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Artwork Analysis: Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky

07 March 2022

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937; Oil on Masonite, 492 x 393 cm; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Honourable Clare Boothe Luce; © 2012 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Image by Google

About Frida Kahlo

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was a renowned artist and cultural figure of the 20th Century. She was born on the 6th of July 1907 in Coyoacán , Mexico City, Mexico and is arguably one of the most famous artists in the world. She is known for her self-portraits, signature vibrant, colourful and magical style, and the proud expression of her Mexican and Feminist culture and beliefs. She had a long, intense and complicated relationship with fellow artist Diego Riviera, marrying twice with both being known to have been involved with many romantic partners. She died at the age of 47 on the 13th of July 1954 with a pulmonary embolism diagnosed as the official cause of death.

Kahlo and Trotsky

Frida and Diego's relationship has been the topic of many discussions and essays. There's even a biographical movie (2002's 'Frida') that goes into depth about her life and their troubled marriage. They were both vocal about their politics, identified as Marxists and were part of the Mexican Communist Party. As mentioned before, both Frida and Diego had multiple affairs through the course of their relationship that were reflected through their art, most notably, Diego had an affair with Frida's own sister. It was soon after this that Frida had an affair with Leon Trotsky.

'Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky, was a Ukrainian-Russian Marxist revolutionary, political theorist and politician. Ideologically a communist, he developed a variant of Marxism which has become known as Trotskyism'. Trotsky was demoted and ultimately exiled from Russia in 1929 by Joseph Stalin. After being convinced by Riviera, Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas offered Trotsky political asylum in Mexico.

Frida and Trotsky's affair began soon after they took him and his wife into their home. Their flirtatious interactions happened right in front of his wife, Sedova, who didn't understand English, and they would meet in Frida's sister's house, passing each other love notes and doing a bad job keeping it secret. Trotsky's wife found out and they eventually split up, although they did remain friends until his death a few years later. This painting was a gift that Frida gave to Trotsky on his birthday, after they had split up.


The painting depicts Kahlo as she stands between two white curtains drawn to either side of her. She stares at the viewer and presents herself confidently in a calm and and steady posture with her arms softly laid across her stomach, dressed in a peach skirt and a brown shawl. The colour of the top of her dress is mirrored in her bright red lips, nails, cheeks and in the ribbons flowing through her braided hair with a pink rose on top of it. Between her hands, she gently holds a small bouquet of flowers and a letter reading: “To Leon Trotsky, with all my love, I dedicate this painting on 7th November 1937. Frida Kahlo in Saint Angel, Mexico.”

The image is a balanced portrait composition that is split vertically into 3 sections. Two white curtains are drawn on the left and right sides creating negative space against which a flat plane and wooden floor stage setting are revealed, emphasising the presence and presentation of the subject. These elements reference and evoke imagery of retablos, Mexican paintings depicting devotional images of the Virgin or Christian saints painted on tin.

With the exception of the horizontal lines of the steady and balanced floor, soft and curved lines are found all over the image in vertical and diagonal directions, lending to an overall atmosphere reminding us of the powerful innocence of love. There is mainly use of light earthy tones with white as a containing border and element to emphasise brightness and life. The soft green of the wall evokes comfort found in nature while complimenting the bright red of the dress, lips, cheeks and ribbon. These colours create a sense of the home found in a partner and adds subtle hints of sensuality reserved for a specific person. Triangular forms can be found in the figure, the curves of fabric and ends of drawstrings, this all creates balance and harmony. The fabric, wall and skin and fringe are all soft in texture, further communicating a welcoming feeling of the comfort and protection from a regal deity of love.


Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky is a wonderful example of the confident story telling brilliance of Frida Kahlo, a cheeky, vibrant and balanced visual love letter that pays respect to Art History practices while commemorating a special personal experience of hers. With over 140 paintings, she has an artwork for nearly every occasion ready to be discovered and enjoyed. Formal analysis gives us the opportunity to enjoy artwork in a different way from multiple perspectives, so the next time you're looking at an artwork pay attention to the use of line, tone, form, colour and space and see what else you can notice behind the image.

Please leave a comment about what you think about this artwork, what artworks you'd like to see analysed in the future and share your favourite artwork by Frida Kahlo.

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