Art & Photography / In Pictures

Frida Kahlo’s Declarations of Love

Frida Kahlo and José Bartoli’s love affair is revealed in a collection of love letters to be auctioned this week in New York

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Courtesy of Doyle New York
Courtesy of Doyle New York

Who? “I will love you from the landscape that you see, from the mountains, the oceans and the clouds, from the most subtle of smiles and sometimes from the most profound desperation, from your creative sleep, from your deep or fleeting pleasure, from your own shadow and your own blood. I will look through the window of your eyes to see you.” Frida Kahlo’s love for Spanish painter José Bartoli was heartbreakingly poetic and intense. Although Kahlo and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, had a famously open marriage – she was known to have sapphic tendencies, while he had an affair with his wife’s younger sister – Kahlo wanted to keep her lesser-known yet incredibly passionate correspondence with the Catalan artist secret. In order to mislead her husband, Kahlo told her lover to address her in his letters as Sonja. The two had met while 39-year-old Kahlo was recovering from spinal surgery in New York, and their romantic relationship continued after she returned home to Mexico City.

What? Kahlo and Bartoli’s long-distance love affair inspired 100 pages of adoring, sensual letterings. Jealously kept in a chest by Bartoli and found by his family only after his death in 1995, the 25 letters – alongside a number of keepsakes including sketches, pressed flowers and photographs dating back to the late 1940s – are now being exhibited for the first time at Doyle auction house in New York City, before going up for auction tomorrow. While a record of Kahlo’s physical agony, loneliness and frustration, their correspondence is filled with hope and passion. In a photograph sent to Bartoli in 1946, for instance, Kahlo is pictured sitting in the patio of her Blue House in Coyoacan, South of Mexico City, the words on the picture reading ‘tree of hope keep firm’ - the line was a reference to a song that she and Bartoli loved, but Tree of Hope was also Kahlo's nickname for her lover. In another letter, Kahlo wishes for a child with Bartoli and tells him that if she was not “in the condition I am in now and if it were a reality, nothing in my life would give me more joy. Can you imagine a little Bartoli or a Mara?” - many of her letters were signed off as Mara, short for ‘maravillosa’ (Spanish for ‘marvelous’), which was what Bartoli called Kahlo in his letters to her.

Why? Described by Kahlo’s biographer Hayden Herrera as “steamy with unbridled sensuality and, like Kahlo’s paintings, extraordinarily direct and physical”, the letters are a beautiful, handwritten testimony of the Mexican painter's most private life, from the misery of physical pain that Kahlo endured throughout her existence to the longing for health and vitality and the desire for her lover. Expected to fetch up to $120,000 (£81,400), the display at Doyle’s Manhattan gallery is a one-off opportunity to discover a very intimate side of one of the world’s most celebrated artists, while seeing the previously unpublished letters to “my Bartoli”.

Doyle New York's auction will take place tomorrow, April 15 at 10am.

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