Frida Kahlo – A Beautiful No1 Painting

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Frida Kahlo- a beautiful no. 1 painting!

One of my favourite paintings- is Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait with a thorn necklace and hummingbird. Have you recently seen this famous self-portrait- maybe for the first time, maybe not- and a lot of questions come to mind? For instance, who is Frida Kahlo? Or maybe, what do the animals in Freida Kahlo represent? What is her back story? Do you ever look at a painting and realise, this is so much more than colours on a page? Well, if the answer was no to that, if you keep reading I will tell you all about how this portrait is so much more than a few brush strokes.

In this painting, there are techniques, a back story with symbolism, unique scale, composition and so much more, if you keep reading, you can find out all about the little side story’s that this portrait represents.

Frida Kahlo- Back story and symbolism 1.

Frida Kahlo has a very traumatic, unfortunate story, including an accident that lead to fertility issues, an extremely rocky relationship and many more.

Kahlo’s self-portrait was influenced by the pain and suffering she endured after experiencing a damaging, mentally and physically, bus incident when she was at the ripe, young age of 18. A metal pole pierced through her pelvis in the bus incident, leading to her becoming infertile. Sadly, she was able to conceive the children but she was never able to fully grow them, and would always suffer from a miscarriage. This hurt her life as she was missing out on something big.

This is represented in the self-portrait, through the glossy green leaves in the background, behind Kahlo, which is a symbol of fertility so ironically they have been used in this painting. Also many say that the dead hummingbird hanging around Kahlo’s neck is a symbol of this unfortunate event in her life, as a hummingbird symbols hope, and since it is dead it could be a metaphor for having no hope- however, I feel like since Kahlo had quite an unlucky life, this could fit into many sections.

Frida Kahlo- Back story and symbolism 2.

Another tragic event that Kahlo experienced was caused by her husband, Diego Rivera. Kahlo communicates the pain and the stress that her husband caused her throughout different aspects of the painting. Kahlo and Rivera have a very rocky, turbulent relationship where he had serval affairs- including one with Kahlo’s very own sister, this was the event that lead to the couple’s divorce.

This is shown throughout the painting in many aspects of it, including the monkey on Kahlo’s left shoulder. The monkey was a gift from Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, and it symbolises evil and lust in the self-portrait. The monkey can also be seen pulling on the thorn necklace she is wearing, cutting and tearing at her neck, making her bleed. This is a metaphor, showing the mental pain she experienced at the hands of her husband, through physical pain.

The rocky relationship is also shown in the painting through the hummingbird that I previously mentioned.

The hummingbird is a Mexican symbol of love and joy. In the painting, we can see
that the hummingbird is dead and wrapped around her neck which could be interpreted as
the love in her marriage is dead and therefore failing, however as I mentioned, I believe that the hummingbird fits into the portrait in many different ways.

We can also see Kahlo’s pain in the painting as the thorn necklace is wrapped tightly around her neck, suffocating her and drawing blood.

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Self Portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird.

Frida Kahlo- Composition

Before I fully get into the composition, you may still be questioning who Frida Kahlo is, so let me tell you a bit about her first.

  • Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist, who was born in 1907 and died in 1954 at only 47 years old.
  • Kahlo was diagnosed with Polio at 6 years old resulting in the disfigurement of her right leg.
  • Kahlo attended an all-girls school to become a doctor
  • At 18 years old Kahlo was involved in a near-fatal bus crash that resulted in lifelong injuries and pain.

This composition is symmetrical, as she is placed in the middle of the painting with two similar dark animals on either side of her. The butterfly in her hair and the dragonflies above her head also provide symmetry. This provides an aesthetically pleasing and balanced visual impact.

This is also an extremely crowded and busy composition. The foreground has a lot of different elements and subject matter whilst the background is filled with dense, luscious leaves. This means that there is very little negative space that creates an intense atmosphere.

Frida Kahlo- Media Handling

In this painting, Kahlo uses oil paint since it is a very slow-drying media to use. This is helpful as it adds to the realistic views as Frida Kahlo can add small details whilst waiting on it to dry or make small changes, although Kahlo was working on this piece for a long period.

Kahlo also adds to the realisticness of the painting by using a small, delicate, detailed brush stroked on the animal’s fur. This makes the texture look realistic, adding to the realistic views of the painting.

Frida Kahlo- colour

Kahlo uses an organic colour palette of greens and browns, that adds to the realistic qualities of the
painting. The imagery in the foreground is in a natural colour palette whilst the leaves in the background, behind Kahlo, are strong shades of green that add contrast between the subject matter- Kahlo and her animals- and create a frame around her.

Warm colours are confined to the centre of the painting through skin tone and the pink of her lips
that immediately draws our eyes to her face. This contrasts with the cool, green leaves that are behind the subject matter.

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