The Two Fridas is one of the most famous paintings by Frida Kahlo, whose original title was Las Dos Fridas. Frida as an artist is known for her indelible creativity and ability to depict her personal experiences through her paintings (Burrus 88). The painting The Two Fridas was created in 1939 and was a self-portrait of the artist engraved on an oil canvas. The painting was painted at the time she was going through her divorce with her then-husband Diego Rivera ten years after their union. The portrait depicts the emotional conflict within her at that time. Therefore, the painting is a highlight of her life and career.
The painting originates from Kahlo’s childhood fantasy of an imaginary friend of her age which she creates as another version of herself. However, Kahlo also confessed that the painting elaborated the struggles through her broken marriage. She had endured incidents of infidelity from her partner and several miscarriages, operation and abortions thus was never able to nurture children of her own. Kahlo also banked on the success of her marriage only to be disappointed by the recurring case of infidelity (Lindauer and Kahlo 78). Therefore, when Kahlo was coming up with this painting, she was at a place of intense emotional torture and conflict. However, various comparisons can be drawn from the two Fridas depicted in the picture.
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Frida on the left is adorned in a ripped blouse holding a pair of scissors with an exposed, bleeding heart. The image represents the Frida that is broken and rejected by Rivera. On the other hand, the Frida on the right is a split opposite with her hear whole and holding a portrait of Rivera in her hands (Souter 57). The painting on the right represents the Frida that is still in love with Rivera. In the art, the two Fridas are holding hands and connected by a vein that intertwines their two hearts.
The bleeding Frida seems to be irreversibly injured. The vein starts from the picture of Diego and is interrupted by a cut from a pair of scissors by the dejected Frida on the left. The fact that the hearts of the two Fridas are exposed depicts the intense yet conflicting emotions that Frida felt while going through her divorce (Burrus 87). At the background of the painting is a stormy sky that could be a reflection of the emotional turmoil that is represented by the images.
The Frida on the right, is wearing Mexican clothes, a violet Tehuana costume, while the Frida on the left is wearing European clothes, a flowered white Victorian wedding dress. By wearing European clothes, the Frida on the left, the abandoned, depicts a symbol of emancipation (Souter 77). She is broken down by her marriage and is pursuing divorce. She has cut the links between her and the traditional Frida who was in love and connected to Diego using the pair of scissors that she is carrying. Therefore, she is emancipated and has taken control of her future.
Similarly, the white dress she is wearing is long and covers most of her anatomy which is an indication of her insecurities. The scissors she is holding in her hands represents the passions that she had (Burrus 39). Her career, her marriage and probably her desires to have her own family and children through her marriage all of which are lost through the cutting of the connection. The blood flowing into her white dress depicts the physical pain that she was going through especially through her accident and several surgeries and then her broken marriage. Her adornment in the European dress shows that she has lost confidence in her societal and cultural norms and is exploring different realities.
The Frida wearing traditional Mexican attire seems to be stuck in the situation, her love for Diego is still evident as she is holding his portrait. She represents the classic woman who is still holding on to a marriage that is broken and jealously guarding her love. In reality, Frida was very proud of her Mexican heritage, and most of her paintings depicted her in traditional Mexican attire worn by peasants in her country (Lindauer and Kahlo 53). She was also interested in the political welfare of her country through her career hence her ties with Mexico were firm and her depiction in the Mexican dress as peccable and happy has a deeper meaning (Burrus 84). However, Diego, her husband was more westernized and accepting of western ideals and norms. The estranged Frida wearing a European dress and slowly dying shows her lack of understanding in some of Diego’s ideals and her voluntary separation from the European culture as she has cut her arteries with a pair of scissors herself. She is pointing to liberation and a return to her routes where everything is happy and perfect as mirrored in the opposite image.
