Frida Kahlo is one of the most influential painters of all time. But as we’ve learned throughout history, misogyny has kept the prolific Mexican artist under the shadow of her estranged husband, Diego Rivera. A newspaper clip from 1932, which has circulated online in the last few days, shows the cringeworthy way that Frida was described in the beginning of her career.
Kahlo was 25 years old at the time but was already confident she’d become a well-known painter, describing herself as “the greatest in the world” when reporters asked if she was a painter upon her arrival to Detroit. The comment generated enough attention from Detroit News journalist Florence Davies, who then visited the home of Kahlo and Rivera. The result was an approving profile of Kahlo’s work with an upsetting headline that described the artist as the “Wife of the Master Mural Painter.” The headline also suggested Kahlo, who created more than 200 works of art, only “dabbled” in art.
Davies’ initial objective was to highlight the couple’s move to Detroit after Rivera’s record-breaking show in 1931 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The published article, which was exhibited in 2015 in a Kahlo-focused show at the Detroit Institute of Arts, profiled Kahlo’s work instead. It described Kahlo as “a painter in her own right” and her work as “by no means a joke.” It’s curious how a story that spotlighted Kahlo’s work in such a positive light ended up with an unfortunate headline that diminished her stature as a skillful, self-taught artist. But, at the time, Kahlo was not a household name and had yet to gain international recognition. In 1938, she had her first solo show in New York City. It’s possible that editorial decisions about headlines were out of Davies’ hands, though it does not excuse the language.
Yet, even when the newspaper opted to belittle the acclaimed painter in this article, Kahlo had plenty of clap-backs to cement herself as the icon she was born to be. Kahlo mocked Rivera’s work saying, “He does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist.” When asked if Rivera taught her to paint, she replied, “I didn’t study with anyone. I just started to paint.”
Kahlo and Rivera had a volatile relationship after they married in 1929. They divorced 10 years later, only to remarry shortly after. Kahlo famously called him “panzón,” as depicted in the 2002 movie Frida starring Salma Hayek. As artists and partners, Rivera and Kahlo always struggled for the spotlight. Today, their paintings rival each other in record-breaking auctions with Rivera’s being the highest-priced Latin American sale at $9.67 million.
But at the beginning of her career, headlines like these existed: