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What Lies Beneath: Did Frida Kahlo learn to look at art through her father’s lens?

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‘Portrait of my Father’ by Frida Kahlo hangs in the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

‘Portrait of my Father’ by Frida Kahlo hangs in the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1939

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1939

Daniel O’Neill 'Kitchen Interior'

Daniel O’Neill 'Kitchen Interior'

Portrait of Patrick Hall by Nick Miller

Portrait of Patrick Hall by Nick Miller

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‘Portrait of my Father’ by Frida Kahlo hangs in the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

Frida Kahlo Portrait of My Father

It began in America. Mother’s Day came first. Post civil war, mothers of Confederate and Union soldiers worked towards peace and reconciliation and May 1908 marked the first official Mother’s Day. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May a day to honour “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”

Then the dads. The first Father’s Day was celebrated in Washington state on June 19, 1910, the same year Hallmark Cards Inc was founded in Kansas City. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, crassly commercial? Never.

When Frida Kahlo honoured her father in this 1951 work Portrait of My Father, he had been dead 10 years. Her inscription reads: “I painted my father Wilhelm Kahlo, Hungarian-born, professional photographer and artist, in character generous, intelligent and fine, valiant because he suffered from epilepsy for 60 years but never gave up working and he fought against Hitler. With adoration, his daughter, Frida Kahlo.”

Kahlo’s father, born in Pforzheim, Germany in 1871 and his daughter – wrongly – claimed he was Jewish-Hungarian.

A young Wilhelm sustained brain injuries in a fall and began to suffer epileptic seizures. His mother died, his father remarried and he did not like his stepmother. Wilhelm’s father paid for his 19-year-old son to emigrate to Mexico.

There, he changed his name to Guillermo, switched from Lutheran Protestant to Catholic, married a Mexican woman in 1894 and became a Mexican citizen. His first wife died, he married again – and Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoicoán, Mexico City, in 1907.

She was born with spina bifida and at age six she contracted polio. Her right leg stopped growing and she was cruelly nicknamed ‘Frida the Lame’ by other children.

Cared for by her father, his favourite daughter wanted to study medicine, but at age 18 suffered catastrophic injuries when her bus hit a tram. “I am not dead and I have a reason to live,” she said. “That reason is painting.”

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Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1939

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1939

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1939

While recovering she began to paint and she sent her work to Diego Rivera, a well-known muralist and communist 20 years older than her. They met, they married, they divorced and later remarried: “I had two serous accidents in my life. One was caused by a bus, the other was Diego.”

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Pain was her constant companion. Kahlo underwent 32 operations, one of which caused gangrene and resulted in a leg amputation. From the mid-1940s Kahlo was wheelchair bound or confined to bed – but she continued to paint, often in terrible pain, until her death.

She painted over 60 self-portraits. "I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best," she once said.

André Breton, the French Surrealist and communist whom she knew, described her work as “a ribbon round a bomb” – but there’s nothing explosive about this portrait. Guillermo/Wilhelm is dapperly dressed and the picture’s sepia tones suit the period.

The image is based on a photograph taken of him and dated 1898 when he was 27. A photographer by trade, this time the camera is behind him and the eye of the camera and Guillermo’s eyes are angled away from the viewer. The background pattern contains sperm, something Kahlo had also featured in an earlier painting, from 1936, My Grandparents, My Parents and Me.

Frida Kahlo died in 1954 – and not wanting to be buried lying down (she said that she had suffered too much in that position), she asked to be cremated. Throughout her challenging and turbulent 47 years, her love for her father was constant.

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Daniel O’Neill 'Kitchen Interior'

Daniel O’Neill 'Kitchen Interior'

Daniel O’Neill 'Kitchen Interior'

On show: Two to view

Daniel O’Neill 
Coming Home

Featuring works made from the 1940s right up to the 1970s, this Daniel O’Neill exhibition contains paintings not exhibited in the artist’s recent Dublin retrospective. Born in West Belfast in 1920, this is the first exhibition by O’Neill in his native city in 35 years, and it presents visitors with works from private collections not normally available to view.
Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, Belfast until August 14

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Portrait of Patrick Hall by Nick Miller

Portrait of Patrick Hall by Nick Miller

Portrait of Patrick Hall by Nick Miller

Nick Miller & Patrick Hall 
Sanctuary

Nick Miller visited fellow painter Patrick Hall in his studio every week over the past two years. Hall, at 86, and Miller, 59, responded to the worlds in which they found themselves. Their shared practice began by circumstance and became formalised during the pandemic. Miller made portraits, Hall’s work explores consciousness and freedom.
Hillsboro Fine Art, Dublin, until July 9


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