from the accomplished painter, who was 20 years her senior.
First years of marriage
The couple married in 1929 and two years later, while staying in San Francisco, Kahlo painted the wedding portrait above. The ribbon held in the beak of the dove above the couple reads: “Here you see us, me Frida Kahlo, with my beloved husband Diego Rivera. I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco, California, for our friend Mr. Albert Bender, and it was in the month of April in the year 1931.”
The message is one of love. But that said, the tense depiction of the couple suggests a different story. Rivera’s large figure faces away from his wife while his eyes look awkwardly towards us. He holds a palette and brushes, suggesting he is the extraordinary maestro. Kahlo’s head tilts towards him, one hand clutches her stomach while the other is gently placed on his hand.
Frida Kahlo’s modernist contributions
In the context of her time, Kahlo’s contribution as a female towards modernism was remarkable. To the modern eye, it appears as if Kahlo is inferior to Rivera as she is depicted as physically smaller than him. In actuality, Kahlo was a lot smaller (a whole foot smaller) and Rivera weighed three times as much meaning there is much more to be said about her depiction in the painting and role in their relationship. Kahlo has become recognised as an icon for feminism and the LGBT movement.
Diego on My Mind
Kahlo began painting this self-portrait in 1940 but didn’t finish the piece until 1943. Rivera’s image is stamped on her forehead suggesting he’s not only on her mind but part of her. She once wrote in her diary that Rivera was her everything: “Diego = my husband / Diego = my friend / Diego = my mother / Diego = my father / Diego = my son / Diego = me / Diego = Universe.” The strands from the headpiece of the traditional Mexican dress she’s wearing form a web, depicting herself as trapped in an all consuming-romance.