One of Frida Kahlo’s iconically harrowing self-portraits became the most expensive artwork by a Latin American artist on Tuesday after it sold at auction for $34.9 million.
The painting, titled ‘Diego and I,’ features a bust of her husband Diego Rivera, painted with a third eye on his forehead, sitting atop her eyebrows as she weeps. It was completed in 1949 just five years before her death.
At the time of its painting, PBS reports that ‘rumors circulated that Diego intended to marry the film star Maria Felix, with whom he was having an affair. Although nothing came of the affair and Diego remained with Frida, she was hurt. The self-portrait came out of this experience.’
The painting was sold to Argentinian real estate developer and museum founder Eduardo F. Costantini at Sotheby’s, according to the New York Times.
‘Diego and I’ beat the record for most expensive painting by a Latin American artist set by its own subject in 2018, when one of Rivera’s paintings sold at auction for $9.76 million.
‘Diego and I’ was completed in 1949 and sold for almost $35 million on Tuesday in New York
‘This is an important late work from a period where her physical suffering had intensified and her painting became erratic,’ said one curator
The painting features Kahlo herself and her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who until Tuesday was the artist behind the most expensive artwork by a Latin artist
Costantini told Argentine newspaper Clarín in an interview published Wednesday that he will be keeping the portrait in his personal collection, but would share it with the public by displaying it as part of a series of exhibitions at his museum.
His collection also features Kahlo’s 1942 ‘Autorretrato con chango y loro’ (‘Self portrait with monkey and parrot’) which he acquired in a 1995 auction for $3.2 million as well as paintings done by her husband.
‘Frida is Messi, and has already transcended the region. She is a Latin American artist but she is beloved and valued throughout the world, and that recognition has also been growing in these years,’ Costantini said.
‘She has caught on in collective love in a universal way and this work, Diego and I, which I acquire, is particularly important because it precisely synthesizes her transcendence as an artist, in addition to expressing in her the drama of her personal life. Diego and I somehow condenses an important part of their life history.’
A collector of modern, postmodern and contemporary art, Costantini considered the addition of ‘Diego and I’ as artwork that ‘that split the earth.’
Her paintings, he suggests, demonstrated a tendency of expressing her personal life story on canvas.
‘Frida is a superlative artist. A self-portraitist who condenses all the qualities of the greatest artists, also because of her charisma and the admiration that her works provoke, and that she has also had the ability to write her autobiography through the images that she painted,’ he said.
‘The drama of her personal and love life was reflected in her works, and particularly in ‘Diego and I.’ She tenderly pours her drama onto the canvas. This differentiates this piece from other paintings, such as ‘Self portrait with monkey and parrot,’ and makes it a unique work.
One expert hailed the progress evidenced by the couple’s record swap.
‘In terms of gender politics, this is a good thing,’ curator Jorge Daniel Veneciano told the Times. ‘Now we might say that Diego Rivera is the husband of Frida Kahlo, because she is outshining him.’
Kahlo’s paintings became more sought after in the 21st century, after her legend grew thanks to art world coverage and the 2002 biopic Frida, starring Salma Hayek as the wheelchair-assisted surrealist painter.
Her paintings have become more attractive to buyers because the Mexican government prohibits the sale of artwork from prominent 19th and 20th century artists inside the country.
‘So the price is the result of massive pent-up interest in the artist and very little inventory,’ said Gregorio Luke, the former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in California. ‘There are probably less than 20 to 30 paintings of hers on the market.’
‘Diego and I’ last sold at Sotheby’s, an auction house in New York, for $1 million in 1990. At the time, it was the first piece by a Latin American artist to cross the million-dollar mark.
Costantini, the buyer of Diego and I, is the founder and chairman of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, or MALBA.
The painting was bought by Argentinian real estate tycoon Eduardo Costantini, above in 2016, for his personal collection. Costantini also founded a museum in Buenos Aires
Kahlo was born in 1907 in Mexico City.
She contracted polio at age six, but was made permanently disabled when she suffered a bus accident at 18. An iron handrail stabbed through her pelvis.
The artist spent much of her time in bed with chronic pain, even painting herself lying down in various pieces.
She was a noted communist supporter who met Diego Rivera, an already famous muralist who was 20 years older than her, through politically engaged friends.
In ‘Diego and I,’ her idiosyncratic surreal and self-referential style is on display.
‘This is an important late work from a period where her physical suffering had intensified and her painting became erratic,’ said Adriana Zavala, who curated a Kahlo exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden in 2015.
‘She looks less polished and poised.’
Kahlo’s leg was amputated due to gangrene in 1953 and she died in 1954 at the age of 47.
Her official cause of death was pulmonary embolism set on by pneumonia, but there have been speculations that she overdosed on painkillers, according to CBS News.