Boston art museum buys landmark Frida Kahlo painting

An early portrait by Frida Kahlo has a new home at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The museum announced on Tuesday it had acquired Kahlo’s “Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia)" ("Two Women"), to become the only New England museum to have a painting by the renowned Mexican artist in its permanent collection.

“We are all very thrilled,” Elliot Bostwick Davis, chair of the Art of the Americas wing at the museum, told Fox News Latino on Wednesday. “We are very excited here at the museum, and the community is very excited.”

The work was painted in 1928, and it depicts two maids who worked for Kahlo's mother in front of a verdant backdrop from the famous Casa Azul (Blue House) in the Coyoacán section of Mexico City.

“This painting was made when Kahlo was 21 … soon after her accident, so she is still a young, new painter,” Bostwick Davis said. “It’s a very special painting, because she is portraying these women who worked in her house.”

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She added that infrared scans determined that Kahlo first painted Salvadora and Herminia with maid's aprons but later painted over them to portray them as strong women – which meant that she cared about them.

“We are trying to uncover how long these women worked for the family," Bostwick Davis said. We will be looking at correspondence that might have mentioned them.”

It is believed to be the first painting Kahlo ever sold.

The purchaser was Kahlo’s lifelong friend, American industrialist Jackson Cole Phillips, in 1929, and it remained in his family until the MFA purchased it in December.

Davis said the painting was viewed in public twice – in 2014 in Rome and at an art fair in 2012 – but the family kept it in their home the rest of the time.

She said it’s a significant acquisition for the MFA because Kahlo’s paintings remain rare outside of Mexico because of the country’s 1984 law banning their export.

According to the museum, the reverse side of the canvas is inscribed by Kahlo and some of her friends to mark the occasion of the sale of the painting. It includes the signatures of Phillips, her sister Cristina Kahlo as well as famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who a month after signing would become her husband.

Along with the painting, the family also included in the sale archival material such as the exportation documents that Phillips had to fill out to take the painting out of Mexico in 1929, a photo of Phillips with the painting as well as newspaper clippings of Rivera and Kahlo’s wedding – which the two artists signed – as well as an original painting based on their wedding photo, Davis said.

She said there is one signature in the back of the painting that they have not been able to identify, but "we are working with infrared scans to figure out who it is."

In a statement, MFA director Matthew Teitelbaum said of the acquision, “Frida Kahlo’s work is a 20th-century touchstone, and we’re proud to be able to count this remarkable acquisition among the MFA’s masterpieces of art of the Americas. As our community continues to grow and evolve, we’re committed to representing the diverse experiences of artists in our galleries.”

He added: “This major work will enable the museum to tell the story of modernism in the Americas more broadly and inclusively, greatly enhancing its Art of the Americas collection.”

Born in Mexico City in 1907, Kahlo received worldwide recognition for her paintings celebrating Mexican folklore. Plagued by health issues for much of her life, she died at her home in Caza Azul, at age 47, and only achieved international acclaim after her death.

The MFA estimates there are only 12 paintings by Kahlo in U.S. museums today.

"Dos Mujeres" will be on view from Jan. 27 to March 1 in a special presentation in the museum's Carol Vance Wall Rotunda before receiving conservation treatment. It will then be re-installed in the museum's permanent collection in the Art of the Americas wing.

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