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Frida Kahlo Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace And Hummingbird Essay

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (Autorretrato con Collar de Espinas) is a 1940 painting by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo painted the self-portrait after her divorce from Diego Rivera and the end of her affair with photographer Nickolas Muray. Muray bought the portrait shortly after it was painted, and it is currently part of the Nickolas Muray collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. [1]


Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter active between 1925 and 1954. She began painting while bedridden due to a bus accident that left her seriously disabled. Most of her work consists of self-portraits, which deal directly with her struggle with medical issues, infertility, and her troubled marriage to Rivera. Painting self-portraits was therapeutic, allowing Kahlo to create a separate Frida on which to project her anguish and pain.[2] Scholars have interpreted her self portraits as a way for Kahlo to reclaim her body from medical issues and gender conformity. In particular, scholars have interpreted her self-portraits in the context of the tradition of male European artists using the female body as the subject of their paintings and an object of desire.[3] Kahlo, using her own image, reclaims this use from the patriarchal tradition. The autobiographical details of her life found in these works as well as her characteristic brows, elaborate hair, and vibrant Mexican clothing has made her a popular figure in Mexico and the United States.

Kahlo was a big supporter of the Mexican Revolution, so much so that she attempted to change her birth date to correspond with the beginning of the Revolution in 1910.[2] At the onset of this movement, a so-called “cult of Mexican femininity” gained popularity, which Jolie Olcott describes as “selflessness, martyrdom, self-sacrifice, an erasure of self and the negation of one’s outward existence.”[4] In rejection of this limited conception of femininity, Kahlo fashioned herself as a Mexican counterpart to the flappers of the United States and Europe in the 1920s. Later, inspired by Rivera’s concept of Mexicanidad, a passionate identification with Mexican pre-Hispanic indigenous roots, she donned the identity of the Tehuana woman.[2] The Tehuana had a great deal of equality with their male Zapotec counterparts and represented strength, sensuality, and exoticism.[5]

Visual analysis[edit]

This rather small painting (approximately 24” x 18”), shows Kahlo in a frontal position and directly confronting the viewer’s gaze from the canvas. Her bold eyebrows hold the emphasis on her face, as a thorn necklace strangles her throat, trailing down her chest like the roots of a tree. A small black hummingbird with its wings outstretched hangs like a pendant from her throat. She is surrounded by insects and animals, setting the scene of a lush, but suffocatingly dense jungle. A monkey sits behind her right shoulder, its eyes focused on its hands, tugging at the thorn necklace, causing Kahlo to bleed. Above her head, two dragonflies float in mid-air, above two butterfly clips nesting in the elaborate hairstyle that crowns her head. A black panther with striking ice blue eyes peers over her left shoulder.

Her style could be described as decorative, intimate, dream-like, naive, and eccentric. The colors of the portrait are striking, with a variety of green tones - from Granny Smith apples to fresh cut grass - contrasting against her bright white blouse and the black animals. While the foliage creates the illusion of a lush jungle scene, the portrait itself is remarkably flat and static, with each element competing on the same plane. The placement of the creatures also seems incredibly staged, suggesting that Kahlo is not painting attempting to conjure a real scene, but instead might be arranging symbolic elements to communicate a feeling or idea.


Kahlo’s identification with indigenous Mexican culture greatly affected her painting aesthetic. By using powerful iconography from indigenous Mexican culture, Kahlo situates herself in a tradition of rebellion against colonial forces and male rule.[5] The dead hummingbird which hangs around her neck is considered a good luck charm for falling in love in Mexican folklore.[6] An alternate interpretation is that the hummingbird pendant is a symbol of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war.[7] Meanwhile, the black panther is symbolic of bad luck and death and the monkey is a symbol of evil.[6] The natural landscape, which normally symbolizes fertility, contrasts with the deathly imagery in the foreground. Rivera gave Kahlo a spider monkey as a gift, thus suggesting that it could be a symbol of Rivera, especially since he inflicts pain upon Kahlo by tugging the thorn necklace hard enough to make her bleed.[6] Alternately, the thorn necklace could allude to Christ’s crown of thorns, thus likening herself to a Christian martyr, and representing the pain and anguish she felt after her failed romantic relationships. In line with this interpretation, the butterflies and dragonflies could symbolize her resurrection.[5]

