Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

September 15 to October 15, 2001
Online exhibition prepared for Hispanic Heritage Month

The Archives of American Art created this exhibition in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month 2001 in order to pay tribute to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (b. 1907 d. 1954) and her enduring influence on American art.

The photographs and letters seen here were selected from several of the Archives’ collections, including the papers of author and artist Florence Arquin, who lectured extensively on the art of Latin America during the 1940s and 1950s, painter and muralist Emmy Lou Packard, who lived with Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera for a time, writer John Weatherwax, photographer Nickolas Muray, and prominent collector and art patron Chester Dale. Together, they provide a glimpse into Kahlo’s public and private life while revealing relationships and events that impacted her life and art.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo in her studio with The Two Fridas, Coyoacán, Mexico

Frida Kahlo in her studio with The Two Fridas, Coyoacán, Mexico, ca. 1943

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo with her painting, Self-Portrait as a Tehuana

Frida Kahlo with her painting, Self-Portrait as a Tehuana, ca. 1943

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the interior court of the Detroit Institute of Arts

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the interior court of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1932-1933

Creator: Detroit Institute of Arts

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo on the patio of her house in Coyoacán, Mexico

Frida Kahlo on the patio of her house in Coyoacán, Mexico, 1948

Creator: Florence Arquin

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán Mexico

Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán Mexico, 1948

Creator: Florence Arquin

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo in the patio of her house, Coyoacán, Mexico

Frida Kahlo in the patio of her house, Coyoacán, Mexico, 1948

Creator: Florence Arquin

Author and painter Florence Arquin (1900-1974) traveled extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean documenting the art and culture of the region for numerous lectures she delivered in the United States. In 1949, she wrote Diego Rivera: The Shaping of an Artist, 1889-1921, one of the first of many books written about Rivera. A personal friend of both Frida and Diego, Florence Arquin's color photographs were taken in the courtyard of the "Blue House" in the suburbs of Coyoacán, Mexico and provide an intimate view of the artists at home.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo on the patio of the Blue House

Frida Kahlo on the patio of the Blue House, 195-?

Creator: Florence Arquin

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1931

Creator: Paul A. Juley

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo reclining on her bed in Coyoacán, Mexico

Frida Kahlo reclining on her bed in Coyoacán, Mexico, between 1942 and 1945

Creator: Chester Dale

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera reclining, Coyoacán, Mexico

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera reclining, Coyoacán, Mexico, between 1942 and 1945

Creator: Chester Dale

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera, between 1935 and 1945

Creator: Chester Dale

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera with Chester Dale

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera with Chester Dale, between 1942 and 1945

A warm, almost father-daughter relationship developed between Kahlo and the prominent American collector and art patron Chester Dale (1883-1962). Kahlo sold at least one of her paintings to Dale and he may have paid for at least one of her many operations. Included in his papers are photographs from his trip to Mexico where he met Kahlo and Rivera in the 1940s. Also found in Dale's papers is a photograph taken in the studio of sculptor Ralph Stackpole (1885-1973), who Rivera had known in Paris. Stackpole, along with, William Gerstle, president of the San Francisco Art Commission, helped Rivera secure mural commissions in San Francisco in 1930.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo letter to Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo letter to Diego Rivera, 1940

Creator: Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, 1941 Dec. 17

Creator: Frida Kahlo

Emmy Lucha: Letter Left this Morning. Afraid Arrive Late Would like Ask You Enormous Favor Tell Arensberg [Walter G. Arensberg] Painting "Birth" Belongs to Kauffmann [Edgar Kauffman] Stop Wish You Could Convince Them to Buy Instead "I with My Nurse" Same Size Same Price 300 Because Need Bucks Very Urgently Before First January Please Make All Efforts as Possible Stop Sending Photo Let Me Know Results Million Thanks Love Frida Kahlo 300 Bucks

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo to Emmy Lou Packard in Spanish

