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Frida Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera​, 1931, oil on canvas, 39-3/8 x 31 inches or 100.01 x 78.74 cm (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

Painted in San Francisco during the artist's first trip outside of Mexico. She accompanied her husband Diego Rivera who was painting in the United States and would, at the end of the year, be the subject of a retrospecive at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The banderole carried by the bird above the artist states: Here you see us, me, Frieda Kahlo​, with my beloved husband Diego Rivera, I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco, California, for our friend Mr. Albert Bender, and it was the month of April of the year 1931. Note: Kahlo changed her German name, Frieda, to Frida.
Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're in SFMOMA, and we're looking at Frida Kahlo's portrait, "Frida and Diego Rivera," from 1931. SPEAKER 2: So it's an early Frida Kahlo. And they were both in San Francisco, so it's kind of a wonderful place to see this painting. SPEAKER 1: And they were here because Rivera was commissioned to paint murals here. He was already an established painter who was famous in Mexico, had been invited to the United States. SPEAKER 2: He was on the verge of a major one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And I think that was only the second solo exhibition that the museum had held. SPEAKER 1: That's right. The first was of Matisse. SPEAKER 2: And so that's quite extraordinary company. Just a year or so later, Abby Rockefeller, who was involved, of course, with the founding the Museum of Modern Art, had wanted Picasso and then Matisse to create a large mural in the lobby. They both declined, but Rivera was her third choice, which was pretty extraordinary company. SPEAKER 1: Yeah. SPEAKER 2: But this is not Rivera. This is Frida. SPEAKER 1: You know, she looks so small and diminutive next to him, and so delicate. And I'm sort of struck by the way she tilts her head and looks at us, where he looks so stocky and looks at us straight on. SPEAKER 2: And I mean, she's really depicted him seeing him, offering him to us as this incredibly solid figure. And she floats in a way. that he doesn't. He is so rooted. Those boots are so strong. And there's something about the way in which her dress is off the floor that gives her a kind of lightness. And also the tilt of her head, as you mentioned. SPEAKER 1: Yeah. There's curving forms in that shawl that she wears and in the necklace and in the headband and in the frills of the skirt. So she's got this feminine curviness to her that seems really different than his blockiness, to me. SPEAKER 2: And there's a lot of symbolism in all of the clothing that you're talking about. SPEAKER 1: For both of them. SPEAKER 2: Absolutely. So she's referencing her Mexican heritage. She's referencing the folkloric, and, in a sense, really trying to resurrect and give a sense of real pride and of the importance of that heritage. The double portrait, the way in which they are against this very spare background is coming right out of the colonial Mexican artistic tradition, as well. Diego is represented with this work shirt under a suit, which is an interesting pairing, because it really shows the sense of the working class, but also a kind of seriousness. SPEAKER 1: His tradition that he's coming from of the Mexican mural painters from the 1920s, who are trying to build an artistic tradition on the Mexican Revolution of creating art for the people, he's depicted as a sort of worker. SPEAKER 2: I'm also struck by their hands. Her hand is sort of light over his. SPEAKER 1: It almost looks to me like she's letting go. Interestingly, he's got the paint brushes and the pallet, even though this is her painting. She almost lets go and looks at us. And it feels to me like she's establishing her independence. Diego is sturdy and not moving. He's got his hands there and open for her. But when she tilts her head, she's got a little movement to her. She's the one who lifts her hand and cocks her head and looks out at us. SPEAKER 2: And if you look at the bird at the top, the bird is flying in with a banner. As the museum translates that into English, it reads, "Here you see me, Frida Kahlo, with my beloved husband, Diego Rivera. I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco, California for our friend, Mr. Albert Bender. And it was the month of April, in the year 1931." SPEAKER 1: And Albert Bender was a founding trustee of SFMOMA, where we stand.