LIFESTYLE

Frida Kahlo's letters to Spanish lover go to auction: 'I've loved you since before you were born'

  • Doyle New York

     (Doyle New York)

  • Doyle New York

     (Doyle New York)

  • Doyle New York

     (Doyle New York)

More than 100 pages of letters from famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to her lover, Jose Bartoli, will be briefly exhibited in New York City, where the couple met 69 years ago, before they are auctioned off on April 15.

“I feel that I have loved you always, since before you were born, before you were conceived. Sometimes I feel that I gave birth to myself,” reads one of the letters, as translated by Kahlo’s biographer Hayden Herrera.

The Doyle New York auction house hopes to collect between $80,000 to $120,000 for the 25 letters, which will be displayed April 11-15 in Doyle’s Manhattan gallery.

Kahlo wrote the letters from 1946 to1949. Bartoli, a Spanish artist, met Kahlo in New York while she was recovering from spinal surgery — their affair continued after she returned to Mexico with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

The manuscripts provide information about some well-known paintings of Kahlo ("Tree of Hope," among others) and offer a peek into her personal and health struggles. Several of the letters even reveal a possible pregnancy, which had never been reported before. She was 39 year old at the time.

“If I were not in the condition I am in now and if it were a reality, nothing in my life would give me more joy. Can you imagine a little Bartoli or a Mara? Laugh at me, I give you permission since I am crazier than a cobra,” she wrote in the Nov. 5, 1946 letter.

According to Herrera, the biographer, “although Kahlo is deeply linked to Rivera, these letters suggest that she would have left him to live with Bartoli,” she wrote in an essay posted on Doyle’s website. “She told Bartoli he gave her a kind of love she had never experienced before."

The cache of unpublished letters was held by Bartoli until his death in 1995, after which they were inherited by his family and then sold to its current anonymous owner.

Kahlo signed her letters “Mara” – probably short for “Maravillosa (or marvelous)” according to Herrera – to have her husband believe she was writing to a woman. Also, she addressed the letters to female friends like Ella Wolfe, “whose Brooklyn home served as a mail drop,” Herrera wrote in her essay.

“Bartoli sent his letters to the post office where Cristina collected them and took them to her sister,” she added.

Kahlo (1907-1954) suffered lifelong health problems, most of them a consequence of a traffic accident at age 19 which immobilized her for months at a time and severely impacted her spine. 

Her fans may have known of her romance with Bartoli, which dissolved painfully sometime in 1949, but the extent of her passion and despair had remained sealed until now.

“I don’t know how to write love letters. But I wanted to tell you that my whole being opened for you,” she wrote on Oct. 20, 1946. 

“Since I fell in love with you everything is transformed and is full of beauty. I would like to give you the prettiest colors, I want to kiss you," she went on. "In order to see you from below [I would like] to be the shadow that is born from the soles of your feet and that lengthens along the ground upon which you walk.”

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