In early January, we made a visit to the home of famed Latin American artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), in Mexico City. Also called La Casa Azul (“The Blue House”), the property is operated as Museo Frida Kahlo, and much of the home has been left furnished as it was when the artist died. Judging by the crowds, and the difficulty of obtaining tickets, I would say this is a pilgrimage for fans of the artist.
The following text is from the museum’s Web site:
“As one explores Frida Kahlo’s work more deeply and enjoys the privilege of getting to know her home, one begins to discover the intense interrelations between Frida, her work, and her house. Her creative universe is to be found in the Blue House, the place where she was born and where she died. Following her marriage to Diego Rivera, Frida lived in different places in Mexico City and abroad, but she always returned to her family home in Coyoacán.
Located in one of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in Mexico City, the Blue House was made into a museum in 1958, four years after the death of the painter. Today it is one of the most popular museums in the Mexican capital.
Popularly known as the Casa Azul (the ‘Blue House’), the Museo Frida Kahlo preserves the personal objects that reveal the private universe of Latin America’s most celebrated woman artist. The Blue House also contains some of the painter’s most important works: Long Live Life (1954), Frida and the Caesarian Operation (1931), and Portrait of My Father Wilhelm Kahlo (1952), among others.”
By all accounts, Frida had a difficult life. She contracted polio as a child, and at the age of 18, was riding in a bus that was involved in an accident, nearly killing her. She suffered multiple fractures of her collarbone, ribs, spine and pelvis, and a steel handrail pierced her abdomen and uterus. She began to paint while immobilized for several months in a body cast.
For a brief biography of the artist prepared by the museum, click here.
Behind the blue walls is a complex of several buildings, with an interior courtyard, filled with tropical trees and plants.
There’s also a scale model of a pre-Colombian pyramid, representing Mexico’s ancient peoples, on which early stone sculptures have been placed.
Before entering what was the living quarters of Frida and Diego, we viewed a temporary exhibit that focused on Frida’s clothing. The artist was known for traditional ethnic clothing, including long skirts, which hid her one leg that had been rendered shorter and thinner than the other from polio, and tops which concealed the corsets that helped her sit up and stand with her damaged spine.
She adopted the dress style of the Tehuana women, originating in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. The clothing not only concealed what she described as a “body less than perfect,” but expressed the strength of the women of the matriarchal Tehuana society. She was also known for her jewelry and wearing her hair in braids on top of her head, often adorned with flowers.
The dresses on display were in storage within the house for 50 years, kept out of site according to the wishes of her husband, Diego Rivera, and later by their patron and friend Dolores Olmedo. These dresses, jewelry, and orthopedic devices were discovered in 2004 in a bathroom adjacent to the artist’s bedroom.
Entering the home, one sees this striking image:
The first few rooms the visitor sees are galleries, with a number of Frida’s paintings.
Here’s a sampling:
Continuing through the galleries, one finds this puppet theater created by Frida.
The dining room and kitchen are filled with clay Mexican pots and decorative items.In the kitchen, both Frida and Diego’s names are displayed on the wall.
Upstairs, in the studio, one finds the easel that Nelson Rockefeller gave to Frida. It is displayed with her wheelchair, that she used the last couple years of her life. Artist’s supplies are at the ready.
Ironically, in a cabinet adjacent to the easel is a binder labeled “—Protest— Rockefeller Vandalism,” presumably in reference to the Rockefeller family’s demolition of the fresco they had commissioned in 1932 by Diego Rivera for 30 Rockefeller Center. Contradicting the sketches that had been approved for the commission, the artist painted a mural with communist themes, including an image of Lenin, and he depicted the Rockefellers in an unflattering light. When he refused to change the fresco, it was chiseled off the wall, in 1934.
The house contains two beds that Frida used in two adjacent rooms. On this bed rests Frida’s death mask. Note the mirror above, which Frida used to paint self-portraits while bedridden.
In the next bedroom, said to be where she died, her ashes are contained in a traditional Mexican urn depicting a frog.
This well-known photograph of Frida by Nickolas Murray, taken in 1939, hangs in the upstairs of the house.
For more information on visiting Museo Frida Kahlo, check the Web site: https://www.museofridakahlo.org.mx/en/
I can recommend watching the 2002 feature film Frida, starring Salma Hayek as Frida and Alfred Molina as Diego. It was directed by Julie Taymor (famous for her stage adaptation of The Lion King). The film is based on the 1963 biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.
The museum is not open on Mondays. It is located in the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City.
After visiting the Frida Kahlo Museum, you might consider visiting the nearby, and much less busy, Leon Trotsky museum. The Soviet exile Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova lived at La Casa Azul with Frida and Diego from January 1937 to April 1939, before moving to a nearby house, which they fortified and had heavily guarded. Nevertheless, in August, 1940, a supporter of Stalin who had gained trust with the family, entered Trotsky’s study while he was working at his desk, and smashed his head with what is described as an Alpine climbing axe. Trotsky died the next day.
Having had our fill of Trotsky, and references to Stalin, Lenin and Marx, we happily moved on and poked around the business area of Coyoacán, visiting a busy food, vegetable and goods market, as well as an artisan’s market. In the food market, this delightful lady prepared a meal for one of my sons.