DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
FRIDA BECOMES MY WIFE
Just before I went to Cuernavaca, there occurred one of the happiest events in my life. I was at work on one of the uppermost frescoes of the Ministry of Education building one day, when I heard a girl shouting up to me, “Diego, please come down from there! I have something important to discuss with you!”
I turned my head and looked down from my scaffold.
On the ground beneath me stood a girl of about eighteen. She had a fine nervous body, topped by a delicate face. Her hair was long; dark and thick eyebrows met above her nose. They seemed like the wings of a blackbird, their black arches framing two extraordinary brown eyes.
When I climbed down, she said, “I didn’t come here for fun. I have to work to earn my livelihood. I have done some paintings which I want you to look over professionally. I want an absolutely straightforward opinion, because I cannot afford to go on just to appease my vanity. I want you to tell me whether you think I can become a good enough artist to make it worth my while to go on. I’ve brought three of my paintings here. Will you come and look at them?”
“Yes,” I said, and followed her to a cubicle under a stairway where she had left her paintings. She turned each of them, leaning against the wall, to face me. They were all three portraits of women. As I looked at them, one by one, I was immediately impressed. The canvases revealed an unusual energy of expression, precise delineation of character, and true severity. They showed none of the tricks in the name of originality that usually mark the work of ambitious beginners. They had a fundamental plastic honesty, and an artistic personality of their own. They communicated a vital sensuality, complemented by a merciless yet sensitive power of observation. It was obvious to me that this girl was an authentic artist.
She undoubtedly noticed the enthusiasm in my face, for before I could say anything, she admonished me in a harshly defensive tone, “I have not come to you looking for compliments. I want the criticism of a serious man. I’m neither an art lover nor an amateur. I’m simply a girl who must work for her living.”
I felt deeply moved by admiration for this girl. I had to restrain myself from praising her as much as I wanted to. Yet I could not be completely insincere. I was puzzled by her attitude. Why, I asked her, didn’t she trust my judgment? Hadn’t she come herself to ask for it?
“The trouble is,” she replied, “that some of your good friends have advised me not to put too much stock in what you say. They say that if it’s a girl who asks your opinion and she’s not an absolute horror, you are ready to gush all over her. Well, I want you to tell me only one thing. Do you actually believe that I should continue to paint, or should I turn to some other sort of work?”
“In my opinion, no matter how difficult it is for you, you must continue to paint,” I answered at once.
“Then I’ll follow your advice. Now I’d like to ask you one more favor. I’ve done other paintings which I’d like you to see. Since you don’t work on Sundays, could you come to my place next Sunday to see them? I live in Coyoacan, Avenida Londres, 126. My name is Frida Kahlo.”
The moment I heard her name, I remembered that my friend Lombardo Toledano, while Director of the National Preparatory School, had complained to me about the intractability of a girl of that name. She was the leader, he said, of a band of juvenile delinquents who raised such uproars in the school that Toledano had considered quitting his job on account of them. I recalled him once pointing her out to me after depositing her in the principal’s office for a reprimand. Then another image popped into my mind, that of the twelve-year-old girl who had defied Lupe, seven years before, in the auditorium of the school where I had been painting murals.
I said, “But you are …”
She stopped me quickly, almost putting her hand on my mouth in her anxiety. Her eyes acquired a devilish brilliancy.
Threateningly, she said, “Yes, so what? I was the girl in the auditorium, but that has absolutely nothing to do with now. You still want to come Sunday?”
I had great difficulty not answering, "More than ever!" But if I showed my excitement she might not let me come at all. So I only answered, "Yes."
Then, after refusing my help in carrying her paintings, Frida departed, the big canvases jiggling under her arms.
Next Sunday found me in Coyoaccin looking for Avenida Londres, 126. When I knocked on the door, I heard someone over my head, whistling "The International." In the top of a high tree, I saw Frida in overalls, starting to climb down. Laughing gaily, she took my hand and ushered me through the house, which seemed to be empty, and into her room. Then she paraded all her paintings before me. These, her room, her sparkling presence, filled me with a wonderful joy.
I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life. And she would continue to be, up to the moment she died, twenty-seven years later.
A few days after this visit to Frida's home, I kissed her for the first time. When I had completed my work in the Education building, I began courting her in earnest. Although she was but eighteen and I more than twice her age, neither of us felt the least bit awkward. Her family, too, seemed to accept what was happening.
One day her father, Don Guillermo Kahlo, who was an excellent photographer, took me aside.
"I see you're interested in my daughter, eh?" he said.
"Yes," I replied. "Otherwise I would not be coming all the way out to Coyoacan to see her."
"She is a devil," he said.
"Well, I've warned you," he said, and he left.
Soon after, we were married in a civil ceremony. The wedding was performed in the town's ancient city hall by the Mayor of Coyoacan, a prominent pulque dealer. At first the mayor wanted to marry us in the meeting room of the Municipal Council. "This merger is an historical event, he argued. The Kahlos, however, persuaded him that a legislative chamber was not a fitting place for a wedding.
Our witnesses were Panchito, a hairdresser, Dr. Coronado, a homeopathic doctor (who examined and dispensed medicines to the wealthy for one peso and charged poor patients nothing), and old Judge Mondragon of Coyoacan. The judge, a heavy, bearded man, had been a schoolmate of mine in the Fine Arts School.
In the middle of the service, Don Guillermo Kahlo got up and declared, "Gentlemen, is it not true that we're play-acting?" Frida's father found our marriage very amusing.
At the wedding party afterwards, Lupe turned up as one of the guests. Jealous as always, she made a scene, berated Frida, and then stamped out of the house.
Years later, Lupe came to know Frida and to like her very much.