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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