Lot 159
  • 159

FRIDA KAHLO | Retrato de Irene Bohus

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Frida Kahlo
  • Retrato de Irene Bohus
  • titled
  • graphite on paper
  • 13 1/4 by 8 1/2 in. 33.6 by 21.6 cm.
  • Executed in 1947.


Estate of Mary Eaton, California
Private Collection, California
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Berlin, Martin Gropius Bau; Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum, Frida Kahlo Retrospective, April - December 2010, cat. no. 124, p. 199, illustrated in color 


Dr. Salomon Grimberg & Hayden Herrera, Frida Kahlo. Song to Herself, New York 2008, p. 88, illustrated


This work is in good condition overall. The media layer is stable. Very faint horizontal creases to the sheet are present across the upper half of the work. A few pinpoint spots of foxing are present at the extreme edges of the sheet. One very fine diagonal 1/8 inch ink mark is present in the upper left quadrant above the arm of the figure. One very faint grey handling mark is present at the extreme lower right edge. The sheet has been hinged to the mat at the upper edge.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The invention of farcical entities, characters born of mockery and then used as ciphers alluding to strangers and acquaintances alike, is a recurring theme in Frida Kahlo’s work. It is particularly evident in her drawings, where sketches unravel as caricatures rather than ideas for a more complex painting or as illustrations within a broader narrative. Diego and Frida were known as the Elephant and the Dove to Tina Modotti, Ione Robinson, Lupe Marín and their Communist Party comrades after 1929. This creation of characters, who exist so Kahlo the woman can deal with the psychological reality of Frida the painter, offers us an opportunity for speculation and an introduction to the private realm the artist depicts. In it, tragedy and derision of the same, lamentation and satire, weeping and laughter, are all strategies holding equal sway. Retrato de Irene Bohus (1947) is a parodic and seemingly vengeful portrait. It refers to Irene Bohus, a painter active in Mexico and with whom Diego Rivera had a love affair upon returning from New York and divorcing Frida in 1939. Nickolas Muray, the photographer Kahlo was infatuated with between 1937 and 1939, was probably who introduced them to this other Hungarian native and also to Paulette Goddard, Charlie Chaplin’s ex-wife with whom Rivera also had an affair. In 1940 Diego declared that Frida’s best works were sublimations of her anguishes; Kahlo does indeed appear to use representation as a means of airing the issues she finds both with herself and with her subconscious. In this parody of Bohus, she ridicules her fake plait and Oaxacan headdress before ceremoniously engendering a character with phallic extensions in the place of its upper limbs, covered in protuberant tongues and hairs and whose vagina, crowned by a little devil or succubus, drips urine that collects in a bucket reading: “I beg from you / I ask you”.

The other effigy, Objeto parcial (Partial object) bears a clear iconographic resemblance to the poetic-surrealist technique of the exquisite corpse that Kahlo had been playfully developing along with Lucienne Bloch since 1933. In this case however, the line is traced and finished using just one hand with a specific intention in mind: the figure emulates a deity, seemingly constructed as an altar and reminiscent of a pre-Columbian sculpture, or perhaps a maternal goddess of sacrificial nature whose body is fragmented (evoking Coatlicue). The caricature has an exorcising effect, and is offered up as a tabernacle or retablo to this end. In a gestalt-like effect, infinite tits, cocks, tongues, mouths, vaginas and other indistinguishable orifices first form a face and then the genuflected character itself. Both drawings draw on the popular Mexican tradition of a device rooted in Catholicism and the colonial era: the ex-voto. These small votive offerings recount a specific traumatic anecdote or event in the life of the creator artist. They serve to reconcile the protagonist with the horror experienced. In painting them, the person can give thanks to God or a saint for their intervention and aid. Oaxacan poet Andrés Henestrosa used to say that José Clemente Orozco, Dr. Atl and Frida Kahlo were the “shining lights of mutilation” of Mexican art history. These two sketches clearly show how, in tearing apart the hard to digest actors of her emotional life and dissecting the drama of her own existence into episodes, Frida Kahlo performed, by her own hand, the psychoanalysis she so deeply needed.

Carlos A. Molina, PhD.

"Probably some people expect of me a very personal, “feminine,” anecdotal portrait…perhaps they hope to hear from me lament about “how much one suffers,” living with a man like Diego. But I do not believe that the banks of a river suffer for letting the water run, or that the earth suffers because it rains, or the atom suffers discharging its energy…”  

—Frida Kahlo, 1949