The two Fridas represent different cultures and beliefs. The Frida dressed in traditional Mexican attire is still connected to her cultural beliefs while the one in the European clothing is emancipated and adventurous. She is open to new cultures and has embraced new dressing hence willing to experiment. She represents the Frida who just came back from Europe. Overall, the dual depiction of the artist shows the ambivalence and complexity in the personality of the artist (Souter 57). The different cultures represented here attribute to the fact that Frida had the opportunity to mingle with two different cultures her original Mexican culture and the European culture, but she depicts her culture with so much beauty as compared to the European culture meaning that she is still proud of where she comes from.
One Frida represents a gentle yet fragile woman who is holding an oval portrait of her husband Diego. The picture connects to her heart through a vein showing that she believes that they have a strong bond with Diego and believes in the traditional foundations of marriage and family (Burrus 86). The image of the second Frida represents the exact opposite, hostility, and death. It is apparent that she chose to cut one of her main arteries and is causing herself to bleed to death. Her heart is also ripped and bleeding atop her white European dress. She has cut the links between her and her husband using the pair of scissors. As such, the two images are a depiction of happiness and grief, peace, and hostility through both connection and isolation. This picture mostly brings out the artistic beauty in the works of Frida.
Color is one of the main aspects of differentiation in a painting. Frida has also used color to differentiate between her two personas. The Frida in the traditional Mexican costume is full of both primary and secondary colors. She looks brighter and is the representation of happiness in the image through the warm colors used. The background of the painting is made up of dark hues to capture the theme of emotional turmoil stronger while the Frida on the left is painted in more somber and neutral colors with less warmth perhaps to stress the emotional distress caused to a pure soul (Burrus 71). The richness in color contrast through the bright, warm colors of “happy” Frida and the sober colors of “distressed” Frida as well as the gray background of cloudiness have helped define the painting more. The contrast of positive and negative space has helped to paint the difference between the two Fridas and help the viewer understand the emotional background of the work.
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Through the duality, the artist has been able to depict similarity between the two Fridas by using a connecting artery between their hearts and having them hold hands. As such, the two women are not only connected by flesh and blood they also have similar features because they are in fact the same person. The connection of happiness and grief, hostility and peace are a depiction of life that can present complete opposites bring out both beauty and vein. The only other similarity is that the Two Fridas are the same person, Frida Kahlo, the artist albeit with different characters. The obvious connection that she has drawn through her painting is a show of the sequence her life was taking. She had ups and downs, and all these are connected to who she truly is (Souter 39).
Through the Frida on the left, the artist has outlined some of the challenges she underwent in her lifetime, the hostility, the near-death experiences through her accident and surgeries. Using the Frida on the right, Kahlo is trying to show content and wholesomeness. Her heart here is devoid of inflictions, and she is holding on to her memories through the portrait of Diego that is in her hands (Lindauer and Kahlo 83). The picture comes second, which could imply that beyond the challenges she had experienced through the first picture, she still came out whole and redeemed herself of the sorrows that had bedeviled her. Therefore, the breaking of her marriage may have signified an opportunity to redeem herself and that she is content with her life as it turned out.
The two Fridas seem like they have different anatomies. One is weak and on the verge of death while the other is strong and supporting the other through the artery that connects them and holding her hand are between them, but only one similarity stands out. Indeed, Frida Kahlo intended to have sharp contrast between her two main subjects by giving them different, opposite, distinct persona and opening up the room for interpretation. Because Frida solely painted about the truths of her life, understanding her works requires a deeper understanding of the major events in her life which she has documented in most of her painting. The Two Fridas is without a doubt one of the most artistically startling and evocative pieces ever done.
- Burrus, Christina. Frida Kahlo: Painting Her Own Reality. Abrams, 2008.
- Lindauer, Margaret A., and Frida Kahlo. Devouring Frida: The Art History and Popular Celebrity of Frida Kahlo. University Press of New England, 1999.
- Souter, Gerry. Frida Kahlo: Temporis. Confidential Concepts, 2015.