Perhaps Mexico's most celebrated painter, Frida Kahlo lived a short, tumultuous life. Kahlo grew up in Mexico City and had what she described as a very sad childhood. Her mother was cruel and fanatically religious, which led to Frida's oldest sister, Mathilde, running away as a teenager. Frida contracted polio at age six, which caused her leg to become deformed and for her to begin schooling a year behind her peers. She became introverted, which proved to be beneficial when her hobby of reading landed her in an elite private school, where she planned to study medicine. At 18, however, Frida was in a horrible bus accident; she spent a month in a hospital after a handrail impaled her pelvis and broke her ribs, legs, and collarbone. She would experience residual pains for the rest of her life, and the accident effectively ended her dreams of becoming a doctor. Instead, she turned to art, a hobby she'd always enjoyed but had perfected during her recovery. She began a relationship with another Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, who was twice her age; they married in 1929, right around the time Kahlo's artistic style changed and began incorporating elements of Mexican folk art, indigenous culture, and mythology, such as bright colors and symbolism. Much of Kahlo's work also references reproduction, as she was incapable of having children and suffered several miscarriages.
Kahlo's marriage to Rivera was a further source of stress for the artist. She had several affairs with women, which did not bother her husband, but her affairs with men angered him. Rivera had his share of extramarital relationships as well, including one with Frida's younger sister, Cristina, which led to a divorce in 1939. They remarried a year later, but their relationship remained troubled. In the following years, Kahlo's work began to find a larger audience in America, and she was lauded as something of a star in New York. She was especially celebrated for her depictions of the female form and for the surrealism of her work, particularly her famous self-portraits. Years later, in 1953, Frida's right leg was amputated due to gangrene, leading to another bout with depression. She died less than a year later after fighting a bronchial infection, though her nurse at the time believes it may have been suicide by painkiller overdose. The final thing Kahlo drew was a black angel. Despite a warm reception in the late 1930s in America, it wasn't until decades after her death that Kahlo's work became more widely known and respected as a growing awareness of Mexican art, called Neomexicanismo, took hold in the 1970s and 1980s. She's now recognized as a leading feminist voice among painters.