Exhibition history[edit]

The University of Texas at Austin acquired the painting in 1966. Since 1990, it has appeared in several exhibitions internationally:

  • "Frida Kahlo," Philadelphia Museum of Art, February 20, 2008 - May 18, 2008[8]
  • Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, May 5, 2009 - March 21, 2010
  • "In Wonderland: The Surrealist Activities of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States," Los Angeles County Museum of Art, January 29, 2012 – May 6, 2012;[9]Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Quebec City, June 7, 2012 - September 3, 2012; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, September 27, 2012 - Jan. 13, 2013.[10]
  • "Frida Kahlo," Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, March 20, 2014 - August 31, 2014[11]
  • Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, September 5, 2014 - April 26, 2015[12]
  • "Frida: Art, Garden, Life," New York Botanical Garden, May 16, 2015 - November 1, 2015.[13]



  • Baddeley, Oriana. "'Her Dress Hangs Here: De-Frocking the Kahlo Cult." Oxford Art Journal 14, no. 1 (1991): 10-17.
  • Fuentes, Carlos and Frida Kahlo. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait. New York: Bloomsbury, 1995.
  • Hayden Herrera. "Kahlo, Frida." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 21, 2017.
  • Pankl, Lis and Kevin Blake. "Made in Her Image: Frida Kahlo as Material Culture." Material Culture 44, no. 2 (2012): 1-20.
  • Udall, Sharyn R. "Frida Kahlo's Mexican Body: History, Identity, and Artistic Aspiration." Woman's Art Journal 24, no. 2 (2003): 10-14.
  1. ^Ditrich, "Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird".
  2. ^ abcHerrera, “Kahlo, Frida".
  3. ^Udall, “Frida Kahlo’s Mexican Body,” 13.
  4. ^Pankl and Blake, “Made in Her Image,” 5.
  5. ^ abcPankl and Blake, “Made in Her Image,” 8.
  6. ^ abcFuentes and Kahlo, The Diary of Frida Kahlo,” 78.
  7. ^Baddeley, “Her Dress Hangs Here,” 13.
  8. ^"Frida Kahlo". Philadelphia Museum of Art. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  9. ^"In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States". Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  10. ^"Frida Kahlo's "Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" at Ransom Center in Austin". Art Daily. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  11. ^"Frida Kahlo: List of Works". Scuderie del Quirinale. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  12. ^"Frida Kahlo's Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird". Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  13. ^"About the Show: Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life". New York Botanical Garden. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 

Before the invention of photography, artists modeled for themselves in their works of art with the use of mirrors.The many reasons for this include the fact that it is an exploration into the artist’s psyche and the fact that he or she is merely the cheapest and most readily available model for he or she does not have to rely on the availability of a professional model.The technique of painting self-portraits delve deep into the psyche of the artist because through the work of art shows personality, emotion, and circumstances of life.Two of the greatest examples of self-portrait as a means of expressing personalities and attitudes towards life can be seen in the works of Frida Kahlo and Vincent van Gogh.The following self-portraits have been selected for analysis.The first is Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn-Necklace and Hummingbird (1940).The second is Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait (1889).

Self-Portrait with Thorn-Necklace and Hummingbird is a painting done on oil on canvas that is 24.5 x 19 in.In the painting, Frida Kahlo is portrayed with imaginary butterflies and dragon flies in flight.There is a still hummingbird hanging as a medallion around a necklace that is tightly wrapped around her neck.The necklace is so tight that it forces blood to seep through her skin.The background is filled with flowers from a garden of some sort that forms a vibrant background.The presence of a large black cat and a spider monkey is also evident.She is dressed in a simple white blouse.The artist is seen with very dark features such as black hair, thick eyebrows, and even a slight mustache.Her hair is elegantly pinned on top of head.A purple ribbon is woven into it.

