References and Influences
In many ways, Kahlo lived two lives: one as the wife of Diego Rivera, and the second as an eccentric and talented painter in her own right. During the majority of her painting career, however, the artist was seen in Rivera’s shadow and it wasn’t until late in life that the artist gained an international clientele and exhibition program.
Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas), 1939, oil on canvas, 67-11/16 x 67-11/16 inches (Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City)
The double self portrait The Two Fridas, 1939 (above) features two seated figures holding hands and sharing a bench in front of a stormy sky. The year she painted this canvas she was divorced from Diego Rivera, the acclaimed Mexican muralist. Before she married Rivera in 1929, she wore the modern European dress of the era, evident in her first self portrait (left) where she dons a red velvet dress with gold embroidery. With Rivera’s encouragement, Kahlo embraced attire rooted in Mexican customs. This double self-portrait is one of Kahlo’s most recognized compositions, and is symbolic of the artist’s pain during her divorce from Rivera and the subsequent transitioning of her constructed identity.
The stormy sky in the background, and the artist’s bleeding heart – a fundamental symbol of Catholicism and also symbolic of Aztec ritual sacrifice – accentuate Kahlo’s personal tribulation and physical pain. Symbolic elements frequently possess multiple layers of meaning in Kahlo’s pictures; the recurrent theme of blood represents both metaphysical and physical suffering, gesturing also to the artist’s ambivalent attitude toward accepted notions of womanhood and fertility.
Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas) detail with hand holding a portrait of young Diego, 1939
In the last years of Frida’s life she painted mostly small scale still life paintings. Because of her degrading physical appearance, it may be that she no longer felt that she wanted to portray her true image in a self-portrait. Instead, by proxy, she projected her pain and emotions onto the wounded fruits and weeping coconuts of her still life paintings. In this still life, the main focus is a weeping coconut. Perhaps an indication of her emotional state at the time.