Frida Kahlo: Tragedy, Triumph, Then More Tragedy

Frida Kahlo is one of the best known artists of the 20th century.

In Santa Fe we’re all familiar with the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. In fact, her museum is the most widely visited cultural institution in New Mexico. Frida Kahlo’s legacy is as equally as important to the people of Mexico. Her triumphs and tragedies were felt by all. She was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in Mexico City in 1907. Her father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was a German who migrated to Mexico in 1891. He married a Mexican woman, Matilda Calderon y Gonzales. Theirs was not a happy marriage, and young Frida bore the brunt of their misery.

Illness Defines her Life

When Frida was six she became debilitated from polio. For the rest of her life she walked with a limp because her right leg had been shortened by the disease. More bad luck followed. In 1925 Frida was in a trolley car accident that she barely survived. She suffered multiple broken bones throughout her body. And her abdomen and uterus were punctured by an iron handrail during the ordeal. Those injuries caused her a lifetime of extreme pain and agony.

Art Therapy

Frida wanted to go into medicine but her injuries made that career choice impossible. Instead, she found comfort in art and as she recovered became a full-time artist. Through art Kahlo was able to share her anguish through self-portraits. In her painting Miscarriage in Detroit she depicted, not only her own recent miscarriage, but the agony and suffering of any woman who has experienced such a loss. That painting made her an icon of artistic feminism.

No Respite

Kahlo’s life was spent in and out of hospitals. In 1953, her right leg had to be partially amputated due to gangrene. The unbearable pain led to Kahlo’s addition to narcotics. One year after her amputation she died in the same house in which she had been born forty-seven years earlier. The official cause of death was cited as a pulmonary embolism. Some historians claim that she took her life, while others said she was just worn out from the pain of life.

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