Category Archives: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Frida Kahlo: Lipstick Traces

Frida Kahlo‘s imagery is as mythic as her life and, without question, she remains a haunting figure in the art historical canon. Kahlo’s personal relationship with the artist Diego Rivera and the turmoil she experienced with physical and medical issues all compound to make her life story a truly evocative one.

In all her posthumous fame and glory, we tend to forget that Kahlo was also a working artist. Even though Kahlo gained prominent and international recognition during her life, she, like most working artists, also relied on grants and fellowships for her artistic career.

Because Kahlo sustains a storied aura, it comes as hard to believe that she did apply to the Inter-American Competition awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1940. (The award is now known as “The Latin American & Caribbean Competition.”)

In order to complete her application, letters of recommendation were in order and Kahlo turned to Meyer Schapiro just for that reason.

Schapiro recommended Kahlo fervently and wrote how important her work was in relation to other Mexican traditions and artists:

She is an excellent painter, of real originality, one of the most interesting Mexican artists I know. Her work looks well beside the best pictures of [José Clemente] Orozco and Rivera; in some ways it is more natively Mexican then theirs. If she hasn’t their heroic and tragic sentiment she is nearer to common Mexican tradition and feeling for decorative forms.

While the note pictured above sent to Schapiro by Kahlo bears the trace of a kiss and comes from the same year as his recommendation, I can’t determine if this is a thank you note for that very purpose. However, it does demonstrate Schapiro’s commitment to fostering the work of artists. This stems from his own practice of the arts. Alongside his art historical work, Schapiro was also a prolific artist and the collection houses more than 4,000 of his prints, drawings, and paintings.

But while Kahlo and Schapiro were friends, there’s one thing Frida got wrong: Schapiro’s first name is spelled with an “e” not an “a.”