The Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

by Sarah Useche, age 14


Frida Kahlo was a famous Mexican artist known for her distinctive style. Lifelong struggles helped Kahlo create her most valuable masterpiece, her life.

Kahlo was born on July 6th, 1907 in Coyocoan, Mexico City, Mexico. Kahlo’s challenges started as a young child when she was diagnosed with polio at 6 years old.

Although she recovered from her illness, she would have to limp and drag her foot when she walked for the rest of her life. In spite of this injury, Kahlo’s father encouraged her to play soccer, go swimming, and even wrestle. Kahlo had a close relationship with her father. He motivated her to move past the hardships of her childhood. This had a great impact on her paintings.

Kahlo was one of the few female students to attend the National Preparatory School in 1922. She was known for her jovial spirit as well as her love for traditional, colorful clothing and jewelry. She was deeply inspired by Diego Rivera, a famous muralist who came to visit her school that same year. Kahlo would absorb techniques as she watched him paint a mural in her school lecture hall.

Kahlo’s artistic career forever changed one day when a bus she was riding in collided with a streetcar. This resulted in a steel handrail going all the way through her hip, leaving her with several fractures in her spine and pelvis. After several weeks in the hospital, Kahlo returned to her father’s house to recover. It was there that she began painting again. She finished her first self-portrait the following year.

In 1928, Kahlo reconnected with and started a relationship with Diego Rivera who encouraged her to paint. The two were later married in 1929, but had a very unstable relationship. Kahlo went on to divorce and remarry Rivera several times. This in some way inspired Kahlo to paint.

In 1939, Frida moved to Paris. She exhibited some of her paintings and developed friendships with other artists including Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso.

In Paris she painted one of her most famous pieces The Two Fridas, The painting illustrates two versions of Kahlo sitting side by side with their hearts exposed. The two figures are known to represent the “unloved” and “loved” versions of Kahlo. The “unloved” version of Kahlo is dressed in all white and has a damaged heart and spots of blood on her dress. The “loved” Kahlo is dressed in colored clothing and has an intact heart. This painting is said to be a representation of the heartbreak she suffered during her tumultuous marriage and divorce with Diego Rivera.

Kahlo received a commission from the Mexican government for five portraits in 1941, but never completed them due to the stress of her father’s health problems and subsequent death.

Kahlo had been suffering from poor health herself for a long time. In 1950, she was diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot. Kahlo had her right foot amputated to stop the spread of gangrene. Her health continued to deteriorate, leading to her death about a week after her 47th birthday.

Kahlo’s pain and hardships only made her determination stronger. Her hard work translates in her paintings and continues to inspire others to follow their dreams.

[Sources: Biography.com; wikipaintings.org; pbs.org]

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