Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter born on July 7, 1907, in Mexico City Mexico. Her attraction to painting contributed to her association with muralist painter. Frida got married to Diego Rivera in 1929, divorced in 1939 and remarried in 1940, showing her deep love, not only for art, but also for her husband. Frida’s works reflect her personal life (Kettenmann, 23). She painted what she felt, exhibiting emotions on the canvas. Before her death, Frida had painted almost 200 paintings, but three works stand out- this include; Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931), Henry Ford Hospital (1932), and The Two Fridas (1939). Kahlo effectively displayed the elements of naturalism and classical idealism to represent cultural ideals and social values such as empowerment, freedom and independence.
Kahlo used naturalism or realism in her works to present cultural ideals and social values. Naturalism refers to the authors’ tendency to represent an object fully, without changing its physical form or distorting its natural elements (Thomson, 2012). Kahlo was influenced by Pablo Picasso’s painting which were replete with naturalism (Kettenmann 2). Also, Kahlo’s friendship with Diego Rivera, whom she later married, influenced her painting style, which was skewed toward naturalism. For example, in the painting, “Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931),” Kahlo represents natural images of Rivera and her. The portrait presents herself and her husband Diego Rivera. The portrait shows Kahlo holding Rivera’s hand lightly while Rivera grasping a palette and paintbrushes. The couple stands in a stiff formal position, which is a foreshadow to their rocky relationship in the future. The portrait shows absence of emotions as Kahlo is tilting her head, showing boredom and disapproval to an onlooker. On the other hand, Rivera does not show emotions of adoration to her wife. The painting appeared first at the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists. The place and context of exhibition shows how Kahlo wanted displayed her emotions to the audience through painting. She painted the portrayed just two years in the marriage, showing lack of emotions and romance.
The painting, “Henry Ford Hospital (1932),” depicts naturalism whereby Kahlo presents things in their original form. The painting depicts Kahlo, naked on a hospital bed. Several things are connected to her. A fetus hangs above her, a snail hangs over her head and a flower at the lower side of the bed. A flower and a pelvis are on the floor besides her bed. This portrait displays deep personal emotions, which tell the story of Kahlo’s second miscarriage in 1932. A miscarriage was perceived as a taboo in Mexican society and women often suffered silently (Morrison & Kahlo, 13). However, Kahlo defied all odds and painted her portrait- showing the pain she endured when she miscarried. After the exhibition of the “Henry Ford Hospital” painting, women started talking openly about miscarriage.
In “The Two Fridas (1939),” Kahlo combined naturalism and surrealism to portray two versions of herself. In one image, Kahlo has a white dress, with an open heart, which appears damaged. Spots of blood are seen on her dress. In the second image, Kahlo has a dress with several colors- green, yellow, blue and white. Unlike the first image in which her heart is damaged, the second image has an intact heart (Morrison & Kahlo, 2003). Kahlo painted the portrait just before or after divorcing with her husband. The portraits send a subtle message to the audience about her love relationship. Apparently, the portrait in which she has a white dress represents an unloved Kahlo, but who still holds to her marriage. The second portrait in which she has a multi-coloured dress represents a loved Kahlo.
Also, Kahlo represents classical idealism in her paintings. Classical idealism is a style of painting whereby the artists paints what he or she has in the mind and let the audience to attach meaning to the painting (Thomson, 2012). Kahlo’s paintings are replete with classical idealism because she leaves the audience to make interpretations. For example, in the painting, “Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931),” Kahlo not only uses naturalism, but also classical idealism to convey meaning. In the painting, Kahlo holds her husband’s hand, but the still formal image shows lack of happiness in the marriage (Morrison & Kahlo, 21). Any person who looks at the image would sense lack of romance between the couple. Kahlo painted the portrait when she was two years in marriage, a time when she should be enjoying her marriage, but paints the opposite. In “The Two Fridas (1939), Kahlo uses classical idealism to present two versions of herself. In one version, her heart is damaged while in another version her heart is intact. The portrait gives the audience an opportunity to attach meaning to the painting.
Kahlo effectively represented cultural ideals and social values in her paintings. For example, in the painting, “Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931),” Kahlo represents the problems in marriage. The painting shows that a couple can hold hands in public, but are disconnected in their hearts. The painting, “The Two Fridas (1939),” also represents the issue of love and marriage. Kahlo sends a message to viewer that failure to make an effort in marriage would damage a partner’s heart. In this painting, the heart represents love, which is intact when loved and damaged when unloved. In the painting, “Henry Ford Hospital (1932),” Kahlo represents social values such as empowerment and freedom. Kahlo painted herself on a hospital bed after having a miscarriage to display the emotional problems she endured.
In sum, Kahlo effectively used naturalism and cultural idealism to represent cultural ideals and social values. She painted the works at a time when women were required to suffer in silence and remain submissive to men. Kahlo dared to go beyond the cultural restrictions and lived her life as she wanted, with freedom and independence. She married her friend, Diego Rivera, divorced and remarried him again after ten years- this showed she lived her life. Also, Kahlo empowered women to go for what they want in life by working hard on their dreams. Lastly, Kahlo was a fighter for women independence, which is represented in her paintings.
Kettenmann, Andrea. Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954: Pain and Passion. Hong Kong: Taschen, 2009. Print.
Morrison, John, and Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2003. Internet resource.
Thomson, R. . Art of the actual: Naturalism and style in early Third Republic France, 1880-1900. 2012. New Haven : Yale University Press,
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