At Large  July 3, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Experts Debate Recovered Frida Kahlo Masterpiece

public domain

Modern copy of Frida Kahlo's The Wounded Table.

For over sixty years, experts have searched for a monumental work missing from Frida Kahlo’s oeuvre. First displayed in 1940, The Wounded Table depicts a version of the Last Supper with Kahlo seated at the center. Unfortunately, the work disappeared en route to an exhibition in Moscow in 1955, and only a few photos remain as documentation of the painting.

The four by eight-foot oil on canvas work was painted by Kahlo in the weeks following her divorce from Diego Rivera. Surrounded by symbols of her identity, Kahlo appears to try and keep the pieces of herself together during the difficult period following her divorce. Her relationship with Rivera was a tumultuous one, and their divorce would be short-lived, as the pair remarried in 1940.

library of congress

Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Diego Rivera and Frida (Kahlo) Rivera, 1932.

Like many of Kahlo’s surrealist works, The Wounded Table shows the artist’s deepest feelings physically manifested. Her blood runs across the table, while her hair is entangled in a large paper-mache skeleton at her side. Kahlo’s right arm is connected to a pre-Columbian Nayarit figure like one Rivera had in their home. At the ends of the table are Kahlo’s niece and nephew and her beloved pet deer.

In 1945, Kahlo gave the painting to the Soviet Union for a planned Mexico room at the Museum of Western Art in Moscow. Surrealism fell out of favor with officials, who canceled the installation and put the works in storage instead.

Now one of the most iconic artists in the world, Kahlo’s missing canvas is more mysterious and valuable than ever, making many eager to locate the masterpiece. Most recently, a Spanish art dealer has claimed to have the painting in a warehouse in London, and is offering it up for sale for the price of $45 million.

library of congress

Toni Frissell, Frida Kahlo (Senora Diego Rivera) seated next to an agave plant, during a photo shoot for Vogue magazine, "Senoras of Mexico", 1937.

Art dealer Cristian López claims the work will hold up to expert scrutiny, but won’t offer it up for examination until the work has been purchased.

But experts are not buying his claims, noting that López’s work is on wood panel and not canvas, and appears to be a mere copy. Just last year, Mexican authorities arrested another man attempting to sell what he claimed was the long-lost canvas.

One authorized copy of the painting exists, housed at the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund in Baden-Baden, Germany. For now, this will remain the only way to see the lost Kahlo masterpiece in-person.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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