Fans of Mexican painter and prolific self-portraitist Frida Kahlo have one destination above all others: the Blue House, her 1904 home, easily identifiable by color, at the corner of Londres and Allende in Mexico City’s Coyoacán borough. I myself dropped in a couple years back, impressed at the attention to detail in converting the building and its courtyard into the Frida Kahlo Museum. (It repaid the time spent in a line that, even in the middle of a weekday, stretched down the block.) Other visitors, clearly lovers of Kahlo’s work, walked the grounds trying to sense how much of the artist’s spiritual presence remained. Just above, you can see film of the Blue House in its pre-museum years, featuring the living presences of both Kahlo and her muralist husband Diego Rivera. Though the artists themselves have long gone, the effort to preserve their domicile has clearly succeeded; gift shop aside, these parts of its grounds look much the same today.
“Nobody will ever know how much I love Diego,” says a narrator reading Kahlo’s words as the camera captures her and Rivera together:
I don’t want anything to hurt him, nothing to bother him and rob him of the energy he needs for living — for living as he likes, for painting, seeing, loving, eating, sleeping, being by himself, being with someone. But I’d never want him to be sad. If I had good health, I’d give him all of it. If I had youth, he could take it all.
The footage above was shot by a simultaneously significant man in Kahlo’s life, the photographer Nickolas Muray, who put in a ten-year shift as her man on the side. Yet she preferred Rivera to Muray as husband material, divorcing and re-marrying Rivera even as she spurned Muray’s proposals. But then, bohemian artists have always had their own way of handling married life; I recall one particular framed Mexican newspaper clipping displayed at the Frida Kahlo Museum, a story about how, despite his reputation for ugliness, Rivera never once had to suffer in the female department. Below, you can see more footage of Frida and Diego, along with Leon Trotsky.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.