Frida Kahlo enjoyed little financial success during her relitively short life, dying far before the world could see the immense impact that her works would have on the world of feminism, human rights and latin and mexican culture. Acive between 1925 until her death in 1954 at the age of just 47. After becoming incapacitated in a bus accident which left her severely diabled, she picked up painting as a hobby, studdying under respected mexican mural artist Diego Rivera. She is well-known for her self portraits, which make up the bulk of her work, and which often deal with her disabilty, infertility and confict-ridden marriage to Rivera, who held many sexist and misoginistic vues, as well as being about 20 years her senior. Her portraits acted as a form of healing, as she used them to reclaim herself from dissabilty and the sexist ideals pushed on her by her husband. Her paintings are feminine, but not sexulizing, viewing herself as an individual, instead of as a symbol of sex and desire, like many painters before her did. She enjoyed distorting her own image as a way of expressing her current views on life and the world around her. This painting is an exemplary example of that.
Painted in the midst of Kahlo’s almost 30 year career, and after her divorce to Diego Rivera, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is often regarded as one of Kahlo’s most important and poignant works. This is for good reason, as the relatively small painting is an superlative reflection of Kahlo. She faces the viewer with a self-assured stare, as her eyebrows and necklace frame her assertive facial expression, attracting the viewer to it. With regards to the necklace, it is made of thorns, wrapped around her throat and travelling down her décolletage. Thorns from the necklace pierce her throat, drawing blood. A pendant with a black hummingbird hangs from her neck, as a monkey sits on her right shoulder, and a panther around her left.
The portrait is backed by a luxurious green canopy. Blue butterflies sit in her hair, and dragonflies fly over her head.Kahlo’s works are intimate and ornate, as well as very eccentric. She was very consistent in her style and her approach is unwavering despite how odd the work might seem at first. Her color palette is equally eccentric, consisting of warm and bright colors, which divert it from more realistic and neutral paintings. Her palette combined with her folk art inspired visuals make for art that read as very human, and not overly robotic. She was greatly influenced by her Mexican heritage, native Mexican culture and Mexican folklore, as evidenced by the hummingbird, which is a Mexican symbol of fortuity and love.
These influences were definitely brought on by her husband, who was a well-respected Mexican folk artist at the time, as well as her teacher. With her deep immersion into her culture, it is logical to assume that her respect for Rivera and other artists in his vein was quite high.Following Kahlo’s death, she has become somewhat of a folk hero, impowering many women and activists with her visceral approach to painting. Her old residence was erected as a museum where visitors can browse many of her works.
Her popularity is worldwide though, in particularly amongst suffragists in 20th century America. Unfortunately, the full breadth of her artistic power will probably never be seen, as the illness that plagued her for 30 years finally caught up to her. She was forced into a wheelchair as illnesses plagued her disabled body. She continued to paint until the very end though, with her last known painting being Viva la Vida (Watermelons) in 1954.
The title of this painting shows a lot about Kahlo, showing a love for life despite knowing she was close to the end. A perfect send out for a woman who lived her life in vibrant and unapologetic rebellion.