Casa Azul, home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacan, Mexico City, has a stunning garden. Once the home of Frida’s father and mother, and where she was born in 1907, Rivera bought the property after the family amassed huge debt paying for years of treatment after the bus accident that severely handicapped Frida at age eighteen.
The garden is surrounded by intense blue walls, which F & D painted after they moved in. It was expanded when Leon Trotsky moved into the complex for security reasons. He later moved to another house in the neighborhood where he was assassinated by Stalin‘s henchmen in post-revolutionary Soviet Union.
The garden is a lush expanse of tropical plants, pre-Columbian sculpture, small pools, a miniature pyramid that is a sometimes altar and walking paths. As you exit the house, built of volcanic stone, after the self-guided tour, you come down a staircase where some pause overlooking a pool lined in tiles painted with frogs.
Frida called Diego Frog and you see this both here at Casa Azul and at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Xochimilco. Dolores was his patron and preserved the contents of Casa Azul for posterity through her foundation. Frida’s ashes are in the pre-Columbian frog urn on her bedroom dresser.
There are benches for sitting under the shade and the calm of a fountain. Perfect for reflecting on their lives together and the iconic image of feminism that she has become. I often refer to her as our contemporary Virgin of Guadalupe because Frida Kahlo carries that reverence among art lovers and intellectuals that makes her almost god-like.
I’ve organized the art history tour Looking for Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera for the past two years and I’ve been to the house no less than six or eight times during this period.
It is always enthralling, but this time I decided to put myself in the garden, find a backdrop that I liked and wait for photographs, a la Henri Cartier-Bresson.
I recall Rivera who went to Europe for fourteen years to study the great masters, copying them, refining classical painting techniques, experimenting with Cubism and Impressionism before developing his own remarkable style after returning to Mexico in 1921.
So, I have ordered the book Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind’s Eye, so I can understand the philosophy behind his picture-taking and practice his style.
Frida Kahlo lived most of her short life in pain. She died at age 47 in 1954. Rivera died in 1957. He was twenty-two years older that her. The exhibition space is devoted to indigenous dresses she wore to hide her deformities, polio which she contracted at age eight and then the accident that necessitated living her life in a spinal brace with regular surgeries and hospitalization for traction.
She was never able to conceive a child and this was a focus of her later painting which captures this life tragedy.
If you are interested in organizing a small group to explore the Mexican Muralists and the life of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera accompanied by a knowledgeable art historian, please contact me. We are organizing this art history program for fall/winter 2015-2016.