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Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress
Kahlo's first self-portrait, Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress was painted as a gift for her study partner and boyfriend, Alejandro Gomez Arias, in 1926. On the reverse she inscribed, "For Alex by Frida Kahlo, at the age of 17, September 1926 - Coyoacan-Heute ist Immer Noch. (Today still goes on)”. With Arias having recently broken off the relationship, Frida Kahlo painted this enigmatic canvas in the hope of winner her lover back, but eventually through it she would gain another, more lasting partner. In the short term, Kahlo's act worked it's magic. Giving it to Arias as a proof of her love, the pair soon reconciled. Yet only a few months later the young man was sent on a grand tour of Europe by his parents, forcing the pair to part ways once again, and causing Arias to leave the painting in Kahlo's care until he returned. Brooding upon her future career, Kahlo wrote to the established Muralist painter, and fellow Mexican modernist Diego Rivera, sending him a number of canvases to gage his reaction, one of which was Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress. Rivera was instantly taken aback and the pair began one of the most enduring, tempestuous, and productive relationships in the history of art.
In Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress, Kahlo's posture is almost aristocratic in its revealed pride, showing a sense of dignity and nobility that reminds one of the portraits of the Italian Renaissance. The disproportionately long neck is also reminiscent of the Mannerist style or even the portraits painted by Amedeo Modigliani of his enduring love Jeanne. Kahlo's severe posture is perhaps due in large part to the fact that while painting she was recovering from a devastating automobile accident that would mar her entire life. Having broken her spine, countless bones, and permanently damaged her womb, Kahlo's body began to deteriorate at this early age. Self-taught in both her theoretical and technical knowledge of painting, Kahlo's commanding gaze meets that of the viewer, beckoning for reconciliation and blackening the surrounding spatial plane of the canvas, so all attention must invariably be drawn to her.
Reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance style of portraiture, Kahlo's iconic work began a career of truly remarkable ambition and scope. In this early work her unique approach to the rationalization of space through perspective techniques and her curiously flat illusion of three-dimensionality reveals the spellbinding qualities that first attracted Rivera.
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