11 Powerful Facts About Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter with a tragic past. Learn some interesting and unique Frida Kahlo facts, including her iconic style and features.

Frida Kahlo portrait 1939 Frida Kahlo portrait 1939

Iconic Artist Frida Kahlo

While many people might recognize Frida Kahlo for her iconic unibrow, she was an amazing artist and feminist. A Mexican artist, Frida refused to meet mainstream stereotypes of beauty. Her self exploration and love can be seen through her realistic, brilliantly colored self-portraits complete with a unibrow and upper lip hair. Frida Kahlo is famous for stating, “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” Beyond just being an iconic painter and feminist, learn interesting Frida Kahlo facts.

1. Polio Led to a Deformity

At only 6 years old, Frida Kahlo contracted polio leading to visible damage to her right leg. Her right leg was visibly shorter and thinner than her left, leading some children to call her “peg leg.” It’s also noted that the right leg had visible ulcers which eventually led to the need to amputate her right leg in 1953 due to a gangrene infection. To cover up this deformity, Kahlo took to wearing the long colorful skirts she’s known for.

2. A Tragic Accident Led to Painting

Though in her youth Frida wanted to be a doctor, a tragic accident changed all that. In 1925 when she was only 18, Frida Kahlo was on board a bus that crashed with an oncoming electric streetcar. Miraculously, Frida Kahlo survived, but several of her bones were broken and her pelvis was pierced by a rod. During her months of recovery, Kahlo took up painting, starting her famous love affair with self-portraits. However, this accident left her in constant pain and the necessity for more than 30 surgeries.

3. Frida Kahlo Is a Nickname

The name Frida Kahlo is known around the world but it’s simply a nickname. Frida Kahlo’s full name is Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon.

4. Queen of Self Portraits

Frida Kahlo with self portrait Me Twice

While Frida Kahlo painted about 150 paintings in her lifetime, nearly a third of these were self-portraits. In fact, she painted 55 self-portraits in total. Many of these are raw depictions of Frida’s life, thoughts, pain, and heritage. Rather than trying to hide her flaws, she embraced them because they were part of her.

5. Kahlo Was Jailed for Murder

In 1940, Frida Kahlo found herself in jail in Mexico City. Why? Because she was suspected of murdering Leon Trotsky, a Russian Revolutionary. Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, were supporters of the Communist party, and she gifted Trotsky a self-portrait. When Ramon Mercader killed Trotsky, Kahlo was jailed briefly before being cleared.

6. Married Diego Rivera Twice

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera portrait

Within her life, Frida Kahlo only married one man, Diego Rivera. In fact, she married him twice. This was despite their distinct differences in appearance and a 22 year age gap. However, it is rumored that she had several affairs with both men and women. They even lived in separate living spaces before their divorce in 1939 after Diego’s affair with Kahlo’s sister. The couple married again a year later. However, through viewing her portraits of Diego and herself like "Self-Portrait as Tehunana" and "Diego and I," you get a distinct understanding of their tumultuous relationship.

7. Unable to Have Children

Frida’s accident in her teens made the odds of being able to have children nearly impossible. However, she tried on multiple occasions to beat the odds. The loss of her children led to very personal artistic expressions of her grief like "Henry Ford Hospital" and "Frida and the Miscarriage." Her longing for children can also be seen in other pieces of work.

8. Loved Exotic Pets

museum image of Self-portrait with Monkeys by Frida Kahlo

Since she was unable to have children and was often lonely, Frida Kahlo quelled her loneliness with an array of exotic animals that made their way into her paintings. Just a few of her furry friends included spider monkeys, a fawn, parrot, macaws, chickens, eagle, and hairless dogs.

9. Teacher at La Esmeralda

Shortly after reconciling with Deigo in 1940, Kahlo worked as a painting professor for La Esmeralda in 1943. However, it was difficult for her to work since her health was declining.

10. Appeared on Cover of Vogue

In 1937, Frida Kahlo was interviewed for American Vogue. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that Frida appeared on the cover of vogue in an image taken by Nickolas Muray in 1939.

11. Controversy Around Frida’s Death

Six months before her death, Frida Kahlo had to have her right leg amputated. Officially, her cause of death is a pulmonary embolism. However, there is speculation that Frida Kahlo might have overdosed on painkillers. The ominous entry in her journal was "I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to come back."

Frida Kahlo Facts: Iconic Artist

Frida Kahlo turned her pain into art. Embracing her feminism, heritage and sexuality, she pushed the boundaries of life through a fog of pain. Explore more iconic women throughout history by exploring the mother of civil rights Rosa Parks.

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