Frida Kahlo was Hispano-Indian on her mother’s side and German on her father’s. She met Diego Rivera when he was painting a mural at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where she was a student. They married in 1929 and, like Rivera, she became passionately interested in revolutionary politics. She had contracted polio at the age of six and never fully recovered the use of her right leg. In 1925, she also suffered a serious bus accident and became permanently physically handicapped as a result. It was during her convalescence that she began to paint.

The couple spent several years in New York and then returned to San Angel in Mexico, where they lived in a double house – each with their own studio – which had been designed by Juan O’Gorman, a pupil of Le Corbusier. In 1937, Leon Trotsky stayed in Kahlo’s Blue House (La Casa Azul) in Coyoacán. In 1938, she met André Breton in Mexico City. Kahlo and Rivera divorced in November 1939 but remarried in December 1940. Kahlo made a trip to Paris with her husband in 1939 for an exhibition entitled Mexico ( Mexique) organised by Breton, and there she became associated with the Surrealist group. She also met Wolfgang Paalen and his wife, Alice Rahon, and became friends with Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Kahlo painted 143 paintings, of which 55 were self-portraits that conveyed her sufferings in a strange and surreal atmosphere. One of the best known is Self-portrait with Loose Hair (1947). Her painting possesses the ingenuousness of naive art while her imagination suggests deeper, disturbing connotations that drew strongly on popular ancestral customs dating back to the Pre-Colombian period: woman as suckling, woman as root, woman as stag. She painted her last self-portrait, entitled Self-portrait with Diego on My Heart, in 1953-1954. Breton, who was interested in her work, wrote: ‘The art of Frida Kahlo y Rivera is a ribbon tied around a bomb’. She also painted works that recounted different events in her life, such as her miscarriage in 1934. She often showed herself accompanied by small monkeys, a dog, flowers, and fruit. Kahlo is one of the major figures of prewar Mexican art and exerted a noticeable influence on the Surrealist movement that emerged after the war.