“La Mesa Herida” (“The Wounded Table”) is a jarring interpretation of "The Last Supper." In the painting, the great Mexican artist Frida Kahlo positions herself at the center of a table, surrounded by a cast of characters that includes a papier-mâché Judas, a skeleton and a pre-Hispanic sculpture.
The oil painting, whose length stretches approximately 3 feet past the artist’s own height, was Kahlo’s largest painting to date when she completed it in 1940. The work made its debut in Mexico City that year during the highly anticipated “International Surrealist Exhibition” put on by the Peruvian poet César Moro and Austrian-born artist Wolfgang Paalen.
But just 15 years later, the painting would vanish. As the Spanish-language newspaper El País recounted last year, the work was last seen in Warsaw, Poland, in 1955, before the trail went cold.
Now, a researcher in Mexico is working to track it down. As Natalie Schachar reports for The Art Newspaper, Raúl Cano Monroy, an art historian and investigator, says he has found new clues that could lead to the long-lost painting’s location.
Due to the sensitive nature of the search, Cano Monroy declined to go into the specifics of his investigation to Schachar, but did reveal that he was sifting through records kept by the National Front of Plastic Arts, which promoted Mexican art abroad in the 1950s.
He’s quoted in an article by Mexican newspaper Milenio saying, “I think my investigation will bear fruit in five years.”
According to Milenio, this isn’t the first attempt to locate “La Mesa Herida.” After its reveal in Mexico City, the painting was showed without Kahlo’s permission at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It then returned to her Blue House in the Mexican capital, according to Helga Prignitz, a historian and specialist in the life and work of Kahlo, who gave a lecture about the painting at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or UNAM, earlier this year. The university recapped her talk online.
Kahlo later sent the painting to the Soviet Union to join the collection at Moscow’s Museum of Western Art. But by the time it arrived, the museum had closed for promoting “bourgeois culture.”
After Kahlo died in 1954, her husband Diego Rivera requested that the painting be exhibited in Poland. And that’s where it was last seen. Though its next destination was the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the museum has stated it has no information on the painting.
"The Pushkin Museum has denied having the painting several times, we do not know if it was returned to Moscow by Poland. It’s a mystery,” Prignitz said, according to UNAM.
This isn’t the only Kahlo work whose location remains obscured. According to El País, Prignitz believes that about 150 paintings by Kahlo have been burned, lost or gone into private collections.
But there’s some reason to be hopeful. El País notes that a mural by Rivera called “Gloriosa Victoria” that was lost in the ’50s turned up in storage at the Pushkin Museum back in 2000.