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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > September 2018 > The Tortured Artist

The Tortured Artist

Her face may be better known than her art, but Frida Kahlo’s tragic history deserves just as much recognition, says Alicea Francis says Alicea Francis
COURTESY V&A MUSEUM; © NICKOLAS MURAY PHOTO ARCHIVES

They say that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas; that a seemingly insignificant decision can change a person’s life in the most unimaginable of ways. Frida Kahlo’s butterfly moment occurred on 17 September 1925. She was boarding the bus home from school. Realising that she had left her umbrella behind, she disembarked and, after a fruitless search, boarded another.

ABOVE: Frida (sitting centre) with her sisters Matilde, Adriana and Cristina.
© BANCO DE MÉXICO DIEGO RIVERA FRIDA KAHLO MUSEUMS TRUST, MEXICO, D.F. / DACS 2018 X1

The second bus did not reach its final destination. En route, it collided with a tram and Kahlo sustained near-fatal injuries. The course of her life, which until that point had been so clearly mapped out, had suddenly taken a dramatic turn – one that would see her rise to fame and become one of the most recognisable artists in global history.

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born in 1910, the first year of the Mexican Revolution – or, at least, that is what she would tell her acquaintances. She was actually born on 6 July 1907. Her father was a German photographer who had settled in Mexico City after his epilepsy prevented him from attending university; her mother was of Spanish and indigenous descent. At the age of six, she contracted polio and was left with a deformed leg. Following her illness, she and her father grew close – perhaps thanks to their shared experiences of disability – and she spent many hours with him in his studio, learning to retouch portraits.

ABOVE RIGHT: Kahlo’s violent pencil sketch of ‘The Accident’.
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About History Revealed

At the dawn of the second century BC, two titans of the ancient world went to war: Macedon, the pre-eminent power of Ancient Greece, and Rome, then still an upstart republic. This is the complete story of a war that defined antiquity, where phalanx clashed with legion. Plus: Protest and turmoil ripples around the world in 1968; the split loyalties of Thomas More, the accident that made Frida Kahlo an artist, a glimpse inside the Titanic & more.