Frida Kahlo Studio at the Blue House

Studio at the Blue House, showing Kahlo’s brushes and paints.

Photo: Matthew Gonzalez-Noda

An unassuming sketch in this room records the accident that was to change Kahlo’s life so dramatically. We see the moment of impact, the bodies in the street, and Kahlo lying bandaged on a stretcher. Confined to bed, Kahlo began to paint to relieve her boredom. A carpenter made an easel that could be attached to her bed, and a mirror was placed in the canopy above, allowing her to embark on the series of self-portraits that would become central to her work.

A watercolour and drawing, made during Kahlo’s long recuperation, show her as a girl in Coyoacán, an old town that became a suburb of Mexico City. Despite her later identification with indigenous Mexican peoples, hers was an urban, middle-class upbringing. The family home in Coyoacán, now called ‘The Blue House’ or ‘Casa Azul’, was built by her father along colonial lines, and it was to this house that she would later return. Kahlo and Rivera lived there from 1940 until her death in 1954, adding another wing to include a studio for Kahlo, and extending the garden.

Alongside these works are two curious drawings featuring the character of Santa Claus. One shows him having a perm in a beauty parlour, while in the other he lounges in a chair, nursing a priapic sombrero in his lap. These humorous sketches are in fact caustic missives directed at the more conservative elements within the Mexican post-revolutionary political scene.

Santa Claus is a cipher for the bourgeois revolutionary leader and former president Venustiano Carranza, who died in 1920. During the bitter power struggles of the Revolution, Carranza had waged a reign of terror against the enlightened and able presidential candidate Alvaro Obregón, and became a bitter enemy of populist revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. These are amongst Kahlo’s most explicitly political works.