istock (background) / Frida Kahlo (Painting)
istock (background) / Frida Kahlo (Painting)

15 Things You Should Know About Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

istock (background) / Frida Kahlo (Painting)
istock (background) / Frida Kahlo (Painting)

Surrealist painter Frida Kahlo has been called one of Mexico's greatest artists because of her brutal and revealing self-portraits. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is her most popular, and also one that contains many tokens of her life and work. 

1. It is one of 55 self-portraits Kahlo painted in her lifetime.

Though she'd go on to make 143 paintings in her life, Kahlo was best known for her reflective self-portraits that laid bare the tragedies she'd endured. Explaining her penchant for the style, Kahlo said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

2. Its creation was part of Kahlo's coping ritual.

Bedbound while recovering from a grisly streetcar accident, a young Kahlo taught herself to paint. Over the years, it became her habit to paint a portrait of herself whenever she was troubled.

These self-portraits have often been described as surreal, but the groundbreaking artist answered such comments with, "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

3. Her divorce prompted this self-portrait.

In 1929, Kahlo wed fellow Mexican painter Diego Rivera. The couple's 10-year marriage was tumultuous; Kahlo and Rivera became notorious for their constant fighting and frequent infidelity. It's believed the thorn necklace piercing Kahlo's neck reflects the pain she was experiencing over this separation. 

4. It was purchased by her ex-lover.

Rivera wasn't the only love Kahlo left in 1939. She'd also split from photographer Nickolas Muray, who purchased Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird when Kahlo was struggling financially.

5. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird may be blasphemous.

Art historians note that Kahlo's simple white frock hints at martyrdom, while the thorn necklace can be seen as a reference to Jesus's crown of thorns, worn as he dragged his cross to be crucified. The butterflies on Kahlo's head have been interpreted as symbols of her own personal resurrection, leading some to believe that Kahlo is comparing herself directly to Jesus Christ.

6. Its hummingbird is a symbol of hope …

Clearly painted during a dark time in her life, Kahlo shows her wish for love renewed with the little bird dangling from her necklace of thorns. In Mexican culture, the hummingbird is a symbol of good luck—but notice the black cat ready to pounce.

Kahlo's painting proved to be eerily prescient when she remarried Rivera in December of 1940. The couple's marital troubles continued. Of their love, Kahlo once said, "I have suffered two grave accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down ... The other accident is Diego."

7. … Or a symbol of war.

Kahlo often blended elements from Mexican and Aztec culture into her work. So an alternate interpretation of Kahlo's hummingbird pendant is as a symbol of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. Perhaps the weight of this symbol, this battle, is what makes Kahlo bleed.

8. That monkey might symbolize Kahlo's ex-husband.

The monkey on her back—as it were—is frequently believed to be a symbol for Rivera. Some say he'd given one to Kahlo as a pet. Others suggest the primate symbolizes their tormented romance—after all, the monkey is the one tugging the thorn necklace tight enough to make its wearer bleed. 

9. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is an ancestor to the selfie.

While the self-snapped smartphone picture is commonly derided as the product of narcissism, art critic Jerry Saltz has claimed selfies are just the latest evolution in self-portraits. 

10. It—like the rest of her work—has gotten more famous since her passing.

When Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, she was acclaimed in her native Mexico, but not widely known internationally. However, about twenty years later, Neomexicanismo art caught on. This surrealist brand of Mexican culture brought Kahlo and her gorgeous and provocative self-portraits into the spotlight. With each retrospective, her reputation grew, until her depictions of herself in pieces like Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird became iconic. 

11. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird travels often.

Since 1966, Kahlo's cryptic masterpiece has called the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin home. But since 1990, the University has been generous in lending the piece out to other galleries, both domestic and abroad. It has visited Australia, Canada, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Mexico, and Rome, as well as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York City.

12. It returned to Austin for Kahlo's 104th birthday.

After visiting nearly 30 museums around the world, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird was put back on display at the Harry Ransom Center on July 6, 2011.

13. The self-portrait has its own rider.

A rock star in its own right, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird requires certain guarantees before being lent out. Among these is a personal courier from the HRC to oversee its travel, its own seat on a plane should the painting be flown, and assurances that the security at the destination is "stringent." Every time it returns it does so in a special vehicle, before being carefully assessed for wear.

14. The painting helped break attendance records in Rome.

In 2014, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird was displayed as part of a Kahlo exhibit in the Scuderie del Quirinale inside the historic Quirinal Palace. Over the course of five months, there was a massive surge in attendance at the museum, which averaged over 2,000 visitors a day thanks to this painting and its sisters. 

15. Today, it's featured in a garden show.

Much of Kahlo's work has been inspired by her barbed relationship with Rivera. So too have many of Kahlo's exhibitions, at which Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird has played centerpiece. But it's her love of nature and her green thumb that are the focus of "Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life." The show includes a selection of Kahlo's paintings, as well as a dedicated recreation of her famed garden and studio at the Casa Azul, her home and constant muse. You can see it through November 1 at the New York Botanical Garden.

Dan Bell
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.


All images by Dan Bell

The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]


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