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The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo
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In This Section:
Honestly Frida
Photo Gallery
People in Frida's World
Timeline

People in Frida's World
Diego Rivera | Leon Trotsky | Heinz Berggruen | André Breton | Isamu Noguchi | Frida's Family

Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera Diego Rivera was born in December 1886, in Guanajuato, Mexico. Considered a prodigy at a very early age, he began painting at age two. Rivera studied and worked in Spain, France and Italy, discovering a passion for murals. Returning to Mexico, Diego's popularity grew. In the 1920s he painted a number of large murals depicting scenes from Mexican history.

Throughout his life, Rivera was active in politics and the Communist Party, acting as a Mexican delegate to the Soviet Union in 1927. Contributions to his native country included serving as head of the Department of Plastic Crafts at the Ministry of Education; creating the Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors; and forming the Commission of Mural Painting, an arm of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes.

Rivera married Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in 1929, but fidelity was out of the question for him. A doctor had once told him that he was unfit for monogamy, and Rivera cheerfully accepted the diagnosis. Rivera and Kahlo had been married less than a year when he had his first affair. Their troubled marriage and numerous affairs (she, too, was unfaithful) led to divorce in 1939, but the couple remarried late the following year. When Kahlo died in 1954, Diego wrote, "I realized that the most wonderful part of my life had been my love for Frida." In November 1957, at the age of 70, Rivera died of heart failure in his San Angel studio.


Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein to Jewish parents in Yanovka, Kherson Province, of the Ukraine in November 1879. Throughout his lifetime, he was deeply committed to the theories of Marxism as a thinker, writer, organizer and military strategist. Trotsky was instrumental in the organization of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, and the defeat of the Bolsheviks' opponents in the subsequent civil war.

During his political career, Trotsky held a number of influential posts in the Soviet Russian government and was exiled from many countries on multiple occasions. He was finally ousted from the government by Joseph Stalin in 1925.

By 1936, Stalin had consolidated his power in Russia, and he chased the rival Trotsky into exile. Communist communities around the world were violently divided in their loyalties. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera followed Trotsky, alienating himself from the Communist mainstream in Mexico. Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas granted Rivera's request for Trotsky's asylum in Mexico, and the Russian and his wife Natalia lived with Rivera and wife Frida Kahlo, rent-free and under 24-hour guard, for the next two years.

Trotsky was notoriously attracted to pretty women, and Kahlo found his stature in the world, and in Diego's eyes, appealing. Their interest in each other quickly developed into an affair. But before long, Kahlo grew tired of Trotsky, whom she called "the old man." After their breakup, she made a self-portrait for him, which he left behind when he finally moved from the Riveras' home.

In 1940, Trotsky was murdered with an ice-pick in Mexico on Stalin's orders by Ramon Mercader, a Spanish-born agent for the Soviet secret police.


Heinz Berggruen
Heinz Berggruen Currently residing in Berlin, Heinz Berggruen is a German Jew who escaped Germany before World War II. He went to San Francisco where he got a job looking after Diego Rivera, who was there painting a mural. Berggruen was hired because he spoke fluent French and could communicate with Rivera, who spoke Spanish and French but no English. Rivera introduced his wife Frida Kahlo to Berggruen, and Berggruen and Kahlo ran off to New York together for a month-long affair. She returned to Rivera, and the lovers never saw each other again.

After the war, Berggruen went to Paris and became one of the city's leading art dealers for almost 50 years, trading mostly Picassos. Just 10 years ago he finally returned to Berlin, where he was given a museum to house his collection and an apartment on the top floor so he could always be near his paintings. He has said that he regrets never having the opportunity to own one of Kahlo's works of art.


André Breton
André Breton André Breton was born in Tinchebray, France in 1896. He started writing poems at a young age and studied medicine and psychiatry. During World War I, Breton worked in neurological wards and made use of Freudian theory to assess patients.

After a brief membership in a Dadaist group, Breton published the Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924. He is noted for his writing during the 1920s and '30s that included both poetry and prose. His most influential works are "Nadja" (1928), the "Second Surrealist Manifesto" (1930), "Communicating Vessels" (1932) and "Mad Love" (1937).

Breton was a member of the French Communist Party from 1927 to 1935. He separated from the party and in 1938 worked with Leon Trotsky to create the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art. Breton and his wife Jacqueline Lamba escaped Nazi-occupied France during World War II and traveled to Mexico in 1938. Breton greatly admired Kahlo's work and organized several exhibitions for her paintings. Lamba and Kahlo were close friends and are rumored to have had an affair.

After the war, Breton moved to the United States where he worked in broadcasting and coordinated a surrealist exposition, "Situation of Surrealism between the Two Wars," at Yale in 1942. He returned to France in 1946 and continued writing until his death in Paris in 1966.


Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi Isamu Noguchi was born on November 17, 1904, in Los Angeles to a Japanese poet and an Irish-American editor and teacher. He was raised in Japan until age 13 when he returned to study in the United States.

After securing a Guggenheim fellowship in 1927, Noguchi traveled to Paris to work as an assistant to sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and then worked in China, Japan and Mexico. He established himself in 1932 in New York City primarily as a sculptor and portrait artist but is also noted for his memorials, monuments and industrial and spatial arts designs that include gardens, playgrounds, public plazas, furniture and stage sets.

Frida Kahlo and Noguchi were both popular figures on the Mexican art scene when they met. They had a brief but passionate love affair, and the two considered buying an apartment together until Kahlo's gun-brandishing husband, Diego Rivera, demanded an end to the affair. Kahlo and Noguchi remained friends until her death.

Noguchi spent six months at a Japanese Relocation Camp in Arizona during World War II. He created his own museum – the Noguchi Museum – during the 1980s in Long Island, New York, where his collection of work is currently on exhibition. Noguchi died in New York City in 1988.


Frida's Family
When Frida was born, her father, Guillermo, was an established photographer, a remarkable achievement for man who just 13 years before struggled to make a living in a foreign country.

Born Wilhelm Kahlo in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1872, his father had high hopes for his intellectual son and sent him to university. But Wilhelm's schooling was cut short by the first of many epileptic seizures. At about the same time Wilhelm's mother suddenly died. His father soon remarried. Wilhelm did not like his stepmother so the 19-year-old was sent packing. He arrived in Mexico City in 1891 and began a new life by changing his name to its Spanish equivalent - Guillermo. He never returned to Germany.

Penniless, the new immigrant worked at a number of odd jobs. In 1894 he married a Mexican woman, but four years later she died. Soon after he fell in love with Frida's mother, Matilde Calderon. Frida was the third of four daughters born of their marriage.

Frida often remarked that her mother did not love her father, and this may have been the case. Matilde grieved her whole life for her first love, who she saw commit suicide.

Matilde was a devout catholic and as the oldest of 12 children did not have the luxury of an education, although Frida said she was very intelligent. Matilde's father was a photographer, so it was only natural that she would suggest this profession to her new husband.

Frida shared similar creative interests with her father, and thus may have been closer to him than to her mother. It was Guillermo who encouraged his daughter to paint after her accident. Her mother's obsessive piety may also have gotten in the way of a close mother-daughter relationship. Still, when Frida received a telegram in 1932 telling her that her mother was dying of breast cancer, she rushed from Detroit to be at Matilde's deathbed.

Guillermo died of a heart attack in 1941. Of his death, Frida wrote:
"The death of my father was something terrible for me. I think that it's owing to this that I became much less well and I grew rather thin again. You remember how handsome he was and how good?"

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