10 April 2015
Frida Kahlo wrote on 29 August 1946: “Last night I felt as if many wings caressed me all over, as if your finger tips had mouths that kissed my skin.” The love letter was addressed not to her most famous partner, husband Diego Rivera, but to her lover José Bartoli.
Her biographer Hayden Herrera described the previously unpublished letters to “my Bartoli” as “steamy with unbridled sensuality and ... like Kahlo’s paintings, extraordinarily direct and physical”. The 25 letters, running to more than 100 pages, will go on display for the first time in New York this week, before being sold at a Doyle’s auction. The collection is expected to fetch up to $120,000 (£81,400).
Kahlo was 39 and in New York for surgery on her spine, when she met Bartoli, a Catalan artist who had fought in the Spanish civil war and later escaped from a concentration camp.
Many of the letters, signed Mara, which was short for his name for her, Maravillosa or “marvellous”, were written when she was convalescing at her home in Mexico, where they met for their wing caressing night only weeks after her operation. She asked him to sign as Sonja, so if Rivera found the letters he would think they were from a woman. The affair was further disguised by sending the letters through friends or to a post office.
A month later, and with the affair was still in full swing, Kahlo wrote: “From the little bed where I lay I looked at the elegant line of your neck, the refinement of your face, your shoulders and your broad and strong back ... if I do not touch you my hands, my mouth, and my whole body lose sensation.”
Some letters are illustrated with little sketches including Kahlo lying in bed, and a bag in which she kept souvenirs of their time together including a lock of his hair and his self-portrait. Some enclosed drawings like one of her sleeping cat. She asks him always to wear a ring she gave him, he writes that he is keeping one of her blouses which still holds her perfume.
She also writes of a picture that would become one of her most famous, the double self-portrait Tree of Hope, which shows her on a hospital trolley, her naked back oozing blood from operation scars, opposed to sitting tall and straight in traditional costume and holding the discarded corset. She frequently refers to Bartoli in the letters as her tree of hope.
Herrera believes that Bartoli truly loved Kahlo, and some drafts of his replies are included in the collection. But the letters read as if the passionate affair became a passionate pen friendship. Many of the earlier letters refer to her yearning to join him in Paris but in one she says that a trip to the market to buy Day of the Dead sugar skulls has left her too exhausted to stand, and she realises they will never stroll together by the Seine.
A year later, in October 1947, she is desperate on learning that Bartoli had been in Mexico for three weeks without coming to her. “Why do I have to suffer so much, my Bartoli? Why does life treat me so much worse than anyone else? I will wait for you all my life, Bartoli, all that I have left of life is yours, even if I do not see you.”
They clearly did meet again, as in January 1949 she writes that she is dizzy, weak and depressed, and smoking like a chimney since his leaving Mexico left her too anguished to speak. “Don’t forget me. Don’t leave me alone.”
In the last letter of the collection, dated November 1949, she writes: “I know you will take me with you some day … I am still your Mara, your girlfriend. Your love is the tree of my hope … I wait for you always. Will you come back in March or April?”
Check out here the full article by The Guardian
Lots of people have criticized this choice: "somewhat uncomfortable reading", "such intimate love letters should remain private" "People have consumed Kahlo’s brilliance and pain in her paintings and soaked up her beauty, style and strong charisma in photographic portraits of her. She gave her consent to those paintings and photographs being seen. But now people want to go one step further. They want to consume her pleasure too, to get right under her skin, to know what it’s like to be loved and wanted by her, to violate the privacy of the cherished communications between her and Bartoli. Through reading these love letters, they can now finally satisfy themselves with the thrill of knowing that a great artist whose reputation has risen so high is still just a female who can be diminished, humiliated and shattered by desire for a mere mortal man."