Frida Kahlo’s Venomous Love Letter to Diego Rivera: “I’m Amputating You. Be Happy and Never Seek Me Again”

Painter Diego Rivera set the bar awful­ly high for oth­er lovers when he—allegedly—ate a hand­ful of his ex-wife Fri­da Kahlo’s cre­mains, fresh from the oven.

Per­haps he was hedg­ing his bets. The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment opt­ed not to hon­or his express wish that their ash­es should be co-min­gled upon his death. Kahlo’s remains were placed in Mex­i­co City’s Rotun­da of Illus­tri­ous Men, and have since been trans­ferred to their home, now the Museo Fri­da Kahlo.

Rivera lies in the Pan­teón Civ­il de Dolores.

Oth­er cre­ative expres­sions of the grief that dogged him til his own death, three years lat­er:

His final paint­ing, The Water­mel­ons, a very Mex­i­can sub­ject that’s also a trib­ute to Kahlo’s last work, Viva La Vida

And a locked bath­room in which he decreed 6,000 pho­tographs, 300 of Kahlo’s gar­ments and per­son­al items, and 12,000 doc­u­ments were to be housed until 15 years after his death.

Among the many rev­e­la­tions when this cham­ber was belat­ed­ly unsealed in 2004, her cloth­ing caused the biggest stir, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ways in which the col­or­ful gar­ments were adapt­ed to and informed by her phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties.

Her pros­thet­ic leg, shod in an eye-catch­ing red boot was giv­en a place of hon­or in an exhib­it at the Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um.,

These trea­sures might have come to light ear­li­er save for a judg­ment call on the part of Dolores Olme­do, Rivera’s patron, for­mer mod­el, and friend. Dur­ing ren­o­va­tions to turn the couple’s home into a muse­um, she had a peek and decid­ed the lip­stick-imprint­ed love let­ters from some famous men Fri­da had bed­ded could dam­age Rivera’s rep­u­ta­tion.

In what way, it’s dif­fi­cult to parse.

The couple’s his­to­ry of extra­mar­i­tal rela­tions (includ­ing Rivera’s dal­liance with Kahlo’s sis­ter, Christi­na) weren’t exact­ly secret, and both of the play­ers had left the build­ing.

One thing that’s tak­en for grant­ed is Kahlo’s pas­sion for Rivera, whom she met as girl of 15. Tempt­ing as it might be to view the rela­tion­ship with 2020 gog­gles, it would be a dis­ser­vice to Kahlo’s sense of her own nar­ra­tive. Self-exam­i­na­tion was cen­tral to her work. She was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly avid in let­ters and diary entries, detail­ing her phys­i­cal attrac­tion to every aspect of Rivera’s body, includ­ing his giant bel­ly “drawn tight and smooth as a sphere.” Dit­to her obses­sion with his many con­quests.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, she was capa­ble of pen­ning a pret­ty spicy love let­ter her­self, and the major­i­ty were aimed at her hus­band:

Noth­ing com­pares to your hands, noth­ing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. you are the mir­ror of the night. the vio­lent flash of light­ning. The damp­ness of the earth. The hol­low of your armpits is my shel­ter. my fin­gers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-foun­tain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.

Her most noto­ri­ous love let­ter does not appear to be one at first.

Bedrid­den, and fac­ing the ampu­ta­tion of a gan­grenous right leg that had already sac­ri­ficed some toes 20 years ear­li­er, she direct­ed the full force of her emo­tions at Rivera.

The lover she’d ten­der­ly pegged as “a boy frog stand­ing on his hind legs” now appeared to her an “ugly son of a bitch,” mad­den­ing­ly pos­sessed of the pow­er to seduce women (as he had seduced her).

You have to read all the way to the twist:


My dear Mr. Diego,

I’m writ­ing this let­ter from a hos­pi­tal room before I am admit­ted into the oper­at­ing the­atre. They want me to hur­ry, but I am deter­mined to fin­ish writ­ing first, as I don’t want to leave any­thing unfin­ished. Espe­cial­ly now that I know what they are up to. They want to hurt my pride by cut­ting a leg off. When they told me it would be nec­es­sary to ampu­tate, the news didn’t affect me the way every­body expect­ed. No, I was already a maimed woman when I lost you, again, for the umpteenth time maybe, and still I sur­vived.

