Alejandro Acosta/AFP/Getty Images
Alejandro Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

17 Artful Facts About Frida Kahlo

Alejandro Acosta/AFP/Getty Images
Alejandro Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

The life and work of Frida Kahlo—one of Mexico's greatest painters—were both defined by pain and perseverance. Getting to know how Kahlo lived gives greater insight into her beloved paintings, rich with detail and personal iconography.

1. SHE WAS BORN AND DIED IN THE SAME HOUSE.

Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in a building nicknamed “La Casa Azul” for its vivid blue exterior. There, she was raised by her mother Matilde and encouraged by her photographer father Guillermo. Years later, she and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, made it their home as well. And on July 13, 1954, Kahlo died there at age 47.

2. … AND THAT BELOVED HOME IS NOW A MUSEUM.

Casa Azul is also known as The Frida Kahlo Museum. As a tribute to Kahlo, Rivera donated the house in 1958 as well as all of the artwork, created by both him and Kahlo, that it contained. Much of the interior has been preserved just the way Kahlo had it in the 1950s, making the space a popular tourist attraction that allows visitors a look into her work, life, and personal artifacts, including the urn that holds her ashes.

3. A THIRD OF HER PAINTINGS WERE SELF-PORTRAITS.

Kahlo folded in symbols from her Mexican culture and allusions to her personal life in order to create a series of 55 surreal and uniquely revealing self-portraits. Of these, she famously declared, "I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

4. A SURREAL ACCIDENT HAD A BIG IMPACT ON HER LIFE.

On September 17, 1925, an 18-year-old Kahlo boarded a bus with her boyfriend Alex Gómez Arias, only to be forever marred when it crossed a train's path. Recalling the tragedy, Arias described the bus as "burst(ing) into a thousand pieces," with a handrail ripping through Kahlo's torso.

He later recounted, "Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone in the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her, they cried, ‘La bailarina, la bailarina!’ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer."

5. KAHLO’S PATH TO PAINTING BEGAN WITH THAT COLLISION.

The accident broke Kahlo's spinal column, collarbone, ribs, and pelvis, fractured her right leg in 11 places, and dislocated her shoulder. Those severe injuries left her racked with pain for the rest of her life, and frequently bedbound. But during these times, Kahlo picked up her father's paintbrush. Her mother helped arrange a special easel that would allow her to work from bed. Of her life's hardships, Kahlo once proclaimed, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

6. SHE ONCE DREAMED OF BEING A DOCTOR.

As a child, Kahlo contracted polio, which withered her right leg and sparked an interest in the healing power of medicine. Unfortunately, the injuries from the train accident forced the teenager to abandon her plans to study medicine.

7. KAHLO’S POOR HEALTH SHAPED HER ART.

In the course of her life, Kahlo would undergo 30 surgeries, including the eventual amputation of her foot due to a case of gangrene. She explored her frustrations with her body's frailty in paintings like The Broken Column, which centers on her shattered spine, and Without Hope, which dramatically depicted a period where her doctor prescribed force-feeding. On the back of the latter, she wrote, "Not the least hope remains to me...Everything moves in time with what the belly contains."

8. KAHLO DIDN’T SEE HERSELF AS A SURREALIST.

She rejected the label, saying, "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

9. KAHLO’S TUMULTUOUS MARRIAGE SPARKED MORE PAIN AND PAINTINGS.

When Kahlo met Rivera, she was a student and he was already a father of four and on his way to his second divorce. Despite a 20-year age difference, the pair quickly fell for each other, spurring Rivera to leave his second wife and wed Kahlo in 1929.

From there, they were each other's greatest fans and supporters when it came to their art. But their 10-year marriage was wrought with fits of temper and infidelities on both sides. They divorced in 1939, only to remarry a year later. Paintings like Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, The Two Fridas, and The Love Embrace of the Universe boldly illustrated their relationship from Kahlo's perspective.

10. SHE GRIEVED PRIVATELY AND PUBLICLY FOR THE CHILDREN SHE NEVER HAD.

Modern doctors believe that the bus accident had irreparably damaged Kahlo's uterus, which made pregnancies impossible to carry to term. In 1932, she painted Henry Ford Hospital, a provocative self-portrait that marks one of several devastating miscarriages she suffered.

The piece would be displayed to the world in a 1938 gallery show. But Kahlo kept private personal letters to her friend, Doctor Leo Eloesser, in which she wrote, "I had so looked forward to having a little Dieguito that I cried a lot, but it's over, there is nothing else that can be done except to bear it.'" This letter along with others from their decades-long exchange were released in 2007, having been hidden for almost 50 years by a patron worried about their contents.

11. KAHLO ONCE ARRIVED TO AN ART SHOW IN AN AMBULANCE.

In 1953, toward the end of her short life, the painter was overjoyed about her first solo exhibition in Mexico. But a hospital stay threatened her attendance. Against doctors' orders, Kahlo made an incredible entrance, pulling up in an ambulance as if in a limousine.

12. SHE WAS RUMORED TO HAVE SEVERAL FAMOUS LOVERS.

When she wasn't recovering from surgery or confined to a recuperation bed, Kahlo was full of life, relishing in the chance to dance, socialize, and flirt. While American sculptor Isamu Noguchi was in Mexico City for the creation of his History as Seen from Mexico in 1936, he and Kahlo began a passionate affair that evolved into a life-long friendship.

Three years later, while visiting Paris, the bisexual painter struck up a romance with the city's "Black Pearl" entertainer Josephine Baker. And many have speculated that the artist and activist also bedded Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, while he and his wife Natalia stayed in Kahlo's family home after they were granted asylum in Mexico in 1936.

