Possibly the most well-known female painter of modern times, Kahlo is famous for her ground-breaking self-portraits that explored her own life and death. Her celebration of unconventional beauty (for example, her unibrow) was ultra-progressive for the time, and she took to wearing traditional embroidered Tijuana-style Mexican dresses and elaborate hairstyles.
Her short but impactful life was marked by contracting polio at age six (her voluminous skirts hid her misshapen leg) and a devastating bus accident at 18 that left her hospitalized or bedridden for many years with more than 30 surgeries.
Kahlo studied science in University with the intention to enter medicine, but taught herself to paint while she was convalescing from the bus accident. Her tumultuous love affair with muralist Diego Rivera (whom she married twice) also informed her career. Kahlo and flowers are inextricably linked: in many of her self-portraits she wore floral headdresses fashioned from cactus flowers from her own garden, and one of her most famous still-life paintings, 1945s “Magnolias” also features a pear cactus flower which is so delicate, it only blooms for a few hours, mirroring Kahlo’s own life. Her oeuvre was small, consisting of fewer than 250 paintings, many of which she gave away. Only a very small number are hung in museums and galleries in the US, including New York’s MOMA. The Ritz Carlton in Mexico City pays homage to Kahlo, and the Mexican Surrealist movement, in its colorful decor.