Tag Archives: Retablo paintings

Self Portrait with a Portrait (Pinboard #2)

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 [1]. 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 [2] and Frida gives him credit for saving her life through this votive offering in the style of Retablopaintings [3]. 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.

1. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Frida_Kahlo

2. Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York Harper & Row,1963. Pg 413

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retablo