This painting, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, was painted by Frida Kahlo in 1940. Although this painting has a small size (about 16×24), it draws lots of interests, since it contains so many aspects which are symbolic to Frida Kahlo.
In this portrait, Frida Kahlo faces the viewer with background of large green leaves and a yellow leaf right behind her. The thorns are around her neck like a necklace which is held by a black monkey. Her neck is bleeding from the piercing thorns. On right side behind her shoulder is a black cat. A humming bird is hanging on the thorn which knots around her throat. Her expression is calm and solemn. It also seems she is patiently enduring the pain.
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- Frida divorce prompted this self-portrait.
In 1929, Kahlo wed Diego Rivera. 10-year marriage was tumultuous; Kahlo and Rivera became notorious for their constant fighting and frequent infidelity. It’s believed the thorn necklace piercing Kahlo’s neck reflects the pain she was experiencing over this separation.
- It was purchased by Frida ex-lover.
Rivera wasn’t the only love Kahlo left in 1939. She’d also split from photographer Nickolas Muray, who purchased Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird when Kahlo was struggling financially.
- This painting is one of 55 self-portraits Frida painted in her lifetime.
Although Frida did go on to make 143 paintings in her life, Kahlo was best known for her reflective self-portraits that laid bare the tragedies she’d endured. Explaining her penchant for the style, Kahlo said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best.”
- That monkey might symbolize Kahlo’s ex-husband.
The monkey on her back—as it were—is frequently believed to be a symbol for Rivera. Some say he’d given one to Kahlo as a pet. Others suggest the primate symbolizes their tormented romance—after all, the monkey is the one tugging the thorn necklace tight enough to make its wearer bleed.
- It returned to Austin for Kahlo’s 104th birthday.
After visiting nearly 30 museums around the world, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird was put back on display at the Harry Ransom Center on July 6, 2011.