“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
This November, Sotheby’s will present Frida Kahlo’s 1949 self-portrait, Diego y yo (Diego and I). This historic work is the final, fully realized self-portrait before Kahlo's death in 1954. The painting is offered as a star lot in the Modern Evening Sale in New York, carrying an estimate of over $30 million, overcoming her current auction record of $8 million achieved in 2016. Undoubtedly, the work is considered one of the most valuable works of Latin American Art ever publicly offered in an auction. Diego y yo will be on public view from 7 to 11 October in Hong Kong and from 22 until 25 October in London before returning to New York for the November sale.
Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s Chairman and Worldwide Head of Sales for Global Fine Art, states: “Frida Kahlo’s emotionally bare and complex portrait Diego y yo is a defining work by one of the few artists whose influence transcends the world of fine art to pop culture and beyond. To offer this portrait in our Modern Evening Sale in November heralds the recent expansion of the Modern category to include greater representation of underrepresented artists, notably women artists, and rethink how they have historically been valued at auction.” (Sotheby's, 2021) The sale will be a turning point for Kahlo and Latin American artists, as it was when the painting was previously sold at Sotheby’s in 1990 achieving $1.4 million and making Kahlo the first Latin American artist to achieve more than $1 million at auction.
Last year the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which is under construction in Los Angeles, bought another Kahlo's self-portrait dedicated to Dr. Eloesser (1940). Also, the curator and collector Kenny Schachter wrote on Artnet News that another Kahlo's self-portrait sold via Christie's to an Asian collector, in a private transaction. As Anna Di Stasi, Sotheby’s Director of Latin American Art, commented: “Frida Kahlo is a global icon of modern art whose work is beloved around the world. Diego y yo, epitomizes the painstakingly detailed rendering, complex iconography, and deeply personal narratives that are hallmarks of her mature painting” (Sotheby's, 2021).
The story behind the "Diego y yo"
Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 - July 13, 1954) was a Mexican artist, who has achieved a great international reputation. She painted using vibrant colors in a style that was influenced by the native cultures of Mexico. Also, in her works, it can be spotted European influences that include Realism, Symbolism, and Surrealism. Many of her works are self-portraits that symbolically express her pain and sexuality. In 1929, Kahlo married the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. They shared political views, and he praised her artistic efforts.
The painting Diego y yo (Diego and I) is a reflection of Frida's emotional state, representing the deep anguish she felt over her husband Diego Rivera. At that time, Diego had an affair with Maria Felix, a beautiful film star, and almost divorced Frida. Even though Frida was trying to joke about this affair, as she always did with Rivera's other affairs, the painting Diego and I prove that she was deeply hurt. The painting can be considered as a double portrait. Kahlo draws a small portrait of Rivera in the center of her forehead, owning a third eye to symbolize the level to which he occupied her consciousness.
In the painting, the viewer can see Frida losing her hair. Those hair swirls around her neck, symbolizing emotional strangulation. The cause of her distress is her husband, Diego. His demeanor serves her eyebrows as a platform. In the painting, a pyramid of five eyes is shaped. From all these eyes just Frida's meet the viewers' eyes. On the other hand, Diego gazes over viewers' heads, looking into the past. Diego was always in Frida's thoughts. In her diary, she characteristically writes "DIEGO. I am alone." Then several pages later: "My Diego. I am no longer alone. You accompany me. You put me to sleep and you revive me." On a more romantic note, she wrote: "Nothing is comparable to your hands and nothing is equal to the gold-green of your eyes. My body fills itself with you for days and days. You are the mirror of the night. The violent light of lightning. The dampness of the earth. Your armpit is my refuge. My fingertips touch your blood. All my joy is to feel your life shoot forth from your fountain-flower which mine keeps filling all the paths of my nerves which belong to you."
Her work is celebrated for these raw provoking feelings. The painting captures inner anxiety and distress. All these feelings are reflected in three tears flowing from her eyes, reminiscent of Madonna of the Sorrows, an iconic image in Western art history. Frida's works embrace so much more than her personal story. Her works engage with existential questions around life, death, and love, giving food for thought to the viewer.
Frida Kahlo Foundation. Frida Kahlo. https://www.frida-kahlo-foundation.org/
Gareth, H. (2021, October 21). Head over to Sotheby's in London for a chance to see Frida Kahlo's $30m self-portrait before it goes under the hammer. The Art Newspaper. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/10/21/head-over-to-sothebys-in-london-for-a-chance-to-see-frida-kahlos-dollar30m-self-portrait-before-it-goes-under-the-hammer
Sotheby's. (2021, September 24). Sotheby's to auction Frida Kahlo's Final "Bust" Self-portrait from 1940s. https://www.sothebys.com/en/press/sothebys-to-auction-frida-kahlos-final-bust-self-portrait-from-the-1940s
Villa, A. (2021, September 22). $30m Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait Could Break Records at Sotheby's Sale. ARTnews. https://www.artnews.com/art-news/market/frida-kahlo-self-portrait-sothebys-auction-1234604454/