“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolly and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
Last November, Frida Kahlo’s Diego y yo was sold at auction for an impressive $34.9 million, breaking the record for the highest sold artwork by a Latin American Artist, and surpassing Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera who previously held the record. Many have seen this success as Kahlo’s ultimate revenge against her adulterous husband.
Diego y yo is one of Frida Kahlo’s last self-portraits and reflects the tumultuous nature of her marriage. In the portrait, Diego’s face sits above Frida’s iconic unibrow as three tears slip down her face. The painting has always interested art critics in the way that Diego is placed as Frida Kahlo’s third eye felt to represent the way that Diego dominated her thoughts at all times.
Frida and Diego’s marriage was complicated, to say the least. Frida referred to Diego as one of the “two great accidents” in her life alongside the trolly accident. They were married two times, divorcing in 1939 only to remarry the next year. Rivera was a serial adulterer. When he started dating Frida he was already married and he continued this cheating throughout their marriage. Among Rivera’s numerous affairs, the most painful for Kahlo was Diego’s affair with her sister. However, the cheating was not one-sided with Kahlo having her fair share of affairs with both women and men.
The incredible success of Kahlo’s Diego y yo at auction has been seen by many as sweet revenge of Kahlo’s against Rivera. When they first moved to the USA in the 1930s, Kahlo was often referred to as the ‘wife of Diego Rivera’ who at the time was one of the most famous Mexican muralists. It was in the 1970s, twenty years after Kahlo’s death, during second-wave feminism that Kahlo’s fame grew dramatically. Now, Frida Kahlo is one of the most recognized artists, easily more famous than Rivera. The fact that Diego y yo has broken Rivera’s record for the highest-selling artwork by a Latin American artist, is a satisfying probe against a man who caused so much pain. However, Frida Kahlo never got to experience her phenomenal success. Can we even claim that this monetary success even begins to make up for all the pain that Rivera caused her?
Frida Kahlo has for a long time been hailed as an icon for both women and the LGBT communities. Her paintings don’t shy away from painful topics, she painted her abortions and miscarriages, something that women even today face stigma against. When asked why she didn’t pluck her unibrow she stated, “I will not restrict my self-expression in order to fit your idea of what a woman should look like”. Kahlo’s proud expression of her Mexican identity, despite Rivera’s attempts to force Kahlo to assimilate into America, has also made her a symbol of strength for indigenous women in Mexico and also for women from minority groups worldwide.
It’s not the high prices that her artworks go for that has made Kahlo a role model for so many but rather the way that she shows her raw emotions and unapologetically expresses her identity as an indigenous Mexican woman.
Frida Kahlo, Diego y yo, 1949, 30 x22.4cm. Image credits: Aljazeera