As for principles of design, the painting is very symmetrically horizontally.This can be proven if one were to divide the painting in half by looking at the part in her hair down to the center of the hummingbird.The eyes proceed sideways in either direction across the top of the ears and the uppermost parts of the animals.There is also an animal on both sides of the model.There is a formal and careful calculation of scale, balance, and proportion.Many elements of design such as line, light, and color are observed in this self-portrait.Some of the lines in the painting are more noticeable than others.For instance, lines are employed in the leaves, the thorn branches, and the insects.One can even notice the small lines of the purple ribbon.Lines are apparent in her hair and the fur of the animals.There is repetition of line with the eyebrows and nose; the top of her lips; the fingers of the monkey and the branches that it is holding onto; the top of the cat’s head and ears; and the mustache above her lips.One may take into account the fact that these lines seem to be intersecting.Another element of design is color.The painting is very colorful.Frida Kahlo strongly believed in colors and the meanings behind them.There is such a wonderful coloring of the skin that it makes the artist appear to have a radiant glow.In particular, there exist rosy cheeks and ruby lips.Contrast is portrayed in the work of art as well.This is illustrated by the use of the vibrant colors of her face and how they take away from her deep dark eyes and the background.Lastly, the artist used a distinct facial expression along with brushwork to portray her inner self.Her expression in the painting is very solemn.She looks as if she is enduring a lot of pain.One would assume that she could just cry if analyzing the eyes.

Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Paint Palette is very similar to Kahlo’s.For instance, both paintings are done in oil on a canvas and are about the same size.However, Vincent’s painting is a little bigger measuring 25.5 x 21.25 inches.Vincent’s self-portrait is also simpler to analyze than that of Kahlo’s.In Van Gogh’s painting, it is an image of the artist turned sideways to the left.He is holding a palette and paintbrushes.There is no background of imagery as there was the garden in Kahlo’s.When one analyzes the painting in terms of principles of design, he or she can conclude that harmony, variety, balance, and dominance exists.Harmony of the painting is consistent throughout.There is a strong use of cool colors.The colors around the painting help to unify the composition.There is also a repetition of lines that help to create a sense of harmony.He uses a variety of different colors and direction of the lines.The painting is asymmetrical.This is because like many of his paintings, the sides of the painting are unequal.There is however, a balance of space.Dominance is apparent as van Gogh’s face is the center of the painting.There seems to be a halo created by the lines of the background as they focus in on the head.There is also a contrast of colors as the warm colors of the background contrast with the eye.Because there are no objects in the background and a lack of detail in the clothing and palette, there is an emotional aspect to the painting.

The artist uses line to define the shape and color of the painting.He outlines the face, and the eye, the nose, and the mouth.Most of his lines are curved and wavy.He uses organic shapes except for the paintbrushes and the palette.The brushstrokes that he uses make the painting have a rough texture.The only thing in the painting that has a smoother texture is the palette.There is value within the painting.There is light that comes in from the far right side.It seems that he is facing left for a reason.Van Gogh uses cool colors for the background and warm colors for the face.Because the background is a field of blue with no objects, it makes the space resemble isolation and emptiness.

Frida Kahlo was born just three years before the Mexican Revolution and believed in many of its principles.She had many works of art that described the political triumphs and disappointments.She was very political and even became involved with the Communist Party and later on in life became involved in Trotskyism.Eventually, she had to escape with her husband to the United States to avoid persecution due to their Communist sympathies.However, her self-portraits were often appeasing to audiences.This had nothing to do with the politics of her time.Through her self-portraits, the audience was able to feel sympathy for the many hardships she encountered through life.For instance, Frida Kahlo contracted the polio disease at the age of 6.She was involved in a street car accident when she was 18 years old.This accident disabled her for the rest of her life.It caused her to endure more than 30 surgeries.She was even unable to have kids for two of her pregnancies resulted in miscarriages.It was after her accident that she began to paint.She first aspired to be a doctor.Finally, much of her pain had been experienced due to her turbulent marriage to fellow artist, Diego Rivera.

