Previously unseen Frida Kahlo painting sells for $1.8 million

‘Niña con collar’ had been seen in photographs for 60 years, but only resurfaced this summer

'Niña con collar' by Frida Kahlo.
'Niña con collar' by Frida Kahlo.AP

The painting, which had not been seen publicly for six decades, went to an unidentified European buyer. The 1929 oil on canvas is among the first 20 of the Mexican artist’s 143 paintings, said Axel Stein, head of Latin American art at Sotheby's.

The painting is in remarkable condition. “The paint looks very fresh. It was in a dark part of the residence, which is why the colors are so alive,” explained Stein. 

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It is among the first of the 143 paintings the famous Mexican artist would make in her short life.

Experts believe the painting was left unfinished by Kahlo so that it could serve as a source of permanent inspiration. The work, whose subject is about 13 or 14 years old, prefigures hallmarks of Kahlo’s self-portraits, including winged eyebrows and a full frontal gaze.

“The painting had special significance for her, and over the course of time it was the starting point for many of her self-portraits,” said Kahlo expert Salomon Grimberg ahead of the auction.

Kahlo died at age 47 in 1954. The following year her widower, the muralist Diego Rivera, gave Niña con collar to one of her studio assistants, who hung it in her California home for 60 years, according to Stein.

Works by Kahlo have fetched more than any other Latin American artist in international art markets

The work resurfaced when the unidentified former studio assistant, now in her mid-90s, contacted Sotheby’s last summer. Before that, the painting had only ever been seen in one black-and-white photograph.

This is because Mexican photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo had included a picture of the painting in her own archive. Bravo began photographing Kahlo’s work around the time she married Rivera in 1929, according to Sotheby's.

Works by Kahlo have fetched more than any other Latin American artist in international art markets. In May, Kahlo’s 1939 painting Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma), was sold for over $8 million – a world record for both Kahlo and for Latin American artists in general.

One reason Kahlo’s works are so valued in the international market is that Mexico barred their export for several decades under laws to conserve the country's cultural heritage, Stein said.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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