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Frida Kahlo self-portrait expected to sell for record $30 million

Written by Isabelle Jani-Friend, CNN

A self-portrait by Frida Kahlo is expected to set a record for a work by a Latin American artist when it goes up for auction in New York later this year.

The bust self-portrait “Diego y yo” (“Diego and I”) has an estimate of more than $30 million — far above the public auction record for a work by Kahlo of $8 million, set in 2016, Sotheby’s said in a statement.

Ironically, it would also beat the $9.8 million auction record for a work of art by a Latin American artist, set by a work by Kahlo’s husband and inspiration for her painting, Diego Rivera, in 2019.

“Frida Kahlo’s emotionally bare and complex portrait Diego y yo is a defining work…To offer this portrait in our Modern Evening Sale in November heralds the recent expansion of the Modern category to include greater representation of underrepresented artists, notably women artists, and rethink how they have historically been valued at auction,” Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art, said in the statement.

Kahlo painted bust self-portraits, a format first popularized during the European Renaissance, throughout her career, and they are among her most famous works.

Kahlo painted the self-portrait in 1949, five years before her death. Credit: Sotheby’s

Completed in 1949, five years before her death, “Diego y yo” is the artist’s final self-portrait of the 1940s.

Following her second marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera — the couple remarried in 1940 after divorcing a year earlier — Kahlo was influenced by subjects ranging from Aztec and Eastern mythology to medicine and botany. She also depicted her debilitating health issues and her turbulent relationship with Rivera, creating a personal iconography in her work.

Kahlo met Rivera when she asked him to critique her work, and the ups and downs of their relationship became a key subject of her art.

“Diego y yo” depicts Kahlo wearing a huipil, a type of blouse traditional to the women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. She wears this particular red huipil in many of her best-known self-portraits, and in a famous series of photographs by Hungarian-American portraitist Nickolas Muray.

Kahlo’s loose hair, usually tightly braided, appears to almost strangle her. She has red flushed cheeks, and a tearful gaze.

In the middle of her forehead are the head and shoulders of Rivera — a symbol of his central position in her mind. Rivera, in turn, is depicted with a third eye in his forehead.

The painting coincides with Rivera’s apparent affair with Kahlo’s friend, María Félix, according to Sotheby’s.

“Frida Kahlo is a global icon of modern art whose work is beloved around the world. Diego y yo, epitomizes the painstakingly detailed rendering, complex iconography, and deeply personal narratives that are hallmarks of her mature painting,” Anna di Stasi, Sotheby’s director of Latin American art, said in the statement.

“Diego y yo” will be on view to the public in Hong Kong from October 7 to 11, and in London October 22-25. It will then return to New York for exhibition before the November sale.

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