Frida Kahlo’s 1929 portrait “Nina con collar” or “Girl with Necklace” hung for 60 years, hidden from the public in the private residence of Kahlo’s assistant. Only one black and white photo revealed its existence to the world and many critics thought it was lost—that is, until Kahlo’s painting was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for $1,812,500 last week.
“I never imagined it would surface and turn out to be such a beautiful and warm painting,” said the head of Sotheby’s Latin American Art department, Axel Stein.”
Due to the studio assistant’s care, the painting remained well-preserved, and excited historians with its beautiful bright colors. Although “Nina con collar” is an early Kahlo painting and sparse in detail, it is well connected with the rest of her repertoire. The seated female figure depicted in the painting sports Kahlo’s distinctive unibrow. As over a third of Kahlo’s paintings are self-portraits, historians believe painting may feature a young Khalo or another subject sharing some of Kahlo’s features.
Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 and began her battle with polio at six years old. At 22, Kahlo nearly died in a bus accident. For her ensuing bedridden days, her mother bought her an easel which she used to paint in bed. In these lonely hours, Kahlo painted self-portrait after self-portrait, many of which display the physical pain of thirty-five operations and the crippling effects of polio.
Four years after the accident, in 1929, Kahlo painted the “Girl with Necklace.” Later that year, she married painter Diego Rivera. Both supported communism and did not have a traditional marriage ceremony. They also did not live together, but often travelled together according to Painting Commissions and Exhibitions. In 1950, Kahlo’s health took a turn for the worse, resulting in an amputated leg and in 1954, she died from pulmonary embolism—possibly from a suicide attempt.
After Kahlo’s death, Rivera gifted the “Girl with necklace” to Kahlo’s assistant.
Kahlo’s unique exposure of the body and bodily pain has established her role as one of Mexico's greatest artists as the the “Girl with necklace” further exposes the craft of Kahlo’s work. Through this piece’s preservation, we can see the vivid hues that set Kahlo’s paintings apart from other pieces of her day from a new—and more conspicuous—angle.