Recently in Sotheby’s New York salesroom, Frida Kahlo’s arresting self-portrait Diego y yo (Diego and I) sold for $34.9 million, shattering the artist’s own previous high of $8 million.
The price achieved places Frida Kahlo center stage among the great titans of art history, and among the most sought-after artists in today’s market. A masterpiece of modern art, the painting also set a benchmark for a work of Latin American art, as Kahlo took up the mantle from her husband Diego Rivera who, until recently, held that record with a price of $9.8 million.
“Painted in the same year her beloved Diego embarked on an affair with her friend, the Mexican Golden Age Maria Felix, this powerful portrait is the painted articulation of her anguish and sorrow. You could call tonight’s result the ultimate revenge, but in fact it is the ultimate validation of Kahlo’s extraordinary talent and global appeal. Diego y yo is so much more than a beautifully painted portrait. It’s a painted summary of all of Kahlo’s passion and pain, a tour de force of the raw emotive power of the artist at the peak of her abilities.”Anna Di Stasi, Sotheby’s Director of Latin American Art
Emerging onto the market this season for the first time in more than thirty years, the painting this evening charted just how far appreciation for Kahlo’s work, and for Latin American art more broadly, has grown during that time: when it sold at Sotheby’s in 1990, it made $1.4 million, establishing a new record for Kahlo’s work at the time, and also a new benchmark for Latin American art.
More On The Painting
Completed in 1949, Diego y yo is Kahlo’s final self-portrait of the 1940s. Kahlo painted ‘bust’ self-portraits throughout her career with the finest examples created in this decade. They are among her most famous, coveted, and emblematic works. In paintings like Diego y yo, Kahlo engages explicitly with the tradition of ‘bust’ self-portraiture first popularized during the European Renaissance, applying the motifs and techniques of Renaissance portraiture to assert her work in dialogue with canonical masters such as Albrecht Durer.
These lushly detailed, expressive self-portraits also dramatically explore contemporary themes of identity and experience, the power of the gaze, ownership of one’s image, and one’s sense of self.
Depicting a distraught Kahlo in an intimate and closely cropped composition, Diego y yo is a reflection on Kahlo’s tumultuous relationship with the titan of Mexican Muralism, Diego Rivera, whose image is supplanted in the center of her forehead, bearing a third eye to symbolize the degree to which he occupied her consciousness.
Painted in the wake of Rivera’s affair with Mexican golden age diva María Félix (a friend of Kahlo’s), the painting exhibits the artist’s vulnerability and emotional turmoil in the depiction of her loose hair and crystalline tears. Her work is celebrated for this raw emotive power and the painting captures an inner restlessness and distress, poignantly reflected in three tears flowing from her eyes, evocative of Madonna of the Sorrows, an iconic image in Western art history.
Encompassing so much more than her own personal story, and engaging with existential questions around life, death, and love, Diego y yo speaks to the universal appeal of her work as one of the true titans of 20th-century art.