The Hidden Meanings In Frida Kahlo's Paintings

Categories: Frida KahloPainting

The essay explores the works of Frida Kahlo through the use of the Subjective Frame. It focuses on the self-portraits which capture her personal life experiences of suffering caused not only by her physical injuries but also her psychological pain as a result of her unhappy marriage to Diego Rivera her personal experience made a great impact on the audience as is evident in the following artworks: “Without Hope” produced in 1945, “Self Portrait With Necklace of Thorns” produced in 1940 and “self- portrait with short hair” produced in 140.

In this self-portrait composition, Frida paints herself in a frontal pose to enhance the propinquity of her presence and to directly confront the viewer’s gaze. Placed dexterously around her neck is a crown of thorns, representing the anguish and pain she felt from her failed relationships.

The trail down her neck like the roots of a tree. Frida is wearing this meticulous work of art as a necklace, presenting herself as a woman of importance with Christian values.

The thorn necklace pierces Frida’s neck and is symbolic of the pain she feels over her despondent relationship with her husband. A lifeless hummingbird hangs like a pendant, its outstretched wings echo Frida’s joined eyebrows. It was understood that in the Mexican folk tradition hummingbirds were used as charms to bring luck in love. Over Frida’s left shoulder prowling behind her awaits a black cat, with the symbolic meaning of bad luck and death waits to pounce on the hummingbird. Over her right shoulder, the artist positioned a monkey.

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This is believed to be symbolic of the devil. The monkey is pulling on the crown of thorns causing Frida to bleed. Frida’s husband gave this to her as a gift. Intertwined with her hair are butterflies representing resurrection, again Frida draws on the Christian principles and beliefs. Frida’s incorporation of religious symbols of the crown of thorns and butterflies further supports the importance of her personal pain and suffering. The foliage in the background is dense and that it is set against a white garment depicting a symbol of love which now has died because the hummingbird is also dead.

The composition “Without Hope” by Frida Kahlo is a bleak delineation that makes one consider death and illness. In fact, Frida Kahlo painted this composition in 1945 when she was experiencing a very difficult time health-wise. In this composition Frida draws on her inner pain, caused by her injured and depleted body. Her pain is revealed in a form of a funnel which channels her suffering out into the world of the audience. It is believed that Frida was force-fed due to her injury, however, her intent could have been to demonstrate disgust with her experiences. Being coercively fed what appears to be unidentifiable and very unpleasant while her weakening ailment traps her, unable to do anything about it makes the viewer have sympathy and even gets emotional buy this touching composition. The skull in the upper piece of this composition shows that she has surrendered unto her inner thoughts and truly given up hope, just as the name of the painting suggests. The moon and the sun are obvious differentiating opposites. The sun, being larger and more obtrusive seems to be a problem to Frida, reminding her that every day the sadness and helplessness will override her life. In the foreground, tears are visible on her cheeks expressing the agony and heartache she felt. On the back of this composition, Frida has written “Not the least hope remains to me….Everything moves in tune with what the belly contains.”.

Frida Kahlo, in her self-portrait paintings, often outlines herself wearing a Mexican woman’s traditional dress with flowing hair which introduces a part of Mexican’s feminine identity. Rather than her regular self-portraits, she would top off the canvas with intensity, vivid articulations, and intricacy. Here she deliberately limits herself in this picture of gravity and bitterness. However, her Self Portrait with Cropped Hair stands out among her self-portraits since she painted herself with masculine clothing (possibly Rivera’s) that contrast to her usual Tehuana dress or flowers in her hair that Frida’s husband Diego used to admire. Her elegant earing and heeled boots still remain, unlike her long stunning hair. She is holding a pair of scissors by her right-hand signifying that she cut it off by herself without Diego’s permission. Frida’s short tresses scattered all around the floor seem to slither and writhe around her. It seems like each one has its own life as they look like the roots of a plant wanting to spring up and start a new and healthier life. They surround the empty space which she seems to shrink into. Placed in the middle of the river of hair is Frida on a chair with an empty expression. Her legs are firmly placed down, and her body slightly faced at an angle but she is looking at the viewer sideways. Frida’s face is out of proportion to the rest of her. Her face is a lot smaller and creates a state of uncertainty.

The space around her is uninhabited adding to her disappearance. In Frida’s left hand in a loose grip is holding a lock of hair as a symbol of her sacrifice. The lyrics to a song are painted across the top of the portrait and are the reason for this act of self-mutilation. The lyrics read “See if I loved you, it was for your hair, now you’re bald, I don’t love you anymore”. This was her first self-portrait painting after her divorce from her unfaithful husband who she divorced in 1938, although they would remarry two years later. After the separation, Frida wanted to discard her feminine image. She cut her hair, stopped wearing her dresses Diego was obsessed with, and started to wear a large man’s suit. In vindictiveness of all the pain Frida experienced with Diego brought out in her paintings she is still in control and she is expressing her desire to be independent and have freedom but at the same time to express her sadness and loss.

In conclusion, it is evident that Frida Kahlo, a surrealist artist of the 20th century, has made such a vast impact on her audience around the world. Her imagery and iconic motifs have been appropriated ever since the world was introduced to her unique autobiographical representations. Her self-portraits reveal her innermost feelings and emotions and draw on her most secret experiences. “ I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone,” Frida once said “ because I am the person I know best.” individual detachment – its pain and its strength.

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The Hidden Meanings In Frida Kahlo's Paintings. (2020, Oct 30). Retrieved from

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