In the art world, there are two names that grasp hands and stand out above the rest as a duo: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Though the two of them painted independently, it is impossible to know the story of one without the other. The paintings that each of them created are unforgettable, and their relationship is woven into their work.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were Mexican artists in the early 20th century. They would later marry and have one of the most tumultuous public relationships of their time. Although there were parts of their marriage that were fueled by loyalty, joy, and a mutual love for painting, there were also times of pure pain. The emotions of their marriage are blatant in their work.

Two artistic souls coming together can be a beautiful unity, but it can also be a destructive force — like two speeding cars hitting head-on. Both Frida and Diego were talented, headstrong, and driven. As Communists in Mexico, they painted political pieces and odes to social justice. In 1930, they moved to the United States, and Diego was commissioned to paint a mural at Rockefeller Center, which became one of the most famous murals in U.S. history.

Image courtesy of
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Frida Kahlo is a work of art unto herself. I highly encourage everyone to read about her entire life because she was an amazing person, and one article cannot do her justice. Frida’s life came to a painful pause when she was severely injured in a car accident at the age of eighteen. She was bedridden for several months, and during this time she painted to help herself cope with the pain. She had only had a few formal art lessons previously. She painted herself, her friends, and still lifes. Everything changed one day in 1928 when twenty-one-year-old Frida went to a party and met Diego Rivera face-to-face. Frida had always admired Diego, a famous painter in Mexico, and she had even hidden in an auditorium to secretly watch him paint a mural.

Soon after meeting him, Frida showed him her paintings. Right away, Diego was intrigued and smitten by this fiery young woman. He was impressed by her paintings and also by her. He began courting her, and, in 1929, they were married.

The marriage was deemed unconventional from the start. Diego was forty-two, six feet tall, and 300 pounds. Frida was twenty-two, five-foot-three, and only 98 pounds. Frida’s own mother disapproved of the marriage and didn’t even attend the wedding. She said Diego was “too old, too fat, and an atheist and Communist.” She compared their union to an elephant marrying a dove.

Others saw Frida’s choice to marry Diego as a means for advancing her own art career.

They moved to San Francisco in 1930 and lived the lavish, elite lifestyle that Diego’s mural afforded them. But Frida was unimpressed with the United States and spent most of her time by herself, painting. During this time she painted the famous Frieda and Diego Rivera. This painting was the first of hers to be shown to the public. One newspaper described it as “valuable only because it was painted by the wife of Diego Rivera.”

Growing tired of America and living in her husband’s shadow, Frida moved back to Mexico a month earlier than she and Diego had planned. Back in Mexico, she met a Hungarian photographer named Nickolas Murray. The two began an affair that would last the next ten years.

Diego was not without his own scandals. He had an affair with Frida’s own sister, Cristina.  Frida learned about the affair after she had just suffered her third miscarriage. She was inspired to paint A Few Small Nips, depicting her pain.

As the years went by, there would be more affairs, more painting, and more physical agony for Frida, who suffered illnesses and back pain constantly. The couple divorced in 1939. However, a year later…they remarried. Frida took him back as her husband on two conditions: there would be no sex, and she would not accept any money from him. Her reasoning for the remarriage: “Diego is not anybody’s husband and never will be, but he is a great comrade.”

As expected, Diego continued to have affairs with other women. Frida’s health was rapidly declining, and she would undergo multiple hospitalizations and surgeries for the next decade, including having her leg amputated. “Feet…” she wrote in her diary, “what do I need them for if I have wings to fly?”

Frida passed away on July 13, 1954, at age 47, after contracting pneumonia. Diego sat by her bedside the night before she died. That night, Frida gave him a ring that she’d bought for him. She intended to give it to him for their 25th anniversary — which was only a couple of weeks away — but she knew that she wouldn’t make it to then.

Three years later, Diego Rivera died of heart failure. His last wish was for his ashes to be put together with Frida’s. His family, however, did not respect his wishes, and they had him buried at the “Rotunda of Famous Men” in Mexico City.

Although the relationship of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is mostly heartbreaking and downright unhealthy by most standards, there is something so intriguing about it. Somehow, through all of the pain and crisis, the two remained together until death. Whether they really loved each other or were just stubborn, we’ll never know.

Perhaps their love and forgiveness was unconditional, or perhaps they stayed together for the familiarity and social image. Either way, their devotion and the art that the two of them created is fascinating. Through the brushstrokes, you can see their stories and, really, the story of the human heart. It is not perfect. It breaks and hardens and betrays, but the heart also bends, creates, and loves.

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