I am not afraid of pain and you know it. It is almost inher­ent to my being, although I con­fess that I suf­fered, and a great deal, when you cheat­ed on me, every time you did it, not just with my sis­ter but with so many oth­er women. How did they let them­selves be fooled by you? You believe I was furi­ous about Cristi­na, but today I con­fess that it wasn’t because of her. It was because of me and you. First of all because of me, since I’ve nev­er been able to under­stand what you looked and look for, what they give you that I couldn’t. Let’s not fool our­selves, Diego, I gave you every­thing that is human­ly pos­si­ble to offer and we both know that. But still, how the hell do you man­age to seduce so many women when you’re such an ugly son of a bitch?

The rea­son why I’m writ­ing is not to accuse you of any­thing more than we’ve already accused each oth­er of in this and how­ev­er many more bloody lives. It’s because I’m hav­ing a leg cut off (damned thing, it got what it want­ed in the end). I told you I’ve count­ed myself as incom­plete for a long time, but why the fuck does every­body else need to know about it too? Now my frag­men­ta­tion will be obvi­ous for every­one to see, for you to see… That’s why I’m telling you before you hear it on the grapevine. For­give my not going to your house to say this in per­son, but giv­en the cir­cum­stances and my con­di­tion, I’m not allowed to leave the room, not even to use the bath­room. It’s not my inten­tion to make you or any­one else feel pity, and I don’t want you to feel guilty. I’m writ­ing to let you know I’m releas­ing you, I’m ampu­tat­ing you. Be hap­py and nev­er seek me again. I don’t want to hear from you, I don’t want you to hear from me. If there is any­thing I’d enjoy before I die, it’d be not hav­ing to see your fuck­ing hor­ri­ble bas­tard face wan­der­ing around my gar­den.

That is all, I can now go to be chopped up in peace.

Good bye from some­body who is crazy and vehe­ment­ly in love with you,

Your Fri­da

This is a love let­ter mas­querad­ing as a doozy of a break up let­ter. The ref­er­ences to ampu­ta­tion are both lit­er­al and metaphor­i­cal:

No doubt, she was sin­cere, but this cou­ple, rather than hold­ing them­selves account­able, excelled at rever­sals. In the end the letter’s threat proved idle. Short­ly before her death,  the two appeared togeth­er in pub­lic, at a demon­stra­tion to protest the C.I.A.’s efforts to over­throw the left­ist Guatemalan regime.

Image via Brook­lyn Muse­um

Once Fri­da was safe­ly laid to rest, by which we mean rumored to have sat bolt upright as her cas­ket was slid into the incer­a­tor, Rivera mused in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy:

Too late now I real­ized the most won­der­ful part of my life had been my love for Fri­da. But I could not real­ly say that giv­en “anoth­er chance” I would have behaved toward her any dif­fer­ent­ly than I had. Every man is the prod­uct of the social atmos­phere in which he grows up and I am what I am…I had nev­er had any morals at all and had lived only for plea­sure where I found it. I was not good. I could dis­cern oth­er peo­ple’s weak­ness­es eas­i­ly, espe­cial­ly men’s, and then I would play upon them for no worth­while rea­son. If I loved a woman, the more I want­ed to hurt her. Fri­da was only the most obvi­ous vic­tim of this dis­gust­ing trait.

via Let­ters of Note and the book, Let­ters of Note: Love.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Fri­da Kahlo’s Blue House Free Online

What the Icon­ic Paint­ing, “The Two Fridas,” Actu­al­ly Tells Us About Fri­da Kahlo

Dis­cov­er Fri­da Kahlo’s Wild­ly-Illus­trat­ed Diary: It Chron­i­cled the Last 10 Years of Her Life, and Then Got Locked Away for Decades

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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