A somber self-portrait by Frida Kahlo, which features her unfaithful husband Diego Rivera in the center of her forehead, is about to break auction records as the most expensive piece of Latin American art ever publicly offered for sale.
Sotheby’s announced on Wednesday that it will be selling a 1949 painting titled Diego y yo (Diego and I) for more than $30 million.
If it comes close, it will shatter the Latin American artist auction record, which is presently held by a picture by Diego Rivera.
Aside from the eye-popping price and the discussion of records, the picture is interesting in and of itself, shedding insight on the Mexican artist and her turbulent connection with Rivera.
Kahlo was a “global icon of modern art,” according to Anna di Stasi, Sotheby’s head of Latin American art, and the piece exemplified “the painstakingly detailed rendering, complex iconography, and deeply personal narratives that are hallmarks of her mature painting.”
In 1922, Kahlo met Rivera for the first time. He was 36 years old, pot-bellied, and a world-famous mural artist. He captivated her even though she was just 15 years old.
In 1928, they were reintroduced, and the following year, they married. “I suffered two great accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down…,” Kahlo wrote in a journal. Diego is the other accident.”
When she was 18, she was involved in a bus accident that almost killed her and left her with horrific injuries and a life of physical suffering. Rivera was often the source of emotional distress.
Diego y yo was made during a particularly low time in their second marriage, when Rivera was having an affair with Mara Félix, a cinema actress who was also a friend of Kahlo’s.
The romance became a public scandal, with tabloids claiming that Rivera intended to marry Félix as soon as he was able to divorce Kahlo once again.
“I adore Frida, but I believe my presence is very bad for her health,” he was reported as adding.
Kahlo made jokes about the affair and pretended she didn’t mind, but the truth was that she was profoundly hurt, as shown by the picture, which is overflowing with rage and grief.
Her usually neatly braided hair has sprung loose and is almost strangling her. Her cheeks are flushed, and her eyes are passionate and sad. Rivera is there, as he has always been in Kahlo’s life and mind.
The artwork will be a highlight of Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in November in New York, and it will be on exhibit in London from October 22 to 25.
The transaction “will once again be a watershed moment for Kahlo and Latin American artists, as it was when the painting last sold at Sotheby’s in 1990,” according to the auction house.
The painting then sold for $1.4 million, making Kahlo the first Latin American artist to have a painting sell for more than $1 million at auction. The current record for a painting by Kahlo is $8 million, which she achieved in 2016 for Two Nudes in a Forest.
That established a Latin American record until Rivera’s The Rivals sold at Christie’s for $9.76 million in 2019.
A painting by Kahlo of this “quality and excellence,” according to Julian Dawes, co-head of contemporary art in New York, is a rare on the market.
Thanks to Mark Brown at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.