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These Pictures Capture What Frida Kahlo Was Really Like

A look back at the incredible life of one of art history's most recognized and celebrated icons.

Posted on July 7, 2020, at 4:56 p.m. ET

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Toni Frissell / Library of Congress

Frida Kahlo sitting next to an agave plant, 1937.

This week marks the 113th birthday of one of art history's most celebrated artists — Frida Kahlo. The Mexican painter rose to prominence in the mid–20th century with her unique approach to self-portraiture that blended elements of surrealism and naive folk art to create vibrant expressions of love, pain, tragedy, and passion.

As the daughter of a well-known photographer who immigrated to Mexico from Germany, Kahlo's upbringing in the visual arts had a lifelong impact on how she perceived and portrayed the world. Her childhood was also marked by tragedy when at age 6 she contracted polio, a disease that left her permanently scarred and in pain for the remainder of her life. At 18, Kahlo was impaled by a handrail in a bus crash that killed many passengers. She was bedridden for weeks in a Mexico City hospital; during this time, she began experimenting in expressing her agony through painting. Without nature or subjects to paint, she searched for inspiration internally and created some of her first self-portraits during the time.

In the years that followed, Kahlo became a vocal proponent of the Mexican Communist Party and through her activism entered a long and at times turbulent relationship with Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. The pair maintained a studio in Mexico City, where Kahlo would continue to develop her distinct visual language by drawing from her life's struggles to create deeply psychological paintings. In 1953, she had her first solo exhibition in Mexico, one year before her death at the age of 47.

Today, her former studio has been transformed into a museum that celebrates the artist and her life's work. These pictures offer a glimpse into this museum and the colorful life of Frida Kahlo.

Andrew Hasson / Getty Images

Frida Kahlo's studio inside the Casa Azul, the museum dedicated to the artist in Mexico City, Jan. 17, 2019.

Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Kahlo poses next to her painting "The Two Fridas," Oct. 24, 1939.

Public Domain

Left: Kahlo around age 6, 1913. Right: Kahlo around age 12, 1919.

Andrew Hasson / Getty Images

Pigments used for painting inside Kahlo's studio in Mexico City, Jan. 17, 2019.

Getty Images

Left: Diego Rivera (left) and Kahlo (right) visit an art gallery exhibition of portraits by Lionel Reiss in New York, 1933. Right: Kahlo paints a commissioned portrait for the San Francisco Stock Exchange, Jan. 22, 1931.

Jeff Greenberg / Getty Images

A wheelchair and easel in the Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City, March 8, 2018.

Andrew Hasson / Getty Images

Kahlo's kitchen in Mexico City, Jan. 17, 2019.

Getty Images

Left: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo read and work in a studio, circa 1945. Right: Kahlo's powerful "Self-Portrait With Monkey and Parrot" painting during Sotheby's spring 1995 sale of Latin American art.

Keystone-france / Getty Images

From left: Natalia Sedova, Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, and Max Shachtman. Trotsky, Russian Marxist revolutionary, and his wife, Sedova, are greeted by Kahlo and Shachtman, a Polish-born American Marxist theoretician and pro-union activist, upon their arrival in Tampico, Mexico, Jan. 9, 1937.

AP Photo

Left: Rivera and Kahlo raise their fists in a communist salute during an anti-fascist demonstration in Mexico City, Nov. 23 1936. Right: This undated picture depicts Frida Kahlo wearing a body cast with a communist hammer-and-sickle symbol painted on the front.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Frida Kahlo sits in front of one of her paintings, circa 1945.

Omar Torres / Getty Images

A little theater with puppets made by Kahlo is on display at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City, July 4, 2007.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

The communist hammer-and-sickle emblem is draped over Kahlo's casket at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City where mourners viewed the remains prior to the funeral, July 19, 1954.

Andrew Hasson / Getty Images

Kahlo's death mask inside her studio museum in Mexico City, Jan. 17, 2019.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.