Frida Kahlo self-portrait breaks record, selling for $34.9 million

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A self-portrait by Frida Kahlo was sold for a record $34.9 million in New York, Tuesday, making it the most expensive work sold by a Latin artist.

The painting, 'Diego y yo,' was completed five years before her death in 1954 and gives viewers a glimpse into Kahlo's tumultuous marriage to artist Diego Rivera. Scholars believe Kahlo painted the self-portrait in response to the affair Rivera had with her friend.

The self-portrait depicts Kahlo gazing tearfully, while strands of her hair look like they are just about to strangle her. In the center of her forehead, is a small image of Rivera's face with a third eye-- a symbol of how he occupied her mind.

Many expected the portrait to smash records, for it already had an estimate of 30 million back in October, the Associated Press reported. According to the auction house behind the sale, Sotheby's, this self-portrait surpasses her previous record of $8 million set in 2016 and places Kahlo "center stage among the great titans of art history," Sotheby claims.

"Painted in the same year her beloved Diego embarked on an affair with her friend, the Mexican Golden Age (actor) Maria Felix, this powerful portrait is the painted articulation of her anguish and sorrow," said Sotheby's director of Latin American art, Anna Di Stasi, in a press statement following the auction. "You could call tonight's result the ultimate revenge, but in fact it is the ultimate validation of Kahlo's extraordinary talent and global appeal."

Back in 2018, a Rivera painting had been the previous record-holder for highest auction price for a Latin American artist's work selling at Christie's for 9.8 million. The most valuable work sold at auction was by a woman artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, selling for $44.4 million in Sotheby's American art sale in 2014.

The Mexican artist is known for her self-portraits, depicting themes of identity which pushed gender norms, the human body, death, as well as her debilitating health issues.

She was inspired by a range of subjects such as Aztec and Eastern mythology, medicine and botany. Kahlo and Rivera first met in 1922 when he went to work on a project at her high school, and after they married in 1929, their relationship became the foundation for her art.

"Frida Kahlo is a global icon of modern art whose work is beloved around the world," Di Stasi said in a statement announcing the sale in September. "'Diego y yo' epitomizes the painstakingly detailed rendering, complex iconography, and deeply personal narratives that are hallmarks of her mature painting."

A Sotheby's spokesperson did not disclose the identity of the seller but says the portrait was bought by Eduardo F. Costantini, the founder of a museum in Buenos Aires, for his private collection.

The New York Times reported Wednesday Costantini plans to exhibit the painting at his museum next year and placed the bid on the piece after looking at the painting so many times in a book, he began to dream about buying it.

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