What makes The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo an important painting?
- Aztec hearts bleed for Mexico
- Clothes don’t make the woman
- Feminist protest and divorce
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A single vein links two hearts in Kahlo’s The Two Fridas. It’s how the Mexican painter joins her dual sides in the portrait. On our right she wears a traditional Tehuana dress. The connective artery between her hearts also links to a childhood picture of her husband on this side.
Frida Kahlo painted this soon after her divorce from Diego Rivera. So, his portrait is only in one of her hands. It’s on the side that represents her past. As a husband, Rivera wished to keep Frida at his beck and call. He expected Kahlo to play the role of an old school Mexican wife. She was to look the other way when he strayed. But have dinner on the table when he got home from a dalliance.
This painting protests that traditional role. It also respects the residual impact of the past. We hold our experience within – like the veins beneath our skin. Though separated, The Two Fridas share an inextricable link. They bleed as one. Frida on our left wears a lace European style dress. She’s the more evolved version.
For instance, this Frida creates a boundary with scissors. She severs the tie between them – cutting the vein. So, it bleeds on her lap. This stains the purity of her white skirt. Nothing stays pure forever. Divorce breaks the marriage apart. This blood reminds us it’s an ending. But we bleed when giving birth too. The blood here also represents a new start.
Suffering for Art – Frida Kahlo’s Strength
Frida represents an artistic icon of suffering. In her younger years a bus accident hospitalized Kahlo. This trauma impaired Frida with agonizing pain for the rest of her life. In fact, she often said this accident planted the root of her alcoholism. She drank to dull bodily pain. Psychic pain also haunted Frida. Some of this arose from her marriage to Rivera. They both cheated. But he was notorious for his domineering.
Right before she painted The Two Fridas they ended a passionate, volatile pairing. Many art historians read the blood on Kahlo’s dress as a symbol of weakness. She’s bleeding. So, they see her as a vulnerable victim. I disagree. After all, women bleed all the time. Every month for about forty years. Also, Frida cuts the cord herself. She breaks the bond linking her to the tiny picture of her ex. Her heart marks the source of her blood. But the Rivera photo shows the source of her pain.
Before marrying, Frida wore European style dress. Then Rivera encouraged her to wear indigenous clothing like she wears on the right here. So, her clothing in The Two Fridas also points to Kahlo making a choice. She’s not a victim. There’s pain in separation and change. Sure. But Kahlo wears hers as a badge of honor. She’s in charge of this scene and her life now. From her dresses to how much she lets us see inside. Frida faces the pain and us with an unflinching gaze. That’s strength in her eyes, not victimhood.
Frida Kahlo’s Hearts
The Mexican Frida has a full heart. We see its exterior because this Frida still loves her man. Wearing traditional garb and clutching his picture – she lives in the past. But the new-fangled Frida, on our left, has a broken heart. We can see inside it. The chambers are cross sectioned for a deep look. Secrets lurk inside the heart. But The Two Fridas reveals the depths of this one.
It’s not pretty. Just matter of fact – like a dissection or diagram. Kahlo’s refreshing directness was her most beloved quality. She showed us her true self – moustache, broken heart, and all. It’s what made her a master of her craft, this exposure of blatant truth.
Hearts also symbolize the Aztecs for Frida Kahlo. She honors her indigenous people. A primary symbol of ritual for the Aztecs, hearts fed their gods. Aztec myth claims their capital city Tenochtitlan sits upon the heart of Copil. He represents the original evil and ultimate enemy to them. This heart sets the first example of Aztec extraction. So, there’s inherent beauty and terror in the Aztec heart as a symbol.
Of course, hearts also symbolize love. They’re the core blood factory for the human body. So, Frida Kahlo uses hearts and blood in The Two Fridas with a dual purpose. Her hearts harken to her Mexican heritage. They also bleed her devastated love story onto her white skirt. What was once kept secret now flows free and stains her reputation.
She and Rivera were famous artists at this time. So, her heart’s tragedy was public; for all to see. But my favorite detail is those flowers at the hem. She turned the blood droplets into blossoms. Much like perennial flora, love can bloom again – even after death. These tiny, red blooms represent hope for a new love.
The Two Fridas – FAQs
Where can I see The Two Fridas in person?
Frida Kahlo’s paired portrait The Two Fridas lives in the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. Las Dos Fridas in spanish, this masterpiece holds a place of honor at the esteemed museum. That’s because it holds historical significance in art history. It’s also quite large – an exceptional size among Kahlo’s works.
How much is The Two Fridas worth?
When Kahlo first sold The Two Fridas, she got the most ever for one of her paintings. The Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City bought it for about $1,000 in 1939. That converts to about $20,000 today.
But this isn’t what the painting would go for in the current art market. Kahlo’s works now sell for tens of millions of dollars. Even her relatively unknown works cost millions at auction houses like Sothebys.
Why was the heart important to the Aztecs?
Hearts are a core aspect of the Aztec religion. They were meant to feed the relentless hunger of the gods. A heart held the soul of the human body. So, blood was a prized gift to the gods. The ancient Mexican worldview on blood was based on rebirth, pain, and hard work.
So Aztec high officials (like priests) copied the myths. They offered human blood to the gods. But it wasn’t through sacrifice as many history textbooks claim. Though this is the original myth, in reality they would cut themselves and offer their own blood.
ENJOYED THIS The Two Fridas ANALYSIS?
Check out these other essays on Portrait painters.
Ankori, Gannit (2005). “Frida Kahlo: The Fabric of Her Art”. In Dexter, Emma (ed.). Frida Kahlo. Tate Modern.
The Two Fridas (Las Dos Fridas) at Museo de Arte Moderno
Ankori, Gannit (2002). Imaging Her Selves: Frida Kahlo’s Poetics of Identity and Fragmentation. Greenwood Press.
Castro-Sethness, María A. (2004–2005). “Frida Kahlo’s Spiritual World: The Influence of Mexican Retablo and Ex-Voto Paintings on Her Art” (PDF). Woman’s Art Journal.
Click here for a historical update on how and why Aztecs elevated the heart as a symbol.
Cooey, Paula M. (1994). Religious Imagination and the Body: A Feminist Analysis. Oxford University Press.
Baddeley, Oriana (2005). “Reflecting on Kahlo: Mirrors, Masquerade and the Politics of Identification”. In Dexter, Emma (ed.). Frida Kahlo. Tate Modern.
Pankl, Lis; Blake, Kevin (2012). “Made in Her Image: Frida Kahlo as Material Culture”. Material Culture.
Friis, Ronald (March 2004). “”The Fury and the Mire of Human Veins”: Frida Kahlo and Rosario Castellanos” (PDF). Hispania.
Burrus, Christina (2008). Frida Kahlo: ‘I Paint my Reality’. ‘New Horizons’ series. London: Thames & Hudson.