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The Art of JAMA
September 20, 2016

Portrait of VirginiaFrida Kahlo

JAMA. 2016;316(11):1136-1137. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.14486

Portrait of Virginia was painted in the naturalistic style favored by the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) (JAMA cover, October 7, 1993) at the time of her marriage to the muralist Diego Rivera. The subject is conventional—a girl sitting in a chair, thinking her private thoughts—with no forewarning of the confrontational imagery of Kahlo’s later work. The background in this vertically oriented composition is divided into horizontal panels of lavender and terra-cotta, offering transitional contrasts for the girl’s green dress with red polka dots. In Mexico, where exterior walls and doorways of shops and cantinas are painted in broad washes of dry color, bright articles of clothing worn by people on the street create spontaneous contrasts of hue and tone, especially on market days (The Art of JAMA, May 3, 2016). Folk dress and traditional themes were foundational elements of Mexico’s cultural revolution in the early decades of the 20th century. To create a new art for Mexico that was distinct from the traditions of Europe and the United States, Kahlo, Rivera, and their contemporaries integrated the colors and symbols of folk culture with the forms of fine art. Many of Kahlo’s paintings allude to remembrance pictures by local craftsmen found in churches and homes throughout the country. Her best-known art works are intensely personal and can be disturbing, because they dwell on the physical consequences of her illnesses and injuries and the darkness of her inner life; what viewers find so compelling in them is Kahlo’s willingness to bare her soul.

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