Frida Kahlo

“I am the subject I know best.”


About Frida Kahlo

In 1907, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon was born in Coyoacán, Mexico. Her mother’s family was Mexican Indian and Spanish, but her father, a photographer, was born in Germany. Frida, as she was called, grew up in a house called La Casa Azul (The Blue House) with three sisters and two older half-sisters.

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Frida’s childhood wasn’t always easy. When she was little, there was a war going on in Mexico, which could be very scary. And when she was six years old, Frida got sick with polio. Because of the disease, her right leg didn’t grow as much as her left leg. But that didn’t stop Frida from bicycle riding, wrestling, boxing and swimming!
Frida didn’t always want to be a painter. She planned to be a doctor. But when she was eighteen, she was in a terrible bus accident. She was very badly hurt and spent a year in bed recovering. During that time, she started painting…and kept painting for the rest of her life.
Many of Frida’s paintings are self-portraits. She once said that the reason she painted herself so often was because she was alone so much. Some of Frida’s self-portraits include her pet birds and monkeys. In some she shows herself wearing Mexican clothing. In others she paints things related to her European background. Sometimes she adds humor to her paintings. Sometimes she focuses on the pain she suffered after the bus accident or the many operations she had afterward (more than thirty). No matter what the subject, Frida’s paintings are almost always colorful and full of imagination.
In 1953 Frida had her first solo exhibition in Mexico. A solo exhibition is when a museum or gallery puts up a show featuring the work of just one artist. Frida’s doctor told her that she was too sick to go and should stay at home resting. But Frida wouldn’t miss it for anything and came up with a solution. She had a special piece of furniture delivered to the show—when visitors arrived, she greeted them from her four-poster bed!

Licensed Images Information

Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940 | Oil on canvas | 15 ¾ x 11 inches | Museum of Modern Art, NYC | © 2013 FAMILIA KAHLO S.A de C.V, Mexico Distrito Federal, México
Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego on My Mind), 1943 | Oil on masonite | 29 7/8 x 24 inches | Gelman Collection, Mexico City | © 2013 FAMILIA KAHLO S.A de C.V, Mexico Distrito Federal, México
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940 | Oil on canvas | 61.25 cm x 47 cm | Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin | © 2013 FAMILIA KAHLO S.A de C.V, Mexico Distrito Federal, México
The Two Fridas, 1939 | Oil on canvas | 67 x 67 inches | Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City | © 2013 FAMILIA KAHLO S.A de C.V, Mexico Distrito Federal, México

Self Portrait

A portrait is a work of art that represents a specific person. A self-portrait is when an artist paints, draws, sculpts, or photographs herself. Artists who create self-portraits often use mirrors to see what they look like. But sometimes they just imagine how they look to other people or show how they look—or want to look—in their own mind. A person doesn’t always look the same in a portrait as she does in real life. In fact, one person doesn’t always look the same in different portraits! The look on the person’s face, what they are wearing, how they are standing, or what style the artist used can all change the way a person appears in a picture.

Activities and Questions

  • Make a portrait of a friend or family member.
  • Make a self-portrait looking in a mirror.
  • Make a self-portrait not looking in a mirror.
  • Ask someone to make your portrait. Compare it to your self-portrait.
  • Make a self-portrait every day for a week. Do all seven pictures look the same? Why not?
  • Why do you think artists make portraits? Why do they make self-portraits?
  • Do you have any portraits in your house? Where are they? Who is in them? How do you feel when you look at them? What do they make you think about?