Kahlo, Frida (Mexican, 1907-1954)

Tree of Hope

Reference Type:
As the result of a serious accident that occurred when she was eighteen, Frida Kahlo suffered multiple setbacks, operations, and hospital stays throughout her life. At various times she wore corsets made of a variety of materials, which is how she represents herself on the right. In 1946, Kahlo wrote to friends in New York asking them to present her case to the foremost orthopedic surgeon in the city, who agreed to operate on her spine. He fused four vertebrae and added a metal rod. She was very optimistic, but when she got back to Mexico did not follow the doctor’s orders for recovery. Tree of Hope was painted after the surgery, and its two sides create an interesting comparison. The Frida on the right, dressed in traditional Mexican garb, waits for the Frida on the left, who has just undergone the operation. She is her own sole emotional support, in part because on the outside she most often attempted to hide her pain and suffering from others. At first, it might seem as if the Frida with bleeding scars is the less hopeful figure, and the clothed Frida holding the waiting corset represents the positive outcome of the operation. However, there is a sunny sky on the left and a dark sky on the right, perhaps implying that the hope of all her operations inevitably led to nothing but more pain. However, Kahlo felt there was always a chance and on the flag she holds is something she said often to friends, “Tree of Hope, keep firm.” It is the first line of a song she liked to sing and became a kind of motto throughout her constant suffering. Notes by Mariann Smith
Art of Medicine
Collection of Daniel Filipacchi Paris, France