Rare Kahlo painting of idol to reappear at auction

Wed Apr 7, 2010 3:50pm EDT
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By Walker Simon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A long-unseen Frida Kahlo painting of a pre-Hispanic idol goes on sale next month at Christie's when it will reappear in public for the first time in 72 years, the auction house said.

"Survivor," which sold in 1938 at a New York gallery, has since remained out of sight, its image unpublished, before submission this year for auction at Christie's Latin American art sale on May 26.

"Just when you think everything has been said and done on Kahlo, you come upon this treasure, which really has never changed hands, staying with the same family," said Christie's Latin American art chief Virgilio Garza.

"Survivor" is one of the few Kahlo paintings to focus on a pre-Columbian idol, he said. It shows a standing warrior figure, mottled brown, with a white headdress. The idol stands on a field with an abandoned house on a ridge, set against a sky churning with blacks, blues, grays and yellows.

Art historian Salomon Grimberg says the warrior symbolizes Kahlo's resilience for surviving a tumultuous personal life.

At the time, Kahlo was separated from Diego Rivera, another top Mexican painter and waiting for a divorce, according to Christie's. She had discovered his affair with her sister.

A palm-sized painting, "Survivor" is set in ornate tin frame typical of religious votive paintings in Oaxaca, a southern state which is predominantly Indian.

"Survivor is an ex-voto, done to express her gratitude for the miracle that had been granted that had allowed her to survive the volatility of her personal existence," Grimberg wrote in an essay in the art auction catalog.   Continued...

<p>An undated handout photo of "Survivor," a 1938 Frida Kahlo palm-sized painting released to Reuters in New York April 7, 2010. REUTERS/Christie's/Handout</p>