Frida and Diego: a photo story in Mexico City

Last updated on

Frida and Diego

Ever since reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, I’ve been fascinated by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Their love story captivated me and I was enthralled by their passion, art and political involvement. It’s the first piece of historical fiction I’ve ever read that made me desperate to know more of the lives depicted.

When earlier this year, on the way home from San Pancho, we had a one-day stopover in Mexico City, I knew exactly what I wanted to do – visit Frida’s La Casa Azul and the Palacio de Bellas Artes, home to Diego Rivera’s famous El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos (Man at the Crossroads) mural. Here are some photos from our visit.

Frida Kahlo painted portrait

Before reading The Lacuna, all I knew of Frida was her famous monobrow and fierce self-portraits.

Frida Kahlo portrait

The book brought those images to life, revealing the woman behind the glare.

Victoria looking at Frida painting

At the Casa Azul where Frida lived, now known as The Frida Kahlo Museum, you can see some of Frida’s early work. Most of her most famous portraits are held at galleries around the world.

Frida Kahlo dream

This sketch was one of my favourites,

Frida Kahlo dali image

…as well as a Dali-like painting,

Frida puppet show

…and dark puppet show.

Frida Kahlo desk

At the house, you can see where Frida worked,

Frida Kahlo paint brushes

…the brushes she used,

Glitter at Frida Kahlo museum

… her brilliant selection of glitter,

Frida's wheelchair and easel

…and the easel she painted at. Frida suffered from various ill health throughout her life including polio as a child, and a later traffic accident that left her with multiple problems including the inability to conceive.

Frida Kahlo death mask

She died in 1954, aged 47. The cause of death was unclear but she had been in ill health for much of the year before. Frida died at home and you can see her death mask in the museum.

Photo of Frida Kahlo

When we visited the Blue House, an exhibition of Frida’s clothing had just opened.

Frida Kahlo medical corset

It included parts of her medical wear, like this corset, which she painted with a hammer and sickle.

Frida Kahlo boot

Frida’s right leg had to be amputated at the knee due to gangrene. This is one the stylish boots she had made to disguise it.

Frida Kahlo dresses

The exhibition is the first time since Frida’s death that her famous wardrobe has been on display. It includes much of her signature style, emblematic of her indigenous roots,

Frida Kahlo veil

…and love for the surreal.

Frida Kahlo inspired dresses

It also features clothes by major fashion houses, inspired by her style,

Corset dress Frida Kahlo

…including this corset dress by Jean Paul Gaultier.

Statue at Casita Azul

The house itself is stunning, painted a deep shade of blue and dotted with lots of idiosyncrasies like this charismatic stone statue.

Victoria looking at Man at the Crossroads

After our visit to La Casa Azul, we headed to the Palacio de Bellas Artes. I was keen to see a mural by Rivera that is mentioned in The Lacuna. It was originally commissioned for the Rockefeller Building in New York. He was given the theme: ‘Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future’ and Diego wanted to contrast Capitalism and Socialism.

Lenin in Man at the Crossroads

Controversy struck when Diego chose to include an image of Lenin in the mural, which provoked outrage in the media and resulted in Rockefeller asking him to remove Lenin’s picture. Diego refused, work ceased and the mural was destroyed.

Trotsky in Man at the Cross Roads Rivera

Diego had feared that this would be the result so had taken photos of the mural in progress. He repainted it in a slightly smaller scale at the Palacio Bellas Artes in his hometown of Mexico City. The new version was renamed ‘Man, Controller of the Universe’ and included additions such as this image of Trotsky. Trotsky features in The Lacuna when Diego and Frida hosted him at their homes for some time during his political asylum in Mexico. He and Frida are said to have had an affair in the Blue House before his assassination in 1940.

Gambling in El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos

The new version even includes an image of Rockefeller himself in a nightclub with a woman and a dish of syphilis bacteria above their head.

Darwin in Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera

A miserable-looking Darwin sits on the side of Capitalism,

Detail from Man at the Crossroads

….with animals at his feet.

Soldiers in man at the Crossroads Diego

Above it all stands an angry Jupiter on one side, and a headless Ceaser on the other, representing the replacement of superstition with science.

Baby in the womb - Diego Rivera El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos

For me, the beauty of the mural is in the details, especially the biological images,

Cells in El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos

…like these cell forms.

Man at the Crossroads mural

The mural, Man at the Crossroads / Man, Centre of the Universe is immense and one that you could stare at all day, picking up on every little detail and nuance. We drank in as much as we could, and as I sat there, after a day filled with Diego and Frida, I realised something. Ever since I was young, I’ve yearned for the characters in the novels I read to be real, to travel to the places they lived and take a peek at the lives they led. On that day in Mexico city, the dream came true.

More on Mexico City

We’ve written a guide to Condesa and Roma in Mexico City, (including the best Condesa boutique hotels) and here’s a huge list of all the best things to do in Mexico City. Finally, for some more Mexican culture, here’s an article with lots of interesting Mexico facts.

23 thoughts on “Frida and Diego: a photo story in Mexico City”

  1. This is gorgeous. I’m exactly the same, The Lacuna made me so interested in these two, and it made me fall in love with Frida Kahlo, I’m absolutely in awe of her. Yet another must-do to add to my travel list 🙂 I absolutely love your blog by the way, it’s beautiful and inspiring.

    • Thank you. That’s wonderful praise indeed. It seems lots of people have read The Lacuna and felt the same way. It would be hard not to.

  2. This is just perfect. I am dying to go to Mexico City, mainly because of Frida Kahlo. I want to see Casa Azul so badly! I just visited Detroit recently and saw Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Mural – just beautiful!

    • Oooh, I’d have loved to see that. The only downside of the museum in Mexico is that there are very few of her famous paintings.

  3. I loved their story after seeing the film – I read a biography too, but her life does get extremely dark & desperately sad at the end. I thought the film was brilliant because it puts all the paintings into contact – using the visual medium exquisitely. Seeing her house is on my top ten dreams list.
    Next artist you should check out – Leonora Carrington. British cum Mexican surrealist. Fascinating art and life. And a brilliant novel – The Hearing Trumpet.

    • Oh yes, I love the film too. It’s wonderful. I hope you make it to Mexico City, Laura. It’s such a vibrant place. I definitely want to go back. And thanks for the artist tip. I’m going to have a look now…

  4. Frida and Diego are two of my favourite artists, and I have always been fascinated by their love story. It must have been incredible to visit their home and see their artwork in person – I must go there one day!!! Your photos have got me itching to visit 🙂

  5. “Ever since I was young, I’ve yearned for the characters in the novels I read to be real, to travel to the places they lived….”

    I understand, I feel this way, too! Thank you for sharing all of the symbolism of Diego Rivera’s mural. It’s fascinating.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.