The Artist as Artist’s Model: Au Naturel Portraits of Frida Kahlo Taken by Art Patron Julien Levy (1938)


Frida Kahlo’s legacy is definitely informed by her careful husbandry of own image. She understood its currency, and how to leverage it. Even when caught out of uniform or having a seemingly unaware laugh, she stayed true to what in modern parlance would be called her brand.

So it is with gallery owner Julien Levy’s 1938 (technically not-safe-for-work) photographs of the artist, taken the year before he hosted her first solo show, an event that caused Time magazine to rhapsodize that “the flutter of the week in Manhattan was caused by the first exhibition of paintings by famed muralist Diego Rivera’s…wife, Frida Kahlo.”

Rivera’s wife was also Levy’s lover, as these artfully posed, semi-clad photos suggest. They show a less public side of Kahlo, to be sure, but one that’s in keeping with the face she presented to the world.

Frankly, the revelation of her partially loosed hair seems more intimate than her dishabille.

Click here to see the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of Levy’s Kahlo portraits, both with and without rebozo.

To learn a little more about Julien Levy (“a gallery owner who committed his charisma, connections, and personal resources to establishing photography’s importance in the field of modern art”) and the collection bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, click here.

Related Content:

1933 Article on Frida Kahlo: “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art”

Frida Kahlo’s Colorful Clothes Revealed for the First Time & Photographed by Ishiuchi Miyako

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

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, is now playing in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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