Frida Kahlo with a monkey on one shoulder, a black cat on the other, and lush jungle-like vegetation in the background. It was that painting by the artist that first captivated me and motivated me to travel to Mexico. Yes, it was a painting that inspired a trip halfway across the world.
Strolls through the studios and homes of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her more famous artist husband, the muralist Diego Rivera, followed. Along with visits to the house of Leon Trotsky, with whom Frida Kahlo had an affair, and as many of Diego Rivera’s colossal murals as we could see in a few days.
I returned to Australia from that first trip to Mexico with a backpack crammed with prints of Frida Kahlo paintings and all sorts of Mexican handicrafts of the kind that Frida had herself collected, from Day of the Dead dioramas with miniature skeletal figures to wooden crosses covered with milagros.
Strewn with vibrant striped serapes and woven textiles and the Frida Kahlo prints on our walls, our Sydney apartment would come to resemble some kind of Museum to Mexican Folk Art.
I read every biography on Frida Kahlo and her tragic life and great love, Diego Rivera that I could get my hands on. The Hayden Herrera book was my favourite. And I amassed a collection of books on their work, and that of their contemporaries like Tina Modotti and Edward Weston.
So on this tip to Mexico City, I was eager to do another round of visits to the studios and homes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Knowing more now than I did then, I wanted to see how I might be affected, whether I’d be touched in the same way.
Sadly, gone was the intimacy of the empty, laid-back museum that we first visited many years ago, where photography was once permitted. Now, teeming with tourists, it was difficult to take time to enjoy each room and impossible to soak up any atmosphere.
Frida’s rooms seem a little more sparse and sterile, as if everything has been packed away for the visitors, and the tranquil garden now boasts a busy gift shop and café.
Was I disappointed? A little. But regardless, the museums to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera still warrant a visit if you’re a lover of Frida Kahlo’s art and the grand love story of Frida and Diego.
Even if you know very little about Frida Kahlo – a complex, fiercely creative woman in physical pain her entire life, following a horrific accident as a teen; not to mention a long-suffering wife due to womanising Diego who flaunted his affairs in her face (she also had her fair share) – there’s still much to learn from Frida and Diego’s work, and their places of work.
And not only to learn about the artists, but about Mexican history, politics, society, and culture, and about Mexico at the time in which their works were made.
Where to See the Art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City
Museo Frida Kahlo
Casa Azul, the vibrant blue house in Coyoacan that is the Museo Frida Kahlo, was Frida’s family home. The artist grew up here, retreated here during periods of separation from Diego, and died here.
There’s a collection of some of her art in the first rooms, as well as photographs of her and her contemporaries in the main house. A highlight is the collection of recently released photos in a dedicated gallery at the back.
While some of the rooms remain in the state they were when Frida was alive, they aren’t as cluttered with Frida’s paraphernalia as they were when we visited the first time.
The gift shop in the garden is a fantastic place to buy souvenirs from Mexico, especially books on Frida Kahlo and Mexican art, and postcards of Frida Kahlo paintings.
Londres 247, Coyoacan
Museo Estudio Diego Rivera
Two separate modernist houses joined by a walkway, built in 1931 by Mexican architect and artist Juan O’Gorman, were the homes and studios of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from 1934 to 1940, and again the home of Diego after Frida died in 1954.
While Casa Azul is a monument to Frida’s life and art, this is really Diego’s museum, boasting many of his personal mementoes as well as some of the artist’s paintings.
Diego Rivera 2, San Ángel
If you only see one set of Diego Rivera murals, make it these, pictured above, at the Palacio Nacional on the Zocalo, where myriad murals depicting Mexico’s two thousand years of history decorate the stairwell and walls.
The murals are called The Epic of the Mexican People in their Struggle for Freedom and Independence. Read together the monumental paintings comprise a history course in themselves.
The Zocalo; use side entrance on Calle Moneda
Museo Mural Diego Rivera
If you’re keen for another taste of Diego’s work and more of a social studies lesson, see Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park in the small museum opposite the park.
Balderas and Colón
Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño
The Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño occupies a sprawling hacienda that belonged to one of Diego’s mistresses, the art patron Dolores Olmedo Patiño.
The museum holds one of the most significant collections of Frida and Diego’s work in Mexico, along with other treasures, including colonial art and folk art.
México 5843, Xochimilco (free on Tuesdays)
Where To See Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Art Outside Mexico
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Australia
The Art Gallery of NSW is my favourite art gallery in Australia and it’s showing ‘Frida Kahlo and Diego; from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection from 25 June to 9 October.
There’ll be 33 artworks from the collection, including Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait paintings and drawings, as well as examples of Diego Rivera’s canvas paintings (not his enormous murals obviously!).
There will also be some 50 photographs by Edward Weston, Lola Alvarez Bravo and Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, to provide additional insight into their world.
First Published July 2010; Re-published June 2016; Updated 1 December 2022