Frida Kahlo (Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo Calderon) was born in what is now known as Casa Azul in Coyoacan, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City.
Her father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was German, and had moved to Mexico at a young age where he remained for the rest of his life. Kahlo's mother, Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez, born of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry, was Wilhelm's second wife, and raised Frida and her sisters in a strict and religious household. Aside from her mother's rigidity and tendency toward hysteric outbursts, several events in Kahlo's childhood affected her psyche for the rest of her life.
At age six, Kahlo contracted polio and was forced to remain in bed for nine months, walking with a limp after recovery. Wilhelm, with whom Kahlo was very close, enrolled his daughter at the German College in Mexico City and introduced Kahlo to the writings of European philosophers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Arthur Schopenhauer. Kahlo's mixed European and Mexican heritage permanently affected the artist's approach to her life and artwork. Following the Mexican Revolution and Minister of Education Jose Vasconcelos's new education policy, in 1922, Kahlo was one of 35 girls admitted to the National Preparatory School, where she planned to study medicine, botany, and the social sciences.
The artist befriended a dissident group of students known as the Cachuchas, who confirmed Kahlo's rebellious spirit and her interest in poetry and literature. In 1925, Kahlo was involved in a nearly fatal bus accident, where she suffered multiple fractures throughout her body and a crushed pelvis. She spent nine months in the hospital, immobile and bound in a plaster corset. During her long recovery she began experimenting in small-scale autobiographical portraiture, permanently abandoning her medical pursuits.
In 1927, slowly recovering, Kahlo was forced to contribute to her family's expenses and her medical bills. In contact with her friends from the Cachuchas group, Kahlo began to familiarize herself with the artistic and Communist circles in Mexico City, including figures such as the militant photo-journalist Tina Modotti and the Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella. In 1928, having officially joined the Mexican Communist Party, Kahlo sought out Diego Rivera in order to discuss a possible career as an artist. One year later, the two married and moved to Cuernavaca where Kahlo devoted herself to indigenous themes in painting, at times even embodying Mexican folkloric rituals wearing a traditional Tehuana costume for her spouse.
The artist grew progressively ill from from the long-term effects of her childhood traumas. By June 1946, Kahlo could no longer remain upright and underwent an unsuccessful bone-graft operation on her spine in New York. In 1950, Kahlo was again hospitalized for nine months at the English Hospital in Mexico. Kahlo continued to paint in her final years while also maintaining her political activism, protesting nuclear testing by Western powers. Kahlo exhibited one last time in Mexico in 1953 at Lola Alvarez Bravo's gallery, the artist's first solo show in Mexico. She was brought to the event in an ambulance and had her four-poster bed placed at the center of the gallery. Kahlo died on July 13, 1954 at Casa Azul, which is today the Frida Kahlo Museum.