POST TIME: 24 November, 2021 03:40:00 PM
Intimate Frida Kahlo self-portrait sells for $34.9 million, smashing auction records
Smithsonian Magazine, New York

Intimate Frida Kahlo self-portrait sells for $34.9 million, smashing auction records

Frida Kahlo’s 1949 self-portrait Diego y yo, or Diego and I, broke records yesterday, becoming the most expensive work by a Latin American artist ever sold at auction. The painting carried an estimate of $30 to $50 million and went under the hammer for $34.9 million.

As James Tarmy reports for Bloomberg, the Tuesday evening sale was guaranteed by a third party, meaning a buyer was already lined up to purchase Kahlo’s work at its minimum estimated value. The self-portrait was therefore expected to easily surpass a benchmark previously set by Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera. His 1931 painting The Rivals sold at Christie’s for $9.8 million in 2018 ($10.7 million today).

A Sotheby’s spokesperson identified the buyer as Eduardo F. Costantini, founder of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA) in Argentina. The collector tells Zachary Small of the New York Times that he plans to display the work at MALBA next year.

“I had looked at the painting so many times in books, then all [of a] sudden it came up for auction,” Costantini says. “I had started dreaming about buying the piece.”

Born in Coyoacán, a southern suburb of Mexico City, in 1907, Kahlo launched her painting career at the age of 18, when a traumatic bus accident left her bedridden for several months. Thanks in large part to productive relationships within the flourishing post-Mexican Revolution art community, Kahlo developed a unique Surrealist style that incorporated elements of Renaissance portraiture, Catholic ex-votos, folk art and Indigenous art. Her paintings probed questions of national and ethnic identity, history and communism, bisexuality, and painful events such as her infertility and Rivera’s infidelity. (The couple wed in 1929, divorced in 1939, remarried in 1940 and remained together until Kahlo’s death in 1954.)

Kahlo painted Diego y yo in the spring of 1949, during a difficult time in her life, notes Sotheby’s in work’s lot description. She was living in her beloved Casa Azul (Blue House), but her health had been steadily declining due to lingering complications from the 1925 accident. In the 11.6- by 8.8-inch oil painting, Kahlo renders her somber face encircled by strands of dark hair. A second miniature portrait of a three-eyed Rivera hovers just above the artist’s own eyes, which leak three small tears.

“Diego y yo epitomizes the painstakingly detailed rendering, complex iconography and deeply personal narratives that are hallmarks of [Kahlo’s] mature painting,” says Sotheby’s director of Latin American art, Anna Di Stasi, in a statement.

Kahlo dedicated the self-portrait to one of her frequent guests during this period: Florence Arquin, an art historian and educator based in Chicago. Arquin conducted several research trips to Mexico City on behalf of the State Department, becoming a well-known expert in Latin American art, per the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

Writing on the back of the small canvas, Kahlo inscribed her painting to Arquin and her husband Samuel Williams: “For Florence and Sam with Frida’s love. Mexico, June 1949.”