13. KAHLO WAS FIERCELY PROUD OF HER HERITAGE.

Though she'd lived in New York, San Francisco, and Paris, Kahlo was always drawn back to her hometown, Mexico City. She favored traditional Mexican garb, the long colorful skirts she was known for, and the Huipile blouses of Mexico’s matriarchal Tehuantepec society. Perhaps most telling, she told the press she was born in 1910, cutting three years off her age so she could claim the same birth year as the Mexican Revolution.

14. SHE HAD SEVERAL EXOTIC PETS.

Casa Azul boasts a lovely garden where Kahlo had her own animal kingdom. Along with a few Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintli (a dog breed that dates back to the ancient Aztecs), Kahlo owned a pair of spider monkeys named Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal, which can be spotted in Self Portrait with Monkeys. She also cared for an Amazon parrot called Bonito, who would perform tricks if promised a pat of butter as a reward, a fawn named Granizo, and an eagle nicknamed Gertrudis Caca Blanca (a.k.a. Gertrude White Shit).

15. KAHLO HAS EMERGED AS A FEMINIST ICON.

Though in her time some dismissed this passionate painter as little more than "the wife of Master Mural Painter (Diego Rivera)," Kahlo's imaginative art drew acclaim from the likes of Pablo Picasso and film star Edward G. Robinson. After her death, the rise of feminism in the 1970s sparked a renewed interest in her work. Kahlo's reputation eclipsed Rivera's, and she grew to become one of the world's most famous painters.

Feminist theorists embrace Kahlo's deeply personal portraits for their insight into the female experience. Likewise, her refusal to be defined by others' definitions and the self-love shown in her proud capturing of her natural unibrow and mustache speak to modern feminist concerns over gender roles and body-positivity.

16. KAHLO’S PERSONAL STYLE HAS BECOME A VIBRANT PART OF HER LEGACY.

Frida's art and its influence were not simply spawned from the paint she put to canvas. Her distinctive personal style has proved influential in the world of fashion, inspiring designers like Raffaella Curiel, Maya Hansen, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Dolce & Gabbana.

17. HER WORK IS RECORD-BREAKING.

On May 11, 2016, at the first auction to put a major Frida work up for sale in six years, her 1939 painting Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma) sold for over $8 million—the highest auction price for any work by a Latin American artist.

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A Rare Copy of Audubon's Birds of America Could Break Records at Auction
Christie's
Christie's

American artist and naturalist John James Audubon published The Birds of America in the first half of the 19th century, and his massive “double-elephant” folio of life-size bird illustrations remains one of the most ambitious nature books ever produced. On June 14, a rare edition of the four-book set is hitting the auction block, and it's expected to fetch up to $12 million—more than any Audubon book ever sold.

This edition of The Birds of America was owned by the dukes of Portland from around 1839 to 2012. Because it was stored on the shelves of the family's Nottinghamshire, England estate for nearly a century, the set's prints of watercolor drawings have remained remarkably well-preserved.

In 2012, the copy was auctioned off to philanthropist and businessman Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. for nearly $8 million. Knobloch donated the books to the Knobloch Family Foundation (KFF) before his death in 2016. Now, the KFF is sending the books to auction once again. This time, all proceeds of the sale will go to nature conservation.

Set of red leather-bound books.

New York City auction house Christie's describes the set in a listing as "among the finest copies in private hands of this icon of American art, and the finest color-plate book ever produced." Each of the 435 double-elephant folio pages measures 39.5 inches by 26.5 inches, the largest sheets Audubon could get his hands on at the time, and they feature 1037 birds from 500 species. The books are bound in red Moroccan leather with gold detailing on the borders and spines. The four-volume set also comes with the Ornithological Biography, a collection of five books describing the specimens in The Birds of America and their habits.

Christie's estimates the set will sell for $8 million to $12 million when the final bid is placed later this month. To date, the most expensive copy of The Birds of America was a first edition acquired from Sotheby's in London for $11.5 million. That sale also broke the record for the most expensive printed book ever sold at auction, a record held until 2013.

Illustration of American birds.

Illustration of American bird.

Illustration of American birds.

Illustration of American birds.

Illustration of American birds.

All images courtesy of Christie's

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Courtesy of Emi Nakajima
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Artist Makes Incredibly Detailed Drawings of Famous Buildings Around the World
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

They say patience is a virtue, but for some artists it’s a necessity. Emi Nakajima’s detailed ink drawings of famous architectural sites, which recently appeared on My Modern Met, typically take about a week to complete. However, her most ambitious undertaking yet—a rendering of Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)—was a five-month endeavor.

Emi Nakajima holding up her drawing in front of the White Temple
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

The Japanese-Thai artist told Mental Floss that the White Temple was particularly difficult to draw. She typically uses A3-sized paper (11.7 by 16.5 inches) for her projects, but she decided to draw the ornate temple on a much larger scale. The paper covered her entire desk—and getting each arch and spiral just right was no small feat. She took her time on the details, chipping away at the drawing after returning home from her day job as an administrative officer in Thailand.

Emi Nakajima drawing
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

Details of the drawing
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

Details of the drawing
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

The completed temple drawing
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

She’s amassed nearly 39,000 followers on Instagram, where she documents the progression of her projects from start to completion. Although her prints aren’t available for purchase online, she does sell her drawings locally.

European architecture features prominently in her work, with past projects including drawings of London’s Big Ben, Barcelona’s Sagrada Família basilica, and France’s Gothic churches. She occasionally branches out from architecture, creating 3D images of food and drawings of superheroes, movie characters, and animals.

Keep scrolling down to see more of Nakajima's architectural drawings, and check out her Instagram page (@emi_nkjm) here.

A drawing of Big Ben
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

Drawing of a cathedral
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

A pagoda drawing
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

Details of a drawing
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

A cathedral drawing
Courtesy of Emi Nakajima

[h/t My Modern Met]

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