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This 1930s article calling Frida Kahlo the “wife of the master mural painter” is all wrong

The Spouses And Painters Diego Rivera And Frida Kahlo In Mexico  Keystone-France
The Spouses And Painters Diego Rivera And Frida Kahlo In Mexico Keystone-France

Frida Kahlo, one of the most prolific and iconic surrealist painters of the early 20th century, once got married to a mural painter named Diego Rivera. Together they lived and worked in Mexico City, but among their contemporaries, Rivera was by far the more famous artist. Kahlo would not reach the height of her fame until the 1940s.

When Rivera and Kahlo moved to Detroit in 1932, they were right on the cusp of a record-breaking show by Rivera in New York City. He had been commissioned to create massive murals for the city of Detroit, and she, 25 years old, joined him. According to the Detroit News, the press swarmed Kahlo, and a reporter named Florence Davies asked, "Are you a painter, too?"

Kahlo replied, "Yes. The greatest in the world."

When Davies went to the Rivera-Kahlo home to write a profile, she made Kahlo's work the headline — but it's pretty demeaning in retrospect to refer to such a talented artist as only the "wife of the master mural painter."

detroit news 1931

(Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts/the Detroit News)

This newspaper clipping appears in a current exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which takes a deep look at how Kahlo's time in Detroit strongly influenced her future as an artist. While there, Kahlo had a miscarriage that would influence much of her work throughout the 1930s and '40s. She grew immensely as an artist who, though untrained, created beautiful, striking works.

Davies wrote in the article, "Señora Rivera's painting is by no means a joke; because, however she may laugh when you ask her about it, the fact remains that she has acquired a very skillful and beautiful style, painting in the small with miniature-like technique, which is as far removed from the heroic figures of Rivera as could well be imagined."

Kahlo seemed to know this, bragging, "[Rivera] does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist."

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