Frida Kahlo. Self-portrait with Portrait of Dr. Farril. 1951. Source: Artstor
Frida Kahlo is known internationally as a prominent female figure in Mexican art, and is recognized for using her surreal self-portraits as a means of expressing her inner self. “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best,” she said . Together with Diego Rivera, she was part of the Mexicanidad movement of the 1950’s to establish the prominence of traditional Mexican culture. She suffered immense physical pain most of her life, enduring over thirty surgeries, largely a result of a bus accident she was involved in at the age of eighteen. Self-portrait with Portrait of Dr. Farril is one of Kahlo’s last self-portraits, completed three years before her death in 1954.
Kahlo paints herself alone inside a vacant room sitting beside an easel that holds a portrait of Dr Farril, her surgeon. She depicts herself in a wheelchair wearing a white shirt with decorative tassel and a full black skirt that completely covers her lower body. In place of oil paints on a palette, there is an image of a human heart. In her left hand she holds a handful of brushes dripping with blood from which she paints her portrait. The walls that define the room are painted white and the lower half a shade of blue, emphasizing the vacuous scene.
During this period, Kahlo was recovering from the amputation of her leg and was confined to a wheelchair and her bed. Dr. Farril performed the operation  and Frida gives him credit for saving her life through this votive offering in the style of Retablopaintings . Kahlo depicts Farril here as a saint, his eyes drawn to watch over her and the connection between them heightened by the shared unibrow. The palette, the source of her paint, is a symbol of her endearing gratitude. Most intriguing is that Kahlo depicts herself in such a fragile physical state, while dependent on a wheelchair. Her clothing is likely selected to hide her physical disfigurement following the procedure.
2. Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York Harper & Row,1963. Pg 413
Cindy Sherman. Untitled #193. 1989. Source: Artstor
Cindy Sherman paved her career by expanding the idea of the self-portrait, beyond that of her own, to explore issues of identity and representation. In her photographs, Sherman alters her physical appearance to create characters that become framed in the narrative and environment she constructs. Her most iconic works, and arguably the body of work from which all of Sherman’s subsequent photographic series have stemmed, are the Untitled Film Stills . Her photographs often examine the role of gender and class in society, however other thematic elements of her work explore history and geography’s role in identity formation.
In Untitled #193, Sherman engages with female portraiture in 18th Century France by channeling a woman of the aristocracy. She dresses her character in a blue silk robe and white linen dress that harks back to the Neoclassical fashions of this period. The orange sash tied above her waist draws attention to her low cut dress which reveals her glistening chest. A string of pearls rest on her neck and she holds an oriental style fan, both possessions made readily available through colonialism and the international market. She reclines on a bed of silk sheets, her backdrop is a curtain of lace and silk, and below lies a ball of yarn and crochet needle, all signs that her character resides in the domestic private sphere.
Through the medium of photography, Sherman strips away the illusion inherent to painting to reveal a less elegant depiction of the upper class woman of this period. The scene is highly staged and stylized and results in a parody of the representation of the woman in French society. Sherman’s character embodies the identity of a woman that would have commissioned work from the artists Elisabeth-Louise Vegée-Lebrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard. Through the depiction of femininity in this historical period, Sherman is drawing a parallel between this period and the one in which we now locate ourselves. The viewer is forced to reflect on contemporary values and concepts of the feminine ingrained in modern society.