Frida Kahlo to Emmy Lou Packard in Spanish, 1941 Dec. 15

Creator: Frida Kahlo

After her divorce from and subsequent reconciliation with Rivera in 1939, Kahlo was determined to subsist from the sale of her artwork, financially independent from Rivera. When the prospect of selling a painting to American art collector Walter G. Arensberg surfaced, Kahlo made all efforts to pursue Arensberg. Although his original interest was in her painting The Birth, she urgently asked Emmy Lou Packard to try and sway Arensberg, a friend of Packard's, to purchase a different painting since Kahlo had already sold The Birth to another collector, Edgar Kauffman. " ... from what you tell about me Arensberg, I want you to tell them that Kaufmann has the painting The Birth. I would like him to buy the one of Me Suckling [My Nurse and I ] since they would give me a nice pile. Especially now since I am going about like a complete wretch. If you get the chance, go to bat for me with them, but do it as though it came from you. Tell them it is a painting that I painted at the same time as The Birth and you and Diego like it very much. ... I hope that you will encourage them to buy it from me, since you cannot imagine how much I need the bucks now (tell them it's worth 250 dollars)"

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Gathering at the Riveras’ San Angel home

Gathering at the Riveras’ San Angel home, 1938

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo, Paris, France letter to Nickolas Muray, New York, N.Y.

Frida Kahlo, Paris, France letter to Nickolas Muray, New York, N.Y., 1939 Feb. 27

Creator: Frida Kahlo

Despite the success of her exhibition, Kahlo remained unimpressed by the Parisian artistic elite. Adding to Kahlo's frustration with Paris, the menace of an impending war in Europe was suppressing the buying practices of otherwise generous collectors, forcing her to cancel an exhibition in London. "... I decided that the same thing would be in London. So I am not going to make any exhibit in London. People in general are scared to death of the war and all the exhibition have been a failure, because the rich - don't want to buy anything".

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo, Coyoacan, Mexico letter to Clara Strang Weatherwax, Berkeley, Calif.

Frida Kahlo, Coyoacan, Mexico letter to Clara Strang Weatherwax, Berkeley, Calif., 1931 Sept. 2

Creator: Frida Kahlo

In this illustrated letter to friends Clara and Gerry Strang, Kahlo playfully refers to herself as "The Queen" and to Diego as "The King". The following coquettish lines from Kahlo's letter may refer to Weatherwax's short story which Kahlo may have been waiting for Weatherwax to complete. "Please tell him that my decision is that when I be in San Francisco again (probably in January) He will have no beard anymore [she was told John Weatherwax had grown a beard] And if he disobey my decision he will be put in jail immediately. He must be afraid because I am very cruel Queen. Please tell him I am waiting for my "History", and I hope that will be finished before I change my kingdom from here!" She signs the letter, "Queen Freida The first" Kahlo's German father, Guillermo Kahlo named his daughter "Frieda", German for "Peace". Around 1935, during the rise of Nazism, she dropped the e in spelling of her name.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

The Queen of Montgomery Street

The Queen of Montgomery Street, ca. 1930

Creator: John M. (John Martin) Weatherwax

While in San Francisco, Kahlo and Rivera stayed with sculptor Ralph Stackpole (1885-1973), in his studio on Montgomery Street, the old artist's quarter of San Francisco. Here, Rivera was approached by American writer, John Weatherwax (1900-1984), who was tackling a translation of the ancient Mayan text, Popol Vuh. Weatherwax asked Rivera if he would provide the illustrations for the manuscript. Despite his demanding schedule, Rivera agreed. Although the translated version was never published, Rivera produced twenty-four watercolor illustrations.
"The Queen" is the name Weatherwax used for Kahlo in The Queen of Montogomery Street, his clever short story about the Rivera's experiences in San Francisco. Probably written as a gift to the Rivera's, The Queen of Montogomery Street reveals the author's admiration for the Mexican couple.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacán, Mexico

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacán, Mexico, 1948 Jan. 24

Creator: Florence Arquin

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo, New York, N.Y. letter to Emmy Lou Packard, San Francisco, Calif.

Frida Kahlo, New York, N.Y. letter to Emmy Lou Packard, San Francisco, Calif., 1940 October 24