Vincent van Gogh painted in a time where he served as a rebel.He was by no means trying to be a rebel.However, because he was in search of his inner self, others did not quite understand him.He was also very different to the Romanticists of the time period.Vincent was experiencing mental instability.In fact, he was just free from the asylum when he began to paint his self-portraits.Many people were terrified by the way he drew himself.Many of his works include the artist as a distorted human being.His eyes are also of such significance that many people opposed.

After critical analysis of Self-Portrait with Thorn-Necklace and Hummingbird, one will come to terms with the hidden meaning behind the painting.The self-portrait is almost Christ comparing.Instead of the crown of thorns, the artist is portrayed by wearing the necklace of thorns.She is bleeding.This represents the pain and blood that she has shed during her accident and miscarriages as with the pain that Christ experienced when being nailed to the cross.Frida was also a Surrealist, so the fanciful butterflies and dragonflies were characteristics of the movement.The garden was something that she surrounded herself with in everyday life.In a more deep perspective, the animals are portrayed as her two natures.There is a monkey that is facing downward the artist with his eyes downcast.He seems to be engrossed in the branch of the thorns.The cat is facing the artist in a more direct way as his eyes are boldly piercing.His body is extended and ready.Kahlo may have been trying to exemplify the fact that one of her natures is submissive and pleasing to others such as her husband.The other may be bold and direct as in a way of coping with her pain and struggle.

Self-Portrait with Paint Palette by Vincent van Gogh is a replica of his inner thoughts and feelings.Over the last few decades, many psychiatrists have tried to diagnose disorders for the artists through analysis of his self-portraits. Of the many diagnoses, these are prominent: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and manic depression.In the portrait, he has this very crazy look about him.He is holding the palette and paintbrushes in a demeanor that looks as if painting is his only way of venting his emotions.The painter is in total darkness with no objects in the background.This is analogous to his life in the fact that he was admitted to the asylum several times.The brushstrokes show that he was very disturbed.There are many accounts whether true or not that say the artist struggled from hallucinations.Rumor has it that a hallucination of someone telling him to kill his friend, Paul Gauguin, made him cut off his own right ear.That is why a portion of his self-portrait collection shows him facing the left side only.The artist is also known for committing suicide.He went into the woods one day and shot himself in the stomach.He died two days later.Before his ultimate death, there were accounts of him attempting suicide while in the asylum.He tried to consume his paint.This is also another reason as to why the artist is holding the palette in the portrait.

When mirrors were invented in the fifteenth century, there was a strong fascination of artists to capture their reflections.Artists no longer had to rely on the use of professional models in order to paint portraits.It was also a very cheap technique because they could use themselves as the characters of their work and did not have to pay.This also allowed them to express their personalities and attitudes towards life through the use of self-portraits.Two of the greatest artists that used the technique of employing self-portrait of a way of conveying emotions are Frida Kahlo and Vincent van Gogh.Although these artists are completely different, by analysis of Self-Portrait with Thorn-Necklace and Hummingbird and Self-Portrait with Paint Palette, one can conclude that both artists expressed a lot of hardship that existed in their lives and seeped through the boundaries of their art.


Bernard, Bruce (Ed.). Vincent by Himself. London: Time Warner, 2004.

Essak, Shelley.“Self-Portrait with Thorn-Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940.”About.com. 2007. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://arthistory.about.com/od/from_exhibitions/ig/frida_kahlo/Frida-Kahlo---Self-Portrait--1940.htm>

Harding, Elisabeth.“Analysis of Self-Portraits by Vincent van Gogh.”EzineArticles.com. 20 Sept. 2006.20 Nov. 2010.<http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Elizabeth_Harding>

Jack Rummel. Frida Kahlo: A Spiritual Biography. New York: Crossroad. .

Rupert Garcia. Frida Kahlo: A Bibliography. Chicano Studies Library Publications Unit, University of California, Berkeley. . 48pp.

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