9 July to 2 October 2011
Little-known photographs by the other significant male influence in Frida Kahlo' s life: her father Guillermo Kahlo (1872-1941).
Guillermo Kahlo was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo, in Germany in 1872, and emigrated to Mexico at the age of nineteen, following the death of his mother and his father' s remarriage. He never again returned to Germany. He found work with other German immigrants, and married, but his first wife died shortly after the birth of his second daughter. When he was 26 he married Matilde Calderón, Frida' s mother, and it was she who encouraged him to take up photography, which was her father' s line of work. They had four daughters together and lived in Coyoacán where Guillermo had bought a plot of land and built a house. Landscape and architectural photography was his main interest. Between 1904 -1908 he was hired by the Mexican Government to document Mexico' s architectural patrimony. It is for these photographs he is best known.
Frida was his favourite daughter, perhaps because he felt they were much alike. Her bout of polio at the age of 6 which left her bed bound for 9 months and led to her developing one leg which was thinner and slightly shorter than the other then her. Her convalescence following the bus crash, when again she was hospitalised and had a long period of recovery at home, cemented the father-daughter bond. Guillermo had cared for her during this time and was devoted to her recovery. Frida' s father was a contemplative and introspective individual, prone to bouts of epilepsy. He felt an empathy with his daughter, understood her suffering, and encouraged her creativity. Frida too became introverted and used the subject she had known best, herself, as her creative driving force while bedridden.
When he died in 1941 of a heart attack, Frida was heartbroken. Ten years later she painted his portrait which, in the Mexican retablo tradition, featured a handwritten garland stating: "I painted my father Wilhelm Kahlo, of Hungarian-German origin, professional artist/photographer, whose nature was generous, intelligent, and polite. He was courageous, having suffered from epilepsy for sixty years, but he never stopped working and he fought against Hitler. [xviii] Adoringly, his daughter Frida."
His photography underwent a reappraisal, and has now gained a wider audience, due to the growth of the international reputation of his daughter. This exhibition allows, for the first time in this country, the work of Frida Kahlo to be placed alongside, and put into context with, the two most important men in her life.