Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace, an oil on canvas painting, was done by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in 1940. The size is 24 x 18 ¾ inches and it is currently in Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center Art Collection, University of Texas. In the painting, Kahlo painted herself with a black monkey and a black cat behind her.
The thorns are around her neck where a black hummingbird is tied and hanging. A few drops of blood are on her neck, but her face is calm and she is looking directly at her viewer. Her hair is neatly braided and a large purple headpiece is on top of her head. Moreover, two butterflies are on top of her headpiece, while two odd flowers with wings are flying near the butterflies. The background is painted with large green and yellow leaves. According to the book, Kahlo and Rivera divorced and remarried, and she painted numerous self-portraits to document her grief.
This is probably my favorite self-portrait painting of Kahlo. She included a number of symbols in the painting to express her feelings. The monkey is a symbol of lust, and for me, she tolerated it as the monkey holds a part of the thorns. The cat is a symbol of infidelity, as both Rivera and Kahlo were not faithful to each other during their whole marriage. The butterflies symbolize transformation, as if she was ready for a better future. Nonetheless, I cannot help but compare this painting to her other painting Fulang-Chang and I, which I saw last year at the Museum of Modern Art. It is also an oil on canvas that she painted in 1937.
The three-year gap between the two paintings shows how her skills had improved, and how her life was transformed. The later painting has more textures, and the colors of the leaves and skin tone are more realistically vibrant. Her unbraided hair and ribbon makes her look innocent, and her slight smile shows that she was happier compare to the recent painting. Although it is clear that her skills were better in her 1940 painting, there was still a room for improvement. She should have shortened her neck a little bit as it looks too long. It may appear that she is in the center but the tiny space on the lower right part of the canvas is bothersome. She could have also just filled the background with leaves instead of showing just a little view of the sky. Moreover, the single yellow leaf at the back looks like she ran out of green or forgot to complete it.
Despite its imperfections, it still remains as one of my favorite paintings. She bravely expressed her emotions no matter how conflicted they may appear to a viewer. The bird seems to be dead which could probably mean freedom or lost freedom. Her expression is serious and calm but her teary eyes tell otherwise. The headpiece looks like a crown like she wants to show that she is in control, but her bleeding neck shows she is in pain. Honestly, I have more questions than answers as I began to analyze this painting. Kahlo may have successfully expressed her grief through this artwork, but like Andre Breton declared, I am now convinced that she is a surrealist.