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Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection 25 Jun – 23 Oct 2016

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Image: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico DF
Frida Kahlo, '11:25 (Carma III)', 1946

Meanwhile, there were other artistic developments taking place in Mexico …

In 1938 the French surrealist leader André Breton came to Mexico – a country he would later call ‘the most surrealist country in the world’ – seeing in it an idealized ‘exotic’ culture that had special access to the imaginary.

The visit also allowed him to meet the Marxist leader Leon Trotsky. Together with Trotsky and Diego, Breton would write the anarchist ‘Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art’.

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Image: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico DF
Frida Kahlo, 'Eyes', 1947

While Breton and his wife Jacqueline Lamba were Diego’s guests, staying at the home of his ex-wife Guadalupe Marín, the surrealist became fascinated by Frida’s work.

Frida’s art, he declared, was ‘a ribbon around a bomb’.

Breton considered Frida had a ‘pure surreality’, seeing in her ‘at the other end of the earth, a spontaneous outpouring of our own questioning spirit’.

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Image: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico DF
Frida Kahlo, 'The miscarriage', 1932

Frida never felt herself to be a surrealist. She was conflicted, both relishing the invitation to show with the surrealists, and rejecting them as bourgeois and pretentious:

‘Some critics have tried to classify me as a surrealist; but I do not consider myself a surrealist … I detest surrealism. To me it seems a manifestation of bourgeois art. A deviation from the true art that the people hope for from the artist … I wish to be worthy, with my paintings, of the people to whom I belong and to the ideas which strengthen me.’

There was certainly a strong connection to the movement in Frida’s use of symbolic associations, and her focus on the female body, but again, for Frida, the body was not simply an erotic dream, it was a reality:

‘They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.’ 

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Image: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico DF
Diego Rivera, 'Modesta', 1937

While Diego, as one of the most foremost artists of his generation, had important relationships with gallerists over many years, and a long history of selling privately commissioned pieces, Frida too was supported by patrons.

The first people to buy her work were film star Edward G. Robinson and his wife Gladys who bought four pieces from her 1938 show. She also had a long-standing patron in her friend Eduardo Morillo Safa, who commissioned her to paint no less than six members of his family.

But it would be the Gelmans who would collect the work of both the Riveras as they amassed an exceptional collection of Mexican and international modern art.

Russian Jacques Gelman was a film technician then producer who came to Mexico on a business trip in 1938. Some months later he met the newly arrived Czech Natasha Zahalka. Both, like many Jewish émigrés flocking to Mexico in the 1930s, decided it was safer to stay in Mexico as Nazism took hold in Europe.

The Gelmans married in 1941 and before long, began the collection that had a significant impact on the Mexican art scene.

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Image: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Diego Rivera Museums Trust, Mexico DF
Diego Rivera, 'Portrait of Natasha Gelman', 1943

Jacques Gelman’s money came from his profitable film production business, most notably his relationship with the Mexican actor Mario Moreno, known as Cantinflas. Cantinflas was best known outside Mexico for his role as Passepartout in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, but he was already much loved in his home country.

The Gelmans kept a house in Cuernavaca, Mexico and one in Manhattan, both filled with modern European art by Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Pierre Bonnard … and of course Frida and Diego.

After their deaths, the Gelmans’ more than $300 million European collection was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it is now known as ‘The School of Paris Collection’.

Their collection of Mexican pieces – including works by Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo – became undoubtedly the finest collection of modern Mexican art.

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Image: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico DF
Frida Kahlo, 'Portrait of Natasha Gelman', 1943

The Gelman’s support of Mexican art really took off in 1943 when Jacques commissioned Diego to paint his wife Natasha, known as a great beauty.

Diego painted her at the Bar de Ciro nightclub at Hotel Reforma, looking sensuous, elegant and beautiful, and again on various occasions.

When Frida is asked to paint her own portrait of Natasha later in the year, she paints a much less flattering portrait.

Where Diego sees his new patron becoming one with the voluptuous lilies that so often appeared in his works, Frida’s – perhaps the result of jealousy – reveals a much sterner figure. It has even been said there is a hint, in Frida’s version, of horns in the curled hairstyle Natasha Gelman wears.

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Image: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Diego Rivera Museums Trust, Mexico DF
Diego Rivera, 'Nude with long hair (Dolores Olmedo)', 1930

Diego was a highly professional and industrious artist, who had created an enormous body of not only public work, but large numbers of canvases that had sold to major galleries and collectors throughout the world. As such, his relationships with his dealers and collectors were important to the last.

After Frida’s death, Diego married his then-art dealer Emma Hurtado, travelling with her throughout the USSR and Eastern Europe.

He is later supported by his close friend Delores (Lola) Olmedo. It is to her Mexico City house that Diego returns in 1956 to recuperate from the experimental cancer treatment he had while in Moscow – and where he created several outstanding mosaics.

A great champion of Diego, Olmedo helped ensure his murals were recognised as historical monuments and, as a lasting legacy, she left a museum for his and Frida’s works she had both collected and inherited.

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Image: Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art, Inc
Photographer unknown, 'Untitled (Diego and Frida)', c1930

In their years together, the Riveras would have an exceptional run of significant global exhibitions and purchases.

Aside from his many mural projects, Diego’s exhibitions included the 1931 retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was only the second artist after Matisse to be offered a solo show there.

Frida is included in the landmark 1939 Paris exhibition, 'Mexique’ curated by Breton. From it, the French national collection purchases Frida’s The Frame, their first Mexican 20th century acquisition.

In 1940, both were involved in the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, with Diego painting the mural Pan-American Unity for the Art in Action exhibit.

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Image: Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art, Inc © Acme Photo
Acme Photo, 'Diego and Frida in NYC', 1933

Though Frida only gained her current iconic status decades after her death, her work was widely respected during her lifetime. 1943 was a big year for Frida, with her works exhibited in Mexico, Philadelphia and New York.

They were a power couple. When the retrospective 'Diego Rivera: 50 Years of his artistic work’, was held at the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City in 1949, Frida wrote the catalogue essay.

In 1950, Diego was awarded the National Prize for Plastic Arts at the Venice Biennale, after representing Mexico there with Orozco, Siqueiros and Tamayo.

As a result, both Frida and Diego became national treasures. Frida was given a state funeral, her coffin mobbed by distraught mourners; national celebrations were held on Diego’s 70th birthday, and he was buried in the Rotunda of Famous Men in Mexico City.

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