Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

The Sacred Monsters

By the time Diego Rivera met Frida Kahlo, he was already a confirmed and self-described womanizer, and he was as famous for his paintings as for his outsize personality and his inability to pass up an erotic experience. Having been physically crippled by polio at age six, and then by her famous bus accident—then desolated by the loss of her first love—in 1929 Frida was a skilled painter and an irreverent daredevil who was desperate for an affection that would console her for her physical suffering.

Frida knew very well when she took Rivera as a husband that he would not be faithful, but she took it both as a challenge and as an investment, since Rivera was successful enough that he could afford the expensive operations and treatments she needed because of her injuries. For his part, Rivera knew that Frida could not have children, so he would not lose her attention to an infant, but he also knew that Frida’s injuries and her long familiarity with suffering had prepared her to endure his infidelities.

While a relationship as we know it was never really possible between them—Rivera would never give up other women, and she would never stop being hurt by his interest in ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ —the idea of a working marriage was a fiction they allowed each other to believe in together. Frida allowed Diego his erotic freedom rather than lose his friendship, and while he supported her financially, he was at his best when he was encouraging her to express herself in her paintings. Frida was the only one of Rivera’s women whose advice he would take on his murals, and Frida wore long Mexican dresses—not only to hide her uneven gait, but to out-flirt her rivals for Rivera’s affection. But Diego never hesitated to betray or abandon Frida, and if they nourished each other’s artwork, Frida’s last journal entries acknowledge that Diego never belonged to anyone but himself.

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