Explore Frida Kahlo’s Mexico City

Here are four places with connections to the late Mexican artist to visit on her birthday, July 6, and beyond

Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932, by Frida Kahlo (Colección Maria y Manuel Reyero, New York) (Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)
smithsonian.com

It was a single moment that changed everything: On September 17, 1925, a young high school student was traveling in a bus in her native Mexico City when it collided with a trolley. Thrown from her feet, she sustained multiple injuries and broken bones. She was bedridden for months; the doctors didn’t think she would survive. To help pass the time, her mother had a custom easel made for her to use in bed, and her father lent her his set of oil paints and brushes. “I paint myself because I am so often alone, and because I am the subject I know best,” she once said. Little did she know that the moment of her injury would indelibly impact the art world, too.

Now, more than a half-century since her death, few modern Mexican artists are as recognizable as Frida Kahlo. Her likeness, complete with raven-colored hair and halo-like flowered crown, can be found on everything from key chains and magnets to T-shirts and posters. But there’s only one place where you can truly immerse yourself in all things Kahlo: her hometown. Here are four points of interest in Mexico City with a Kahlo connection—there's no better place to celebrate Kahlo's birthday on July 6.

Museo Frida Kahlo

Museo Frida Kahlo (aka La Casa Azul) (Courtesy Mexico City Tourism Trust)

Also known as La Casa Azul, Museo Frida Kahlo is the cobalt blue home where Kahlo was born and raised. (She later moved back with her husband, artist Diego Rivera.) To ensure that Kahlo’s legacy would live on, Rivera donated the home and its contents posthumously so that it could be turned into a museum. Today the estate and gardens, which are located in the city’s Colonia del Carmen area, are open to the public, and they look much as they did when Kahlo was alive.

Several of her most celebrated works are on display throughout the home, including Viva la Vida (1954), Frida and Cesarean Operation (1931) and Portrait of My Father Wilhelm Kahlo (1952). The four-poster bed where Kahlo began painting is also on display, as well as some of her photos, postcards and letters. Personal effects like her wheelchair and the plaster corset she wore after her multiple spinal surgeries are also on view. After strolling through the home’s multiple floors and four-walled courtyard, it’s easy to see where Kahlo found her inspiration.

Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo (Flickr Pavel Kirillov - Flickr/Creative Commons)

Rather than live together under the same roof, Kahlo and Rivera opted to reside in separate homes adjoined by a skywalk. Today, those homes and studios serve as Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo in Mexico City’s San Ángel neighborhood. Juan O'Gorman, an architect and friend of Rivera’s, designed the homes (Kahlo’s is painted in a similar shade of blue as her childhood home). The buildings were considered avant-garde at the time, as they veered from the traditional Mexican architecture popular back then.

The compound is predominately dedicated to the works of Rivera and includes a sampling of the hundreds of paintings he created while living there along with the original glass bottles of paint pigments, brushes and easels that he used. But there are traces of Kahlo there, too, and guests can explore the very rooms where she once lived and worked.

Museo Dolores Olmedo

Museo Dolores Olmedo (Courtesy Mexico City Tourism Trust)

The world’s largest collection of works by Kahlo—more than two dozen in total—can be found at Museo Dolores Olmedo, located in the city’s Xochimilco neighborhood. Some of the museum’s most important holdings include, The Broken Column (1944), Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and Self Portrait with Small Monkey (1945). Much of the collection belonged to Dolores Olmedo, a Mexican businesswoman and philanthropist who donated her collection and home to the people of Mexico. In 1994, her home opened as a museum, and in addition to Kahlo’s paintings and drawings, it contains nearly 6,000 pre-Hispanic figurines and sculptures, plus more than 100 paintings by Rivera.  

San Ildefonso College

San Ildefonso College (Miranda Zackowski)

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie Frida was when Kahlo, then just a student attending the National Preparatory School, met Rivera while he was painting La Creación (1922), his first ever mural, at her school. Today the historic building, which was built in the 16th century and served as a Jesuit convent before becoming a prep school, is home to San Ildefonso College, a museum dedicated to the works of some of Mexico’s most important artists.

The historic building is often considered the birthplace of the Mexican muralist movement, and includes murals by Ramón Alva de la Canal, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, in addition to Rivera. Although there are no works by Kahlo on display, the expansive building and its grounds offer a glimpse into a turning point in Kahlo’s lifetime, and marks the moment when she met her future husband.

About Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, United Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

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