Creator: Frida Kahlo

This letter to Packard was written from New York City where Frida was arranging a second exhibition with New York art dealer, Julien Levy. While working with Packard in San Francisco in 1940, Rivera developed difficulties with his vision and required medical attention. In the letter, Frida expresses her concern over her husband's health and asks Packard to sincerely tell her if his condition is grave enough that she should leave New York for San Francisco immediately. "Emmy Lou my darling, Please forgive for writing you in pencil – can't find any fountain pen or ink in this house. I am terribly worried about Diego's eyes. Please tell me the exact truth about it. If he is not feeling better I will scram from here at once. Some doctor here told me that the sulphamilamid sometimes is dangerous. Please darling ask Dr. Eloesser about it. Tell him all the symptoms Diego has after taking the pills. He will know because he knows about Diego's condition in general. I am so happy he is near you. I can't tell you how much I love you for being so good to him and being so kind to me." Frida also offers a reply to Packard regarding one of her drawings and an exhibition at the Julien Levy gallery. "Darling, Julien Levy liked very much your drawing but he can't give you an exhibition because he says he only shows Surrealist paintings. I will talk to Pierre Mathisse [Matisse] and I am sure I can arrange something here for you next year. I still like the first one you made of me better that the others". Kahlo refers to Pierre Matisse, the younger son of the French artist Henri Matisse, who opened a gallery in New York in 1931, dealing in European modern and contemporary artists, such as Balthus, Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Georges Rouault, and Yves Tanguy. Although Emmy Lou Packard did not exhibit at the Henri Matisse Gallery she secured an exhibition in 1941 at the Stendahl Gallery in Los Angeles.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo, Paris, France letter to Nickolas Muray, New York, N.Y.

Frida Kahlo, Paris, France letter to Nickolas Muray, New York, N.Y., 1939 Feb. 16

Creator: Frida Kahlo

Nickolas Muray (1892-1965) was a close friend and lover of Frida Kahlo. The Hungarian-born photographer's celebrity portraits appeared regularly in Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar. He also took numerous photographs of Kahlo and purchased many of Kahlo's paintings, helping her financially while she was struggling during her brief eleven-month divorce from Rivera. She was having an affair with Muray when she and Rivera filed for divorce in 1939; although it is unclear whether the cause of the separation was Kahlo's or Rivera's infidelity. These intimate letters attest to Kahlo's close relationship with Muray. Kahlo left for Paris in 1939 to be part of the exhibition Mexique, curated by the Surrealist André Breton. Eighteen paintings by Kahlo were included in the show, as well as photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, some pre-Colombian pieces, and a selection of popular art objects: retablos, toys, sugar skulls, masks, and ceramics. Upon her arrival in Paris she was outraged to learn that Breton had not yet retained a gallery for the exhibition or claimed her paintings from the customs house. Her only praise was for the Surrealist painter Marcel Duchamp and the American Mary Reynolds. Duchamp came to her aid by retrieving the paintings and arranging an exhibition at the Pierre Colle Gallery. " ... I had to wait like an idiot till I met Marcel Duchamp (a marvelous painter) who is the only one who has his feet on the earth, among all this bunch of coocoo lunatic - of the Surrealists .... They are so damn "intelectual" [sic] and rotten that I can't stand them any more. It is really too much for my character - I rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than to have anything to do with those "artistic" --- of Paris. ... I never seen Diego or you, wasting their time on stupid gossip and "intelectual" [sic] discussions. That is why you are real men and not lousy "artists"..." Duchamp and Reynolds further helped Kahlo by offering their home while she recuperated from a serious kidney infection she developed just weeks after her arrival in Paris. This letter to Nickolas Muray was written from the American Hospital in Paris where she received treatment.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, 1931 Nov. 5

Creator: Natural Color Photoprint Studio (San Francisco, Calif.)

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo standing

Frida Kahlo standing, ca. 1948

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo upper body portrait

Frida Kahlo upper body portrait, 1948 Jan. 24

Creator: Florence Arquin

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo standing by a stone wall

Frida Kahlo standing by a stone wall, 1948 Jan. 24

Creator: Florence Arquin

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, 1948 Jan. 24

Creator: Florence Arquin

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, 1941

Creator: Emmy Lou Packard

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, 1941

Creator: Emmy Lou Packard

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, 1941

Creator: Emmy Lou Packard

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Emmy Lou Packard and Frida Kahlo

Emmy Lou Packard and Frida Kahlo, 1941

Creator: Diego Rivera

Painter, printmaker and muralist Emmy Lou Packard (1914-1998) worked as Diego Rivera's assistant in the United States and lived in Mexico with the Riveras early in her career. Packard documented their warm friendship and her impressions of Mexico through candid photographs taken of the couple. Her papers include photographs of Kahlo posing in the backyard of her famous "Blue House" (now the Frida Kahlo Memorial Museum in Coyoacán, Mexico) where Kahlo was born, maintained a studio, and spent the last days of her life. Also found are letters written to Packard from Kahlo.

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Frida Kahlo: Notas Sobre una Vida / Notes on a Life

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, 1931 Nov. 5

Creator: Natural Color Photoprint Studio (San Francisco, Calif.)

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