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Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from The Gelman Collection

[ Exhibition )

A woman with dark hair shrouded in white and pink cloth, wearinga flower crown and with an image of a man depicted on her forehead

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait as Tehuana or Diego in My Thoughts, 1943, Oil on masonite © 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / DACS.

The two most famous artists to have come from Mexico, the lives of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and Diego Rivera (1886-1957) have attained a mythological status.

This major touring exhibition, which came to Chichester from Istanbul and Dublin, brought together works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera for the first time ever in the UK.

Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán on the southern outskirts of Mexico City. Through illness and injury, she was left bed-bound and isolated at 18. As a result, she began to paint. With mixed German, Spanish and Native American heritage, there is a prevailing theme of identity in her work. Her self-portraits are defiant and unapologetic, asserting her right to exist and refusal to be a victim.

With continued ill-health following a major accident in her youth and several miscarriages, Kahlo was pre-occupied with mortality and trapped in a battle between her body and mind. As a result, her work is bold, blunt and emotive, cementing her identity as a distinctive and independent artist.

Kahlo and Diego Rivera met in 1927, when she took some of her paintings to show him as he worked on a commission at the Ministry of Education. They married in 1929, her parents calling it a marriage between ‘an elephant and a dove’.

Rivera was born in Guanajuato but brought up in Mexico City. Celebrated as the founding father of the Mexican Muralist Movement, he was a talented painter with a striking personality and a fondness for debate. Innately political, he was a unionist who helped found the Mexican Communist Party, appealing to Kahlo’s own passsionate, political spirit. In 1907 he went to Europe on a painting scholarship to Madrid, then settled in Paris where he was influenced by Picasso, Bracque and the Futurists.

Returning to Mexico City after World War One, his celebrated murals incorporated elements of Cubism and Constructivism with a touch of Italian and Spanish classicism, and the colours of Mexican popular art.

Rivera’s masterpieces are undoubtedly the murals he painted in grand public buildings. It is therefore difficult to give his achievements proper credit in temporary exhibitions outside Mexico. Nevertheless, his easel paintings reveal his talent. Much younger than her husband, Kahlo excelled under the support, stimulation and tutelage of Rivera, who was the foremost Mexican painter of his generation.

Jacques Gelman (1909–1986) was Russian by birth and worked as a photographer and film distributor in Europe, taking refuge in Mexico City before the Second World War. He met Natasha Gelman (1911–1998), a fellow Eastern European émigré, in Mexico City in 1939 and the pair married in 1941. As a Jewish couple, they could not return to war-torn Europe and later became Mexican citizens.

Collecting was their passion, beginning around 1943. Like their friends Kahlo and Rivera, they were unable to bear children, so their collection was their surrogate family. Mexico had adopted the Gelmans and given them refuge. It became their aim to support contemporary Mexican artists.

They bequeathed their collection of international art to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In this gift were major works by artists such as Léger, Miró, Matisse and Picasso. However, they wanted their collection of Mexican art to stay in Mexico; to be publicly accessible for the Mexican people; and to promote Mexican culture.

The Gelman Collection now numbers over 300 works and is regarded as the world’s most significant private holding of 20th century Mexican art. It is now managed by the Vergel Foundation in Mexico City and New York, founded in 1998 upon Natasha’s death to care for the collection. By touring the collection to a wider audience the foundation acquired funds to add works to the collection and support Mexican artists, as had been the Gelmans’ wishes.

What the press said

A riveting show.

Alistair Smart, The Telegraph on Sunday

I was stunned by the quality and depth of the holdings.

Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph

This fascinating show takes us deep into Kahlo and Rivera’s devoted yet turbulent relationship

Richard Cork, The Financial Times

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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