This fall, Sotheby’s will present Frida Kahlo’s 1949 self-portrait, Diego y yo (Diego and I), as part of the Modern Evening Sale in New York. The artwork carries a to-be record-breaking estimate of $30 million!
Diego y yo is ready to shatter Kahlo’s 2016 auction record of $8 million almost three times over. It may also become the most valuable work of Latin American art ever sold at an auction.
A Mexican icon
Kahlo’s self-portraits are known to be her signature pieces, and Diego y yo is Kahlo’s final self-portrait of the 1940s. The painting was created during a tumultuous part of Kahlo’s life, during her second marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Her art of the time depicts her experiences with chronic illness and her increasingly complicated relationship with Rivera to create masterful, rich, personal works. In Diego y yo, Kahlo engages with the tradition of ‘bust’ self-portraiture, where the motifs and techniques of Renaissance portraiture are used. Kahlo paints three tears flowing from her eyes, evocative of Madonna of the Sorrows, an iconic image in Western art history. These detailed, expressive self-portraits also dramatically explore contemporary themes of identity and experience, the power of the gaze, ownership of one’s image, and one’s sense of self.
The painting in question shows an upset Kahlo in an intimate and closely cropped composition, wearing a now iconic huipil, the blouse belonging to the traditional dress of the women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Tehuanas). In fact, this particular red huipil is a famous one from her extensive collection; she wears it in many of her most recognisable self-portraits of this period, and in a well-known series of photographs by Nickolas Muray. Considered a double portrait, Diego y yo shows Kahlo’s husband in the centre of her forehead, bearing a third eye to signify how he constantly occupied her thoughts. Interestingly, this alludes to Rivera’s relationship with the Mexican diva María Félix, of whom the muralist painted a sensual portrait in the same year. Rivera and Félix’s relationship was subject to much conjecture, and although she joked about it publicly, Kahlo, who was a good friend of Félix, was hurt by it.
Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s Chairman and Worldwide Head of Sales for Global Fine Art, commented, “Frida Kahlo’s emotionally bare and complex portrait Diego y yo is a defining work by one of the few artists whose influence transcends the world of fine art to pop culture and beyond.”
Tracing Diego y yo
According to Robb Report, the painting comes to market after being privately owned for 30 years and is being put up for auction by a collector in Texas. The current seller inherited the work from its previous owner, who purchased it in 1990 at Sotheby’s for $1.4 million. Prior to that, Diego y yo belonged to Chicago writer and critic Florence Arquin, who was a friend of Rivera and Kahlo.
The painting will be available for public view from 7 to 11 October in Hong Kong and 22 to 25 October in London, before returning to New York for exhibition prior to the November sale.