Frida Kahlo’s Self Portrait with Monkey 1940, one of the masterpieces of Madonna’s art collection, will go on display at Tate Modern today, Thursday 4 October. Its arrival in London was delayed by the events of 11 September, but now the eagerly-awaited work will be a highlight of the current Surrealism: Desire Unbound Surrealism: Desire Unbound exhibition. This will be a unique opportunity for visitors to see this rarely exhibited work.
The Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) is famous for her emotionally charged self-portraits and autobiographical paintings. She forged a unique manner of painting from the traditions of Mexican regional academic painting and popular religious art, and became during her lifetime a legendary figure in her native country. Since her death in 1954, Kahlo has remained an inspiration to artists and she is the subject of a major film currently in production.
Commenting on the loan, Madonna said:
Loaning my Frida to Tate is like letting go of one of my precious children, but I know she will be in good hands and the exhibit would not be complete without her.
Self-portrait with Monkey is one of the finest of Kahlo’s self-portraits. It was made at the time of her painful divorce from the celebrated muralist Diego Rivera. Her unsmiling expression and her unflinching gaze suggests both suffering and resilience. The portrait can also be seen as representing her vision of herself as linked to the forces of nature. She stands against a background of luxuriant vegetation, and a pet monkey embraces her. The monkey can be read as a replacement for the children Kahlo could not have as a result of the injuries she sustained in a road accident during her youth.
Kahlo denied being influenced by surrealism, but for the surrealists Kahlo epitomised both the magical spirit of Mexico and their vision of woman as potentially a sorceress-like creature. The leader of the surrealist movement André Breton met Kahlo in 1938 and was immediately struck by her independence and beauty, describing her as ‘adorned like a fairy-tale princess, with magic spells at her fingertips’. Of her work he wrote, ‘There is no art more exclusively feminine, in the sense that, in order to be as seductive as possible it is only too willing to play alternately at being absolutely pure and absolutely pernicious. The art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon around a bomb.’