Kahlo comes home to Ransom Center

Diego Cruz

A famous Frida Kahlo self-portrait has returned to the Harry Ransom Center after more than six months on display abroad.

The center announced the arrival of the late painter’s self-portrait Wednesday, 104 years after her birth, and said it will remain in Austin through Jan. 8.

UT loaned the portrait to exhibitions in Europe, including a retrospective dedicated to Kahlo in Berlin and Vienna, said Peter Mears, Ransom Center associate curator and department head.

“[The painting] was created in 1940, a time in Kahlo’s life when she was at the peak of her painting career,” Mears said.

Kahlo painted “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” the same year her work was displayed at a surrealist exhibition in Mexico City — and a year after her divorce from painter Diego Rivera, Mears said.

He said the painting is highly symbolic and includes flora and fauna from Kahlo’s Mexican homeland and a thorn necklace alluding to Christian influences.

The portrait also contains a hummingbird, which Mears said is a Mayan symbol for resurrected warriors and associated with psychosexual powers.

Mears said the Ransom Center acquired the portrait in 1966 as part of a collection donated posthumously by Kahlo’s friend and lover, celebrity photographer Nickolas Muray.

It has since been loaned to numerous exhibitions across the Americas and Europe and exhibited at the center between travels, he said.

“We have a loan program where we loan works of art in the collection to sister institutions who organize meaningful scholarly exhibitions,” Mears said.

A courier who transports the painting ensures it is properly and securely installed in its new home and overseen every step of the way, he said.

Mears said the painting has been analyzed by professional conservators twice over the years and is currently in perfect condition.

An average of 6,000 people visit the Ransom Center every month, said spokeswoman Jennifer Tisdale.

“Where [the portrait] is hung is a little niche in our lobby that allows for the Ransom Center to highlight different works on a limited basis,” Tisdale said.

She said this space allows visitors the opportunity to see items in the Center’s holdings that are neither part of a collection nor a permanent exhibit, which would otherwise not be available to the general public.

Many people visit the center specifically to see the portrait, said visitor services representative Kathy Marcus. Visitors are allowed to look at the iconic painting from a close distance and at eye-level, Marcus said.

“It’s like she belongs here, and she’s come home for a while,” she said.

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Iconic self-portrait returns to Austin