A collection of love letters belonging to Frida Kahlo, written for Spanish artist Jose Bartoli, sold at Doyle New York on April 15 for $370,000 or £248,823. A sale price that broke their already high estimate of $120,000, or £80,687. The intimate letters were kept in secret by Bartoli until his death in 1995. There were 25 letters in total consisting of over 100 pages, including keepsakes like photographs, drawings, and pressed flowers.
The letters were written in Spanish, and shed new light on both Kahlo’s personal life and her artistic practice. The artist writes of her tumultuous relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera, her pregnancy, and the emotionally draining process of her art practice. The artist met Bartoli in New York in 1946 when she was recovering from spinal surgery.
The artist suffered lifelong health problems, many of which were caused by a traffic accident that she survived as a teenager. Recovering from her injuries isolated her from other people, and this isolation influenced her works, many of which were various self-portraits of one sort or another. After Kahlo returned to Mexico, the pair kept in touch for three years, aided in part by Kahlo’s sister Cristina, who introduced them.
“My Bartoli,” Kahlo wrote in October 1946. “I don’t know how to write love letters. But I wanted to tell you that my whole being opened for you. Since I fell in love with you everything is transformed and is full of beauty . . . love is like an aroma, like a current, like rain. You know, my sky, you rain on me and I, like the earth, receive you.”
Kahlo and Rivera both had irritable temperaments, and were both involved in numerous extramarital affairs. The artist had affairs with both men and women, including Isamu Noguchi and Josephine Baker; Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. In turn Kahlo was furious when she learned of Rivera’s affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage was as troubled as their first.