Frida Kahlo Writes a Personal Letter to Georgia O’Keeffe After O’Keeffe’s Nervous Breakdown (1933)

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Impor­tant twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry painters, as every stu­dent of art his­to­ry learns, did­n’t tend to sail smooth­ly through exis­tence. Those even a lit­tle inter­est­ed in famed Mex­i­can self-por­traitist Fri­da Kahlo have heard much about the tra­vails both roman­tic and phys­i­cal she endured in her short life. But in this less­er-known instance, anoth­er artist suf­fered, and Kahlo offered the solace. Avail­able to view from Yale’s Bei­necke Rare Book & Man­u­script Library, we have here a let­ter Kahlo sent to Geor­gia O’Ke­effe, painter of blos­soms and south­west Amer­i­can land­scapes (and more besides), on March 1st, 1933. At that time, O’Ke­effe, who the year before had strug­gled and failed to com­plete a mur­al project for Radio City Music Hall on time, lived through the after­math of a ner­vous break­down which had hos­pi­tal­ized her (diag­no­sis: “psy­choneu­ro­sis”), sent her to no less remote a locale than Bermu­da to recu­per­ate, and pre­vent­ed her from paint­ing again until 1934.

Kahlo’s let­ter, sent from Detroit where her mural­ist hus­band Diego Rivera had tak­en a com­mis­sion for 27 fres­coes at the Insti­tute of the Arts, runs as fol­lows:


Was won­der­ful to hear your voice again. Every day since I called you and many times before months ago I want­ed to write you a let­ter. I wrote you many, but every one seemed more stu­pid and emp­ty and I torn them up. I can’t write in Eng­lish all that I would like to tell, espe­cial­ly to you. I am send­ing this one because I promised it to you. I felt ter­ri­ble when Sybil Brown told me that you were sick but I still don’t know what is the mat­ter with you. Please Geor­gia dear if you can’t write, ask Stieglitz to do it for you and let me know how are you feel­ing will you ? I’ll be in Detroit two more weeks. I would like to tell you every thing that hap­pened to me since the last time we saw each oth­er, but most of them are sad and you must­n’t know sad things now. After all I should­n’t com­plain because I have been hap­py in many ways though. Diego is good to me, and you can’t imag­ine how hap­py he has been work­ing on the fres­coes here. I have been paint­ing a lit­tle too and that helped. I thought of you a lot and nev­er for­get your won­der­ful hands and the col­or of your eyes. I will see you soon. I am sure that in New York I will be much hap­pi­er. If you still in the hos­pi­tal when I come back I will bring you flow­ers, but it is so dif­fi­cult to find the ones I would like for you. I would be so hap­py if you could write me even two words. I like you very much Geor­gia.


“Clear­ly Kahlo hoped for a deep­er friend­ship, or per­haps more, with O’Ke­effe, when she and Diego went to New York a few weeks lat­er,” writes Sharyn Rohlf­sen Udall in Carr, O’Ke­effe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own. “From there, she wrote to a friend on 11 April (by which time O’Ke­effe had gone to Bermu­da to con­va­lesce) that because of O’Ke­ef­fe’s ill­ness there had been no love­mak­ing between them that time. A boast­ful exag­ger­a­tion of their close­ness? Know­ing Kahlo’s predilec­tion for sex­u­al hyper­bole, this seems like­ly.”

via A Piece of Mono­logue, A Writer’s Rumi­na­tions

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of Hand­writ­ing as Prac­ticed by Famous Artists: Geor­gia O’Keeffe, Jack­son Pol­lock, Mar­cel Duchamp, Willem de Koon­ing & More

The Real Geor­gia O’Keeffe: The Artist Reveals Her­self in Vin­tage Doc­u­men­tary Clips

Watch Mov­ing Short Films of Fri­da Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the “Blue House”

Fri­da Kahlo and Diego Rivera Vis­it Leon Trot­sky in Mex­i­co, 1938

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 Ange­lesA Los Ange­les PrimerFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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