A sorrowful Frida Kahlo self-portrait which shows her cheating husband, Diego Rivera, in the centre of her forehead, is expected to smash auction records as it becomes the most valuable work of Latin American art ever publicly offered for sale.
Sotheby’s announced on Wednesday it was offering for sale a 1949 painting titled Diego y yo (Diego and I) with an estimate in excess of $30m.
If it achieves anywhere near that it will break the Latin American artist auction record, currently held by a painting of Rivera’s.
Aside from the eye-spinning price and the talk of records, the painting itself is a fascinating one, shining light on the Mexican artist and her tumultuous relationship with Rivera.
Anna di Stasi, Sotheby’s director of Latin American art, said Kahlo was a “global icon of modern art” and the work epitomised “the painstakingly detailed rendering, complex iconography, and deeply personal narratives that are hallmarks of her mature painting.”
Kahlo first set eyes on Rivera in 1922. He was a world-famous mural artist, pot-bellied and 36. She was only 15 and was instantly fascinated by him.
They were re-introduced in 1928 and married the following year. Kahlo once wrote in a notebook: “I suffered two great accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down … the other accident is Diego.”
The bus accident, when she was 18, nearly killed her and left her with horrible injuries and a life of physical pain. The emotional pain often came from Rivera.
Diego y yo was created during a particularly low point in what was their second marriage when Rivera was having an affair with the film star María Félix, also a friend of Kahlo’s.
The affair became a public scandal with newspapers reporting that Rivera planned to marry Félix as soon as he could get another divorce from Kahlo.
He was quoted as saying: “I adore Frida, but I think my presence is very bad for her health.”
Kahlo made jokes about the affair and suggested she didn’t mind, but the reality was that she was deeply wounded and that comes across in the painting, one brimming with anger and sorrow.
Her normally tightly braided hair is loose, almost strangling her. She has flushed cheeks and an intense, tearful gaze. Rivera is there, just as he always was in Kahlo’s life and thoughts.
The painting will be a star lot at Sotheby’s modern art evening sale in New York in November and will be on display in London between 22 and 25 October.
The auction house said the sale “will again be a watershed moment for Kahlo and Latin American artists, as it was when the painting last sold at Sotheby’s in 1990”.
Then, it sold for $1.4m and made Kahlo the first Latin American artist to sell for more than $1m at auction. The current Kahlo record is $8m, set in 2016 for a painting titled Two Nudes in a Forest.
That set a Latin American record until it was broken in 2019 when Rivera’s The Rivals sold at Christie’s for $9.76m.
Julian Dawes, co-head of modern art in New York, said a Kahlo painting of this “quality and excellence” was a rarity to the market.