During her lifetime, acclaimed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was not only renowned for her breathtaking surrealist paintings. She was also known for being a passionate lover with an insatiable appetite. An unabashed bisexual, Kahlo was notorious for her extramarital affairs with partners of both genders during her lifetime. Allegedly, Kahlo’s motto regarding sex was: “make love, take a bath, make love again”. In celebration of Kahlo’s liberated love life, we’ve compiled the definitive list of Frida Kahlo’s sexual conquests (that we know of). Take a peek below!
1. Diego Rivera
Of course, we must start this list off with Kahlo’s primary partner and the self-professed love of her life, Diego Rivera. When Kahlo and Rivera married in 1929, many regarded him as an unusual choice of a husband. Not only was he 20 years her senior, but he was a notorious womanizer and grossly overweight, to boot. In fact, Kahlo’s parents dubbed the couple “the elephant and the dove” due to their size contrast. Despite their differences, Kahlo and Rivera were married for 25 years (not including a one-year period of divorce) and considered each other soulmates. She even wrote a poem about him, describing their all-consuming relationship: “Diego in my urine—Diego in my mouth—in my heart. In my madness. In my dreams”.
2. Chavela Vargas
As we mentioned before, Kahlo was bisexual and enjoyed experiencing the carnal pleasures both men and women had to offer. One of these women was famous lesbian singer Chavela Vargas. According to reports, Vargas and Kahlo began a passionate affair sometime in the 1940s when they met at a party. Later in life, Vargas would refer to Kahlo as her “great love” and wrote about her extensively in her autobiography. As for Frida, she was evidently smitten with Vargas as well. In a letter to a friend, she wrote: “Today I met Chavela Vargas. An extraordinary woman, a lesbian, and what’s more, I desire her…Was she a gift sent to me from heaven?”.
3. Leon Trotsky
Leon Trostky was a Marxist philosopher and politician who, with the help of Diego Rivera, fled the USSR to Mexico to escape Stalin. Because of Rivera’s deep commitment to the Communist cause, he insisted Trotsky and his wife Natalia stay with him and Frida for safety reasons. They ended up staying for two years. It was at Rivera and Kahlo’s residence, the famous “Casa Azul”, that Trostky and Kahlo began an affair. Upon hearing of the infidelity, Rivera became enraged. Rivera was tolerant of Kahlo’s same-sex dalliances, but her heterosexual conquests made him insanely jealous. Trostky and his wife left La Casa Azul in 1939. A year later, Trotsky was murdered in Mexico by Stalinists who were threatened by Trotsky’s controversial views.
4. Georgia O’Keeffe
Kahlo had a complicated relationship with successful American artist Georgia O’Keefe that was a mixture of both awe and jealousy. In a letter to a friend about a trip she took to New York in 1939, Kahlo reveals that she and O’Keefe engaged in at least a sexual relationship, stating: “O’Keeffe was in the hospital for three months, she went to Bermuda for a rest. She didn’t make love to me that time, I think on account of her weakness. Too bad.”
5. Nickolas Muray
Hungarian-born photographer Nickolas Muray was one of the men that Kahlo engaged in the longest affair with, their relationship lasting, on and off, for over 10 years. Their affair began in 1931 when Muray was working in Mexico. According to love letters between them unearthed in the 1990s, their relationship was incredibly passionate. At one point, Kahlo wrote: “I miss every movement of your being, your voice, your eyes, your hands, your beautiful mouth, your laugh so clear and honest. YOU. I love you my Nick. I am so happy to think I love you –to think you wait for me– you love me”. According to reports, Muray wanted to marry Kahlo, but she was intent on keeping him as a lover, not a husband. Although they ended their affair in 1941, they remained good friends until her death in 1954.
6. Paulette Goddard
Paulette Goddard was an American actress most famous for starring in Charlie Chaplin films and later marrying him. Goddard is primarily known for having an affair with Diego Rivera, but many historians agree that she likely had a physical relationship with Frida as well. Although Kahlo was no doubt jealous of the affair between Rivera and Goddard, she also regarded Goddard as a friend and was sexually attracted to her. Many biographers of Frida Kahlo conjecture that Kahlo’s affairs with Rivera’s mistresses were a means for her to reclaim some authority within their relationship. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, Kahlo’s relationship with Goddard was deep enough for her to paint a still life in her honor. The 1941 painting was entitled “The flower basket”.
7. Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese-American sculptor who was both popular in the Mexican art scene when they started their affair in the mid-1930s. They had a short-lived, passionate physical relationship that drove Diego Rivera mad with jealousy. In Hayden Herrera’s seminal biographical work of Kahlo, “Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo”, Herrera recounts a story of Noguchi escaping a tryst between him and Kahlo by climbing down a tree outside the patio. The next time Rivera saw him, he threatened Noguchi with a gun. Although their affair was brief, Kahlo and Noguchi remained friends until her death
8. Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti was an Italian model, actress, photographer, and political activist that was good friends with Frida throughout her life. Like many of Frida’s same-sex relationships, she was introduced to Modotti through her husband Diego as one of his mistresses. However, Kahlo and Modotti quickly became the closer of the husband and wife couple and became lovers and good friends. Modotti was portrayed by Ashely Judd in the Salma Hayek-starring biopic “Frida” in 2002, one of the only female lovers of Frida’s depicted in the movie.
9. Alejandro Gomez Arias
Alejandro Gomez Arias was Kahlo’s first love and arguably the catalyst for Kahlo’s initial burst of artistic creativity. After getting in a violent bus accident in 1925 with Arias–an accident that mangled her body and left her with lifelong chronic pain–Frida was left bedridden and immobile for months. During this time, Kahlo was so frightened that Arias would lose interest in her that she created her first painting entitled “Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress” as a gift to him and an attempt to keep him interested. Unfortunately, the painting didn’t work, and she and Arias ended their relationship shortly after.
10. Jacqueline Lamba
Jacqueline Lamba was a French painter and the wife of famous writer and poet, André Breton. Kahlo met Lamba through her husband’s friendship with Breton. Although Kahlo found Breton “insufferable”, she became close to his wife and was “intimate” with her according to contemporary friends’ accounts. In fact, the relationship between Lamba and Kahlo was another of Frida’s same-sex relationships that inspired her creatively. Kahlo created the iconic “The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life Opened” painting after being inspired by Lamba’s recount of her traumatic wedding night.
11. Heinz Berggruen
Heinz Berggruen was an art collector, art dealer, and a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany when he met Frida Kahlo in 1940. Before he was introduced to her, he was told by Diego Rivera: “You will meet my wife and you will fall in love with her”. He had a short love affair with Frida in New York in 1940 when he was only 25 years old and she was 32. Berggruen, who lived to be 93 and died in 2007, said of his 6-week relationship with Kahlo, that she considered it “very freeing”, as she had just divorced her husband, Diego Rivera. Although he was a famous art collect and critique, Berggruen claims he never saw any of Frida’s work or talked to her about it while they were together. Of Frida, Berggruen said: “I met Frida Kahlo the woman, and that was enough for me”.
12. Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was an African-American singer and dancer who moved to Paris to escape discrimination. Baker and Kahlo met in 1939, right after Frida had separated from Diego. She traveled to Paris for an exhibition of her paintings where photographic evidence documents at least one of her meetings with Baker. While Frida was openly bisexual and proud of her relationships, Josephine was much more secretive about her affairs with women and denied them publically. However, her son, Jean-Claude Baker, later confirmed his mother’s affairs with women, referring to them as her “lady lovers”.
13. Jose Bartoli
Jose Bartoli was a Spanish painter whom Frida met on one of her many trips to New York City. They had a secret three-year affair from 1946 to 1949 that was primarily conducted through letter-writing. Their relationship developed an iconic, public status when their letters were put up for auction in 2015 by his family. In one of her letters addressed to Bartloi, Kahlo wrote: “Last night I felt as if many wings caressed me all over as if your fingertips had mouths that kissed my skin”. According to Kahlo’s primary biographer, Hayden Herrera, she believes Kahlo “would have left [Diego Rivera] in order to live with Bartoli” and her love for Bartoli was “passionate, carnal, tender and maternal”
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