Great Paintings: Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia) by Frida Kahlo

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is famous for her self-portraits. In fact, her face is familiar to nearly everyone in the Western world; it is featured on posters, t-shirts, and mugs and has been co-opted by fashion designers and even (strangely) used to sell cosmetic products. However, while she produced many self-portraits throughout her career, Kahlo also painted other subjects.

In fact, the first painting Kahlo ever sold depicted two women who worked for her family, Salvadora and Herminia. The piece, which is entitled Dos Mujeres ( Two Women) depicts the women standing side by side, gazing at something out of the painting’s frame. Though Salvadora and Herminia are painted in a fairly realistic style, the background-an ambiguous screen of vegetation-reveals Kahlo’s growing tendency towards fantastical and surreal elements in her work. It is a touching tribute to two women who probably cared for Kahlo’s family for many years and perhaps even nursed her throughout her various illnesses.

Though the two women worked as maids in her family’s household, Kahlo chose to paint them in a style usually reserved for wealthy and influential people. Both women are rendered with detail and dignity, emphasizing their character and personality. The piece is also remarkable for its nuanced depiction of indigenous Mexican women, a group that was seldom represented positively in art before the twentieth century. As the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (which currently owns the painting) notes, “remarkable in its graphic power, the painting’s heroic iconography of two workers is in keeping with Kahlo’s Communist sympathies. An early and intimate image, it displays Kahlo’s intent to capture Salvadora and Herminia as individuals, editing out their aprons and other such details as she painted.”

Originally published at https://artisthesolution.blogspot.com on July 27, 2020.

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