The unseen masterpieces of Frida Kahlo

Frida in Flames (Self-portrait inside a Sunflower), 1953-54, is a powerful late painting (Credit: Private Collection, USA. Photo courtesy of Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art New York)

Lost or little-known works by the Mexican artist provide fresh insights into her life and work. Holly Williams explores the rarely seen art included in a new book of complete paintings.

You know Frida Kahlo – of course, you do. She is the most famous female artist of all time, and her image is instantly recognizable, and unavoidable. Kahlo can be found everywhere, on T-shirts and notebooks, and mugs. While writing this piece, I spotted a selection of cutesy cartoon Kahlo merchandise in the window of a shop, maybe three minutes’ walk from my home. I bet many readers are similarly in striking distance of some representation of her, with her monobrow and traditional Mexican clothing, her flowery headbands, and red lipstick.

Partly, this is because her own image was a major subject for Kahlo – around a third of her works were self-portraits. Although she died in 1954, her work still reads as bracingly fresh: her self-portraits speak volumes about identity, of the need to craft your own image and tell your own story. She paints herself looking out at the viewer: direct, fierce, challenging.

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