On Tuesday night, a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo, an artist famed for her raw emotional intensity, sold for $34.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York, establishing a new auction record for the most expensive piece of art by a Latin American artist.
Diego and I” is one of Kahlo’s last self-portraits, completed five years before her death in 1954. It is a prime illustration of the disturbing closeness that has drawn collectors to her work over the decades. As a result of the painting, the artist’s stormy marriage to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who is shown in the picture directly above the artist’s sad eyes, is revealed.
After surpassing the previous record established by Diego Rivera in 2018, when one of his paintings sold at auction for $9.76 million — or the equivalent of $10.75 million today after accounting for inflation — Kahlo became the first Latin American artist to achieve this feat at sale.
Buenos Aires museum founder Eduardo F. Costantini, according to a Sotheby’s spokeswoman, was the buyer of the picture. The artist acquired the piece for his own collection. Neither the seller’s name nor his location were disclosed by the spokesperson.
Anna Di Stasi, director of Latin American art at Sotheby’s, placed the winning offer of $34.9 million after fees, which was accepted by the auction house. Even before the auction began, it was clear that a large sale would take place since Sotheby’s had accepted a guarantee as well as an irreversible bid, which meant that a third party had already made a bid that it would be unable to withdraw.
Adriana Zavala, who coordinated a Kahlo show at the New York Botanical Garden in 2015, described “Diego and I” as “an significant late piece from a time when her physical suffering had escalated and her painting had become unpredictable.”
She started painting in 1926 while recuperating from a bus accident that had left her with severe agony. Kahlo was born in Mexico City in 1907 and began painting while healing from the tragedy. It took her years to establish a complex iconography that touched on the worlds of life and death, blending violence and vulnerability in ways that often astonished spectators by challenging gender stereotypes. She died when she was 47 years old.
It was at Sotheby’s in 1990 when “Diego and I” became the first work by a Latin American artist to sell for more over $1 million, making it the first piece by a Latin American artist to do so. Since the 1980s, when one of Kahlo’s portraits sold for $85,000, the value of her paintings has climbed significantly. Some art historians believe that the increase in price is due to the increasingly restricted supply of her artworks.
According to Gregorio Luke, a former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in California, Frida Kahlo is quickly rising to become one of the world’s most well-known painters. He stated that Mexican rules prohibit the majority of sales of works by important 19th- and 20th-century painters, such as Kahlo, from taking place outside of the nation.
According to several of Kahlo’s fans who were in attendance at the auction, her ability to beat her husband’s record was a sign of the times. The artist Diego Rivera is now known as the husband of Frida Kahlo, since she is outshining him in terms of fame and fortune.