The Enigmatic Muse: The Portrait of Cristina Kahlo

Sofia Jones
 | November 17, 2023

Illustration by Nuestro Stories

This unique painting, crafted by the renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, stands as a rarity among her collection.

It captures her younger sister, Cristina, the subject of a tumultuous relationship, who mirrored the intricacies of sisterly bonds.

It’s the “Portrait of Cristina, My Sister.”

“Cristina was the second person in Frida’s family to be painted. One year earlier, she painted Adriana, her older sister,” explains.

And it came to no surprise when the rare portrait of her sibling sold for just over $8.2 million earlier this month, at a Christie’s auction, just two years after Kahlo’s self portrait sold for $34.9 million.

“‘Portrait of Cristina, My Sister’ is one of a handful of paintings from the late 1920s that portray fashionable female subjects with both Cinquecento stylizations and modernist flourishes …” Christie’s Fine Arts Auctioneer explains. 

Years after the portrait’s completion, in 1928, the sisters’ relationship became complex, marked by a tale entwined with love, betrayal, and an unbreakable bond that endured despite it all.

The Story Behind the Canvas

The painting of her sister, just 11 months younger than Kahlo, was created at a pivotal moment for Frida, who was recovering from a life-threatening accident that had left her bedridden for months. 

“This painting is characterized by a childlike simplicity and frankness. That is why the Kahlo style in this work is associated with Naïve art,” says about the portrait. 

“In contrast to Frida, known for her unusual features and style of dress, Cristina was more typically feminine and trendy during the period,” Forbes magazine explains. “This portrait underscores that appeal in a way that diverges from the furrowed brows and tropical settings Frida later used for herself.”

Cristina, Frida’s sister, was born in June 1908, only eleven months after Frida. She  was nineteen or twenty at the time her portrait was made. 

By the following year, she had married and become a mother. Cristina would remain a steadfast presence and companion throughout Frida’s life. This early portrait captures her dreamy, ethereal elegance, just on the cusp of womanhood. 

Her sister went on to betray her by having an affair with the love of her life, her husband. 

The affair began after Cristina modeled for Rivera’s murals at the Ministerio de Salud and the National Palace. She posed as Knowledge, a curvaceous nude, at Kahlo’s suggestion. When she posed for Rivera, she actually sat beside Kahlo and remained an object of desire. 

The affair between Diego and Cristina was particularly devastating for Frida, but the sisters reconciled by 1935. 

“She lives a little bit in the … ether,” Frida once said of Cristina, the youngest of the four Kahlo sisters, according to Christie’s.

While the painting remains the sole portrait of Cristina – which was created long before the affair –, there is another choice depiction of her children in painting “La Mesa Herida,” The Wounded Table. 

Yet, like her relationship with her sister, this painting is marred in mystery as well.

“The work, a holy grail for Kahlo scholars, went missing after the artist donated it to the former Soviet Union. Last seen in an exhibition in Warsaw in 1955, it disappeared on its way to Moscow,” The Art Newspaper reports.

The ongoing quest to recover this masterpiece mirrors the intrigue surrounding Cristina’s life, perpetuating an air of mystery and speculation among art enthusiasts and scholars alike.

It’s been the subject of an ongoing international search, with some saying it’s been found.

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