Before Frida Kahlo became an icon, she was just another artist from Mexico, and in the early 1930s was living and working in the United States with her husband Diego Rivera. Rivera, also an artist, was laboring to finish a project in Detroit — what would eventually become a famous mural about Detroit’s history — when Kahlo was interviewed by The Detroit News.
The now infamous 1933 article written by Florence Davies is titled, “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Art.” The full article can be found on Google Arts and Culture, as contributed by the Detroit Institute of Art that featured it in a 2015 exhibition about the artist.
The article was widely shared online due to its headline’s derisive and patronizing attitude toward a woman who would later go on to eclipse her husband’s fame and influence in the art world. The article went on to state, “In Detroit she paints only because time hangs heavily upon her hands during the long hours while her husband is at work on the court.”
Davies, however, acknowledges Kahlo’s skill, “Señora Rivera’s painting is by no means a joke; because, however she may laugh when you ask her about it, the fact remains that she has acquired a very skillful and beautiful style, painting in the small with miniature-like technique, which is as far removed from the heroic figures of Rivera as could well be imagined.”
Kahlo also appears to poke fun at her husband, saying to Davies, “Of course, he does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist.”
The interview took place a few months after Kahlo suffered from a miscarriage in July 1932, and spent time recovering in Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. Soon after the miscarriage, in an effort to combat her depression, she took a lithography workshop and created one of her most significant print pieces, “El Aborto (Frida and the Miscarriage).”
The headline was revisited in a 1996 Detroit Free Press story that described how the local art world “dismissed Kahlo’s efforts.” The article also said Kahlo called Detroit “ugly and stupid,” who “got even by swearing at Grosse Pointe parties, pretending she didn’t know what the bad words meant in English.”
In 2017, the Detroit News published a reflection about the 1933 article, stating, “A Detroit News article that ran 84 years ago on Feb. 2 is the first rough draft of an international icon who was not yet an icon. The article is of a 25-year-old Frida Kahlo, who hadn’t yet made her mark as a painter.”
The Detroit News article also noted how after a post featuring the old article went viral on Facebook, numerous women journalists speculated that the headline may have been written by a male editor, and Davies was probably writing in a newsroom filled with men, especially as the article itself praises Kahlo’s skill as a formidable artist.
Given that the 1933 article is available in online archives and through the Detroit Institute of Art, we rate this claim that it is real as “True.”
1933 Article on Frida Kahlo: “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art” | Open Culture. https://www.openculture.com/2015/03/1933-article-on-frida-kahlo-wife-of-the-master-mural-painter-gleefully-dabbles-in-works-of-art.html. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.
Detroit Industry Murals. https://www.dia.org/riveracourt. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.
“FRAME|WORK: El Aborto (Frida and the Miscarriage) by Frida Kahlo.” FAMSF, 22 June 2011, https://www.famsf.org/blog/framework-el-aborto-frida-and-miscarriage-frida-kahlo. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.
“Henry Ford Hospital – Frida Kahlo.” Google Arts & Culture, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/henry-ford-hospital-frida-kahlo/kgHTa-02kVhHJA. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.
“Iconic Frida Kahlo before She Was an Icon.” DetroitNews, https://www.detroitnews.com/story/entertainment/arts/2017/02/02/frida-kahlo-iconic-artist-detroit-news/97386432/. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.
McKinney, Kelsey. “This 1930s Article Calling Frida Kahlo the ‘Wife of the Master Mural Painter’ Is All Wrong.” Vox, 17 Mar. 2015, https://www.vox.com/2015/3/17/8231295/frida-kahlo-detroit. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.
“Review of Frida Kahlo’s Work in Detroit News.” Google Arts & Culture, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/review-of-frida-kahlo-s-work-in-detroit-news/cwEy0-qQzCOEVw. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.