A World of Interest: Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird”

We’re so pleased to have Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait from 1940 back with us here in Austin. Over the last two decades, the self-portrait has traveled the world from New York to Australia, Paris to Barcelona, San Francisco, and right back here to Austin, Texas. Frida Kahlo, since I’ve been here, has gone out I think I had about 30 times. When we travel the Kahlo, she has a number of restrictions that are put on her. She always travels with a courier from the Ransom Center. If that entails airplane travel, which it generally does, she gets her own seat. She has her own traveling case. The security, of course, at the borrowing institution has to be very stringent. She is very important to the collection, she is a very high value item, and so she gets particular care. The role as a courier within the Frida Kahlo painting was to go to El Paso and pick up the painting. After loading the vehicle and preparing it for shipping and bringing home the masterpieces of the Ransom Center, we left El Paso at approximately 8:30 in the morning. The vehicle itself is also not advertising the fact that it is carrying a priceless cargo. It is a very unique truck. It also carries 300 gallons of diesel, so therefore we can drive more than 10 hours without ever stopping. Once we arrived, the pieces were immediately brought to the 4th floor and locked. Once the Frida Kahlo painting is unwrapped, then Ken Grant comes in and assesses the work and makes a comparison with the condition report documents. The painting itself now is in extremely good condition. And there are only sort of residual condition issues with the painting itself, that we make note of, but they’re stable. So there’s some minor cracking in the paint. Of course, a painting of this age would probably have that sort of condition no matter what. Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait is part of a series of works that she did in 1940. There were other self-portraits that she completed that year. What makes this particular work important is not only the subject matter in the work but also the context within which it was created. It is a wonderfully symbolically rich self-portrait, as well as a work that was created during an important crossroad in Frida Kahlo’s life. She had divorced with her husband, the muralista Diego Rivera in 1939 and she broke her love affair with the collector Nickolas Muray in 1940. Later on in 1940 Rivera and Kahlo remarried. So there is quite a bit going on in her life as well as in the painting itself. And in that painting we see a variety of things; we see Frida Kahlo looking not necessarily at the viewer but out off in the distance as if she were in great or deep thought, the thorn necklace with its religious connotations, and certainly the animals and the flora and fauna of Mexico that surround her create this claustrophobic space. The other works in the Kahlo collection include Diego y Yo which is a wonderful drawing that was created within months after her marriage to Diego Rivera was created in California where and when Rivera was working on his murals in San Francisco. The other work in the collection, a still life from 1951, was essentially a work at the apex of her series of still lifes that she created, the last series of works that the artist created before she died in 1954. I think we’re very fortunate to have three of her pieces here in the collection, I’m thrilled to be able to be around Kahlos and I think that the audience that comes to see her is going to be as well. While she only created less than 200 works over her lifetime, really she had become at the time and now is a complete artist, someone who represents fully her country as well as established a place for herself in the traditions of modern art. It’s going to be wonderful. Everybody loves to see this painting. So it’s gonna be great. I mean, I’ll love to see her up. You know, I only get to see her laying on a table. It willl be good to see her installed the way she’s supposed to be seen. So Frida would be happy.

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