The Eye of the Beholder

Dear Liza,

The art show we visited at the Portland Art Museum was mostly made up of works in the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. As I wandered through the exhibit and read the notes for these three portraits of the same woman, I was figuring out how to put some pieces in context.

Frida and Diego met the Gelmans when Natasha was an assistant to Diego and then became Frida’s friend. Knowing that Frida and Diego fought about most things, I can imagine that being in their circle was emotionally complicated.
Also, Jacques and Natasha were wealthy, and by buying their art, helped support Diego and Frida.

So these three portraits, all of Natasha Gelman, interested me. The top one (with the lilies) is Natasha as painted by Diego Rivera. He sees her as a glamorous, dreamlike, almost movie-star person. Although it features the lilies he uses in many other paintings, this glamorous woman is very different from the Mexican peasants in his other works.

Natasha’s portrait by Frida Kahlo is more realistic. It focuses on her face and is less glamorous, less “come look at me”, and shows Natasha as a bit sad. It also shows off her expensive mink coat and diamond earrings.

The third portrait of Natasha Gelman is by David Alfaro Sisquieros, an artist who was also in the Mexican Modernist group. It shows her sitting on what could almost be a throne, looking strong and detached. Thinking about how the Mexican Modernism group was working for social equality and economic justice, it makes sense that Sisquieros would see this wealthy woman as a powerful ‘other’.

I like looking at these three very different paintings of the same woman, and thinking about how artists process their world view and emotions into their art.


Grandma Judy

Visiting Frida and Diego

Dear Liza,

There has been an exhibit at our Portland Art Museum that we have been meaning to get to for months. It is called ‘Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism’. This past Friday, we took the bus downtown for our visit.

Our timing was not the best, sadly. Being nearly the last day of school for local high school kids, field trips were out in force and our normally quiet museum was loud and crowded. The teacher in me loved it and appreciated hearing the kids talk about the art; the retired lady in me just wanted them to go home.

We were introduced to the Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, in a mural being painted by local artists. Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist ( 1907-1954) was just 22 when she married the much older Diego Rivera (1886-1957) for the first time. (Yes, they got married, divorced, the re-married. It’s complicated.)

He was already an established artist and becoming internationally known. She was just starting out and for a few years was known mostly as ‘Diego’s wife’.

But her style was amazing, and she developed as an artist as the couple became more active in social justice causes in Mexico. They fought for political change after the Mexican Revolution, and social change, so workers could be more fairly treated. They used their power for good, as Auntie Bridgett likes to say.

Diego, by Frida Kahlo

Frida had suffered multiple injuries in a trolley crash as a young girl, and had many surgeries and years in bed trying to get well. She spent much of her time in bed painting on a special easel her father had made.

Women with lilies, by Diego Rivera

The exhibit featured lots of photographs of Frida and Diego, placing them at the center of the Mexican Modernism art movement. But for me, Frida is the most fascinating. Her sometimes-painfully honest way of putting her thoughts and feelings on canvas is like therapy, letting her sadness out and coming to terms with her difficult marriage to Diego. Their relationship was a series of changes as they tried to find a way to be with each other while staying true to themselves.

Self portrait by Frida Kahlo

I am glad we got to visit these interesting, talented people.


Grandma Judy