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Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

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Gina Pulsinelli

on 12 June 2015

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Transcript of Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
~Frida Kahlo

I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.
~ Frida Kahlo
An Analysis of Frida Kahlo's
Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
Frida Kahlo's life began and ended in La Casa Azul (The Blue House), the home that her father built. Born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Calderon, on July 6th, 1907, in Coyoacan, Mexico, the artist's life was filled with misfortune, pain and suffering. At the age of six she contracted polio which deformed her right leg and foot, something she would hide for the rest of her life by wearing long, colorful dresses and skirts. After recovering from polio, Frida had her heart set on becoming a doctor rather than a painter. She was accepted into the prestigious Escuela National Preparatoria and this is where she was first introduced to Diego Rivera, who was a famous Mexican painter who had been commissioned to create a mural for the school and would later become her husband. Tragedy struck again when Frida was eighteen years of age and was involved in a horrific bus accident, leaving her with multiple, life threatening injuries. At the time, doctors told Frida that she may never walk again, have children or even survive. Determined to recover, Frida began painting from her bed because she was immobilized. Although she had no formal training as an artist, painting for Frida was like therapy and it helped her to recuperate. Regaining strength and normalcy in her life once more, Frida met up with Diego Rivera again and married him in 1929 only to divorce him in 1939. The marriage between Rivera and Kahlo was passionate but at the same time volatile because it involved sometimes living separately, infidelities and the upset of multiple miscarriages. It was in Mexico, in 1940, after her divorce that Frida painted
Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
. In the early 1940s Frida's reputation as an artist began to mount and her paintings were shown at exhibitions in New York, San Francisco and Paris. She remarried Rivera once again but Frida's life was cut short when she began to experience multiple medical illnesses. Sadly, at the age of forty-seven, Frida Kahlo passed away on July 13, 1954 in the Blue House.
Frida Kahlo's painting entitled
Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
shows the artist herself positioned in a symmetrically rigid, frontal pose, surrounded by various elements. In this work of art, Kahlo's facial expression is emotionless yet the painting is very dramatic and expressive due to the use of colour, lines and the unique selection of subjects. This painting portrays the artist wearing a thorn necklace with a dangling black hummingbird that acts as a charm. The thorn necklace is piercing her neck causing Frida to bleed. The artist's black hair is pulled up and braided in a crown-like fashion while light blue butterflies rest on her head and dragonflies hover around her head. Perched on her left shoulder is a black cat and like Frieda this cat stares at the viewer of the painting. On her right shoulder there is a black monkey who is focused on the necklace. In the background is a composition of large, tropical leaves with a distant soft blue sky.
The Symbolism Behind The Elements of The Painting
Thorn necklace
: mimics the crown that Christ wore at the Crucifixion indicating pain and suffering.

Black hummingbird
: in Mexican folk tradition, dead hummingbirds were used as charms to bring luck in love.

Black cat
: traditionally represents bad luck.

Black monkey
: represents Diego Rivera, Frida's ex-husband, as he had gifted her with a pet monkey. It is unclear whether the black monkey is undoing or tightening the thorn necklace. This may indicate Frida's uncertainty about whether she will overcome the pain of her divorce or if she will linger in it.

Butterflies and dragonflies
: symbolize freedom and rebirth.

Tropical leaves
: characteristic of the types of plants that grow in Mexico, the place Frida was from and loved so much.


''They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.''
~ Frida Kahlo
This work of art has been painted in a
style even if the subjects are represented in a realistic way.

: a 20th- century art form in which an artist combines unrelated images or events in a very strange and dreamlike way.

What makes this painting surreal is the way that the artist represents herself like a Christian martyr. The thorn necklace with a dangling, dead hummingbird charm pierces Frida's flesh yet the artist's face is without emotion. A black cat and monkey are unusually positioned on her shoulders while butterflies and dragonflies surround her head. In the background, tropical leaves are in contrast with the figure of Frida and the animals that are expressing a dramatic scene.
In this painting, bright greens and yellows dominate, while the deep blacks of the animals, her hair and the accentuated unibrow are in contrast with the greens of the tropical leaves, the warm skin tone of her face and the white blouse that she wears.

Although the painting has a surrealist style, generally the colours are imitative of reality.

traditionally represents misfortune, while
represents life and white symbolizes purity.
Although the composition in the painting is static, the artist uses lines to create movement and depth. The lines of the thorn necklace create movement while the lines of the veins of the tropical leaves create depth.

In this painting, Frida uses an arch-like line repeatedly. This is evident in her accentuated, black unibrow and it is again echoed in the stretched out wings of the hummingbird charm. As well, the use of an arch-like line can be seen in the veins and shape of the tropical leaves.
Frida's posture is very rigid and symmetrical and she is looking straight into the eyes of the viewer.

Black elements such as the monkey, cat, hummingbird, hair and unibrow frame Frida's face, directing the attention of the viewer towards her eyes.
Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
is a balanced painting because the colors and objects appear to be alligned with one another.

On each side of Frida's face is a black animal. The shape of her black eyebrows match the shape of the black hummingbird's wings. On the left side of the artist's head are a butterfly and dragonfly which are repeated, in almost an identical position, on her right side.
"Painting completed my life."
~ Frida Kahlo
Brooks, M. (2005, August 1). Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns, Autorretrato con ... Retrieved May 22, 2015, from http://www.fridakahlofans.com/c0350.html

Brooks, M. (2005, August 1). Frida Kahlo, Biography, Bio, Diego Rivera. Retrieved May 22, 2015, from

Brooks, M. (2005, August 1). Frida Kahlo, Biography, Bio, Diego Rivera. Retrieved May 22, 2015, from

The light in this painting is soft and uniform. As a result, it unites all the elements.

In this painting, the light is not dramatic and it hasn't been used to create depth. All the elements in the composition appear to be almost flat. This is particularly evident in the cat's black body, Frida's face and her torso.

Depth and drama is achieved through Frida's use of colours and lines.

Gracias por su tiempo.

Thank You For Your Time.
The End.

"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can."
~ Frida Kahlo

By Gina Pulsinelli
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