In 1950, German-born French photographer Gisèle Freund spent two years documenting Frida Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera in La Casa Azul. Initially, Freund planned to stay in Mexico for just a few weeks. As one of the only female founding members of the Magnum collective, the esteemed photographer traveled to Mexico to give a talk. However, Freund fell for the country – partially because of Frida and Diego.
“They took her everywhere, and showed her their Mexico: the one of the farmers, the workers, the parties, the festivals, the rituals,” Kahlo biographer Gérard de Cortanze said, according to Slate. “They also allowed her to photograph their intimate lives – when they smiled, laughed, painted. She immortalized their fragility, their desires, their anxieties.”
So for two years, she took candid and staged photos of the couple. She saw Frida live through some of her most difficult moments. According to Cortanze, Freund said, “One day she told me: ‘I don’t want to live a long time. I am really suffering too much.’” Frida underwent multiple surgeries and started using a wheelchair in the time that Freund photographed her.
But during those two years, Kahlo also completed Portrait of Frida’s Family, Portrait of My Father, Self-Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill, and some still lifes. The mix of black-and-white and color photographs show Frida in her bed and in a wheelchair, but don’t depict her as someone limited by her circumstances. Instead the images – which also include detailed shots of La Casa Azul – attempt to offer a complete look at the artist’s last few years. Frida would die less than two years after Freund left Mexico.
Though some of the images were published around the time Freund took them, most of them remained archived. It wasn’t until just recently that the photos were discovered in a box at the Institute for the Memory of Contemporary Publishing. Just last year – about 60 years after Kahlo’s death – Abrams published the more than 100 rare photos in a book, Frida Kahlo: The Gisèle Freund Photographs. Though the book is more than a year old at this point, it’s worth revisiting. Based on the number of exhibits (some of which had record-breaking attendance) dedicated to the famed Mexican artist, it’s obvious our Frida thirst can’t quite be quenched. These pictures offer an intimate, honest look at the artist in the last few years of her life. Check out a small collection of photos below: