Frida’s First Love: The Untold Story of Alejandro Gómez Arias

Catherine A. Jones
 | December 1, 2023

When it comes to Frida Kahlo, the spotlight on her personal life often shines right on her tumultuous relationship with fellow artist, and husband, Diego Rivera. 

Yet, before Rivera, behind the piercing self-portraits, another man played a pivotal role in Kahlo’s life: Alejandro “Alex” Gómez Arias.

As proof of her eternal love for him, in 1928, Kahlo even created the “Portrait of alejandro gomez arias,” with a love letter visible to all in the upper righthand corner. 

Today, the intricacies of their relationship is the subject of fervent discussions among devoted Kahlo aficionados from around the world. 

And, as for the portrait itself? The canvas of their love story is now shrouded in mystery, with a fate as uncertain as the enigmatic tale behind its creation.

One thing is certain: there would be no Frida Kahlo without Alejandro “Alex” Gomez Arias.

Frida and Alex, The Musical

Just this fall, Kahlo and her first boyfriend’s love story is being told byThe Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University, for young audiences.

Sort of.

“‘Frida Libre’ is the story of Kahlo in her younger years and the friendship she forms with a young boy named Alex,” Ismael Lara, the director of this Imagine U production, tells the university publication Northwestern Now. “The pair discovers how true friendship can help you overcome fear and transform your dreams into reality.”

The live performance is based on the book and lyrics by Karen Zacarías, and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, released in 2011. 

“This show really depicts an iconic figure, Frida Kahlo, persevering through her struggle and hardship and celebrating her joy of friendship,” Lara explains. “The moment that is really special, to me, is when we see Frida and Alex’s friendship transform. We see these two young people who started out on almost opposite sides of the world, and we watch them come together in support of one another and the dreams they have.”

In real life, Kahlo met the first love of her life, Arias, in 1922, at the National Prep School in Mexico City, one of Mexico’s best schools according to biographer Hayden Herrera.

“During those school years she met Alejandro Gómez Arias, who in addition to being her partner, was the one with whom Kahlo argued and was interested in social classes and the uprising of the people,” El Pais writes.

In one of her letters to “Alex,” Kahlo once wrote: “My Alex, Since I saw you, I have loved you.”

Unfortunately, the relationship may have been doomed from the start.

“It’s worth noting that this relationship was not supported by