The Blue House On Londres Street
The story of Frida Kahlo begins and ends in the same place. From the
outside, the house on the corner of Londres and Allende streets looks
very like other houses in Coyoacán, an old residential section on
the southwestern periphery of Mexico City. A one-story stucco structure
with bright blue walls enlivened by tall, many-paned windows with green
shutters and by the restless shadows of trees, it bears the name Museo
Frida Kahlo over the portal. Inside is one of the most extraordinary
places in Mexico -- a woman's home with all her paintings and
belongings, turned into a museum.
The entrance is guarded by two giant papier-mâché Judas
figures nearly twenty feet tall, gesticulating at each other as if they
were engaged in conversation. Passing them, one enters a garden with
tropical plants, fountains, and a small pyramid decked with
The interior of the house is remarkable for the feeling that its former
occupants' presence animates all the objects and paintings on display.
Here are Frida Kahlo's palette and brushes, left on her worktable as if
she had just put them down. There, near his bed, are Diego Rivera's
Stetson hat, his overalls, and his huge miner's shoes. In the large
corner bedroom with windows looking out onto Londres and Allende streets
is a glass-doored cabinet enclosing Frida's colorful costume from the
region of Tehuantepec. Above the cabinet, these words are painted on the
wall: "Aquí nació Frida Kahlo el día 7 de julio de
1910" (Here Frida Kahlo was born on July 7, 1910). They were
inscribed four years after the artist's death, when her home became a
Another inscription adorns the bright blue and red patio wall. "Frida
y Diego vivieron en esta casa 1929-1954" (Frida and Diego lived in
this house 1929-1954). Ah! the visitor thinks. How nicely circumscribed!
Here are three of the main facts of Frida Kahlo's life -- her birth, her
marriage, and her death.
The only trouble is that neither inscription is precisely true. In fact,
as her birth certificate shows, Frida was born on July 6, in 1907.
Claiming perhaps a greater truth than strict fact would allow, she chose
as her birth date not the true year, but 1910, the year of the outbreak
of the Mexican Revolution. Since she was a child of the revolutionary
decade, when the streets of Mexico City were full of chaos and
bloodshed, she decided that she and modern Mexico had been born
The other inscription in the Frida Kahlo Museum promotes an ideal,
sentimental view of the Rivera-Kahlo marriage and home. Once again,
reality is different. Before 1934, when they returned to Mexico after
four years of residence in the United States, Frida and Diego livedonly
briefly in the Coyoacán house. From 1934 to 1939 they lived in a
pair of houses built for them in the nearby residential district of San
Angel. After that there were long periods when Diego, preferring the
independence of his San Angel studio, did not live with Frida, not to
mention the one year when the Riveras separated, divorced and remarried.
The inscriptions, then, are embroideries on the truth. Like the museum
itself, they are part of Frida's legend.
The house in Coyoacán was only three years old when Frida was born;
her father had built it in 1904 on a small piece of land he acquired
when the hacienda "El Carmen" was broken up and sold. But the heavy
walls it presents to the street, its one-story structure, flat roof, and
U-shaped plan, with each room giving onto the next and onto the central
patio instead of being linked by hallways, make it seem to date from
colonial times. It stands only a few blocks from the town's central
plaza and the parish Church of Saint John the Baptist, where Frida's
mother had a particular bench that she and her daughters occupied on
Sundays. From her house Frida could walk by way of narrow, often
cobblestoned or unpaved streets to the Viveros de Coyoacán, a
forest park graced by a slender river winding among trees.
When Guillermo Kahlo built the Coyoacán house, he was a successful
photographer who had just been commissioned by the Mexican government to
record the nation's architectural heritage. It was a remarkable
achievement for a man who had arrived in Mexico without great prospects,
just thirteen years before. His parents, Jakob Heinrich Kahlo and
Henriette Kaufmann Kahlo, were Hungarian Jews from Arad, now part of
Rumania, who had migrated to Germany and settled in BadenBaden, where
Wilhelm was born in 1872. Jakob Kahlo was a jeweler who also dealt in
photographic supplies; when the time came he was wealthy enough to be
able to send his son to study at the university in Nuremberg.
Sometime around the year 1890 the promising career of Wilhelm Kahlo,
scholar, ended before it had begun: the youth sustained brain injuries
in a fall, and began to suffer from epileptic seizures. At about the
same time, his mother died, and his father married again, a woman
Wilhelm did not like. In 1891 the father gave his nineteen-year-old son
enough money to pay for his passage to Mexico; Wilhelm changed his name
to Guillermo and never returned to the country of his birth.
He arrived in Mexico City with almost no money and few possessions.
Through his connections with other German immigrants, he found a job as
a cashier in the Cristalería Loeb, a glassware store. Later, he
became a salesman in a bookstore. Finally, he worked in a jewelry store
called La Perla, which was owned by fellow countrymen with whom he had
traveled from Germany to Mexico.
In 1894 he married a Mexican woman, who died four years later as she
gave birth to their second daughter. He then fell in love with Matilde
Excerpted from "Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo" by Hayden Herrera. Copyright © 2002 by Hayden Herrera. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.