“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” — Frida Kahlo
Dubbed the “queen of self-portraiture,” Frida Kahlo’s image transcends the pages of art history books, inspiring fascination across popular culture. On Etsy alone, a quick search of her name yields 20,250 results, plastering page after page with renderings of her immediately recognizable likeness. The tools she used to maintain her image in real-life — the signature lipsticks, nail polishes and clothing — have similarly garnered intrigue, reaching the gallery spaces of blockbuster shows to be displayed alongside her paintings.
An online exhibition titled “Faces of Frida” peers into the artist’s image, taking into account the many different facets of Kahlo’s life, work and legacy to tease out a nuanced portrait of the celebrated 20th-century painter. The project, presented on the Google Arts and Culture platform, brings together over 800 artifacts and the expertise of 33 museums across the world to unearth treasures. The result weaves a multi-media tapestry that covers Kahlo’s paintings, letters, home life and more.
Originally launched in 2018, the virtual show begins with a look at Frida’s biography, which is told through editorial pieces and an exhibit curated by Museo Dolores Olmedo. The exhibition continues with a showcase of Kahlo’s most famous paintings, along with many artworks and artifacts that are rarely shown in public capacities (such as pieces from private collections never put online). There are also sketches and drafts of Kahlo’s paintings, offering a glance into the artist’s creative process.
For those who would like a more intimate look into how Kahlo lived, Google’s Street View function permits for the exploration of sites like “La Casa Azul” (“The Blue House”), the Mexico City home where Kahlo was born and lived in with her husband, Diego Rivera. Additional locations, like the Frida Kahlo Museum, are tourable as well.
The project also presents 20 ultra-high resolution images that allow for artworks to be examined up close. An article titled “The Hidden Meanings in Frida Kahlo’s Paintings” serves as a supplemental guide for exploring the details — such as a letter in “Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky” — made visible in the high-resolution images.
The feature teases out frequent motifs in the artist’s work and gives historical background information to the imagery presented. For example, in the piece “The Bus,” a zoomed-in look reveals a building in the background that hints at the artist’s outlook toward the life-altering bus crash she survived in 1925.
“Kahlo never depicted the accident directly in a work, but this painting represents the moments before the accident happened,” the article explains. “The little boy looks out of the window seeing a calm and serene landscape before him. Yet on the left-hand side of the painting a small shop called La Risa (The Laugh) can be seen. This detail is a perfect example of the artist’s black humor by addressing her accident in this way.”
The show is rounded out by a large collection of personal photographs, letters, journals and clothing. Of note is the virtual tour of the exhibition “Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” which made a splash at the Brooklyn Museum in 2019. Beginning with a portrait of the artist as a young girl in 1919, the digital gallery showcases Kahlo’s wardrobe which was discovered at “La Casa Azul” in 2004. The belongings — including garments, jewelry, medicines and orthopedic devices — had been kept behind a locked door for more than 50 years at the request of Rivera.
The entire “Faces of Frida” exhibition is viewable on the Google Arts and Culture online site, in addition to the platform’s app.
Top Image: Portrait of Frida Kahlo on the patio of her house in Coyoacán, Mexico, 1948. Photo: Florence Arquin. Smithsonian Institution.