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Kahlo, Frida) Poe, Edgar Allan.

Works of…


An Artist's Book:
Frida Kahlo's Decorated Personal Copy of Poe's Works
[Kahlo, Frida]. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Works of... Volume III. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, (1905).
8vo; top edge gilt; maroon leather binding; upper cover detached; worn.
Kahlo's copy of the third volume of Poe's works; inscribed in black crayon after the table of contents: Pues si, Frida Kahlo. Auxocromo Cromoforo, 1922, 1945, 23, 12, 35, always; decorated throughout with collages of striking red paint and dried leaves.
The book is divided into three sections, and while a handful of poems in the first and second parts - such as the "The Man that was Used Up" (p. 44) - are marked with dried flowers and leaves, Kahlo's collages are concentrated within the final third, beginning with Poe's iconic poem, "The Raven" (p. 9). Three poems total - "The Raven," "Ulalume" (p. 21), and "Annabel Lee" (pp. 28-29) - are decorated with collages around their titles and the phrase "Auxocromo Cromóforo," the artist's paean to Diego Rivera, is repeated in black crayon. The artist's final inscription of the same two words is written beneath the last stanza of the final poem, signaling the end of the collection.
Coupled with Poe's writing, Kahlo's collages and marginalia create an extraordinary object at once mysterious and passionate. Her opening statement, "Pues si," can be translated as an affirmative expression, meaning "yes" or "well, yes," or as a conjunction, "therefore, if." The words "Auxocromo Cromóforo" appear not only in Kahlo's book of Poe but also in her diary - the first entry in which the phrase appears translates as follows:
Auxochrome - Chromophore. Diego.
She who wears the color.
He who sees the color.
Since the year 1922.
Until always and forever. (The Diary of Frida Kahlo, NY: Abrams, 1995; p. 214)                              
The next page offers further explanation. Also in translation:
My Diego:
Mirror of the night.
Your eyes green swords inside
my flesh. waves between
our hands.
All of you in a space full of
sounds - in the shade and in the
light. You were called AUXOCHROME
the one who captures color. I
CHROMOFORE - the one who gives color.
You are all combinations of numbers. life.
My wish is to understand lines
form shades move-
ment. You fulfill and I receive.
Your word travels the entirety of
space and reaches my cells
which are my stars then goes to
yours which are my light.
Ghosts. (214)
The editor of Kahlo's diaries, Sarah Lowe, observes that she was "endlessly inventive in her casting of their [hers and Rivera's] roles in a complementary and symbiotic relationship. Among the most interesting is her envisioning of their connection through art: in several passages she refers to "auxocromo" and "cromóforo," the yin and yang of color. He, auxocromo, captures color; she, cromóforo, gives color. Rivera is ever-present in the journal" (28).
Following "Auxocromo Cromóforo," the numbers listed at the beginning of the book each bear a great significance to Kahlo, echoing her proclamation above that Rivera is "life," comprised of "all combinations of numbers."  Dr. Luis-Martin Lozano, a noted art historian and expert on the works of Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism, personally examined the book and provided the following interpretation of the number sequence: Frida Kahlo met Diego Rivera in 1922; she annotated the book in 1945; she met Diego when she was 12 (actually 15, but she claimed she was born in 1910 to appear younger) and he was 35; and the 23 refers not only to the years between when she wrote in the book and when she met Diego (1922-1945), but also to their difference in age. These numbers and connections are coupled with the word always and the symbol for infinity.
The red paint that covers several pages calls to mind the primitive nature of Kahlo's art and its roots in indigenous Mexican tradition, one which openly acknowledges the presence of blood and death. In her diary, in a thread of stream of consciousness, she writes in part, "lively wave - ray - earth - red - I am" (p. 203). The use of red here could be evocative of tempestuous passion, perhaps even bloody, resonating nicely with the works of Poe. To Kahlo, this book provided an outlet for her to engage in dialogue with Poe's macabre poetry; the result is one of the most intriguing artist's books ever made.
 Provenance: from the collection of Teresa Proenza, Diego Rivera's secretary until his death and a close personal friend of Kahlo's. In her diary, Kahlo calls Proenza, together with friend Elena Vazquez Gomez, "wonderful comrades [...] really astounding in intelligence and sensibility in the revolutionary cause." She also comments that the women have "collaborated so that my health has improved. They are very good friends of Diego's and great friends of mine" (translated from Kahlo's Spanish; 257).  
Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is celebrated for her unwavering depictions of the female experience and form. She was stricken with polio at the age of seven, and at 18, in 1925, survived a bus accident in which she sustained numerous serious injuries including a broken spinal column, as well as additional fractures to her already crippled leg. It was during her convalescence as a teenager that Kahlo began to paint and in 1926 she produced "Self-Portrait Wearing a Velvet Dress" which was the first of many self-portraits. She married Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in 1929; they divorced in 1939 but remarried the following year. Their relationship was a tumultuous one, characterized by moody temperaments and infidelities on both sides.
Laden with physical and emotional suffering, Kahlo translated the pain of her broken body into passionate, vibrant art. Only 13 years after her first self-portrait, her painting "The Frame" became the first work by a 20th-century Latin American artist to be acquired by the Louvre.
From the time of the accident until her death, Kahlo underwent 32 operations and eventually, in 1953, her leg was amputated. Her final retrospective exhibition was held in Mexico City, the year before she died; bedridden at the time, she had to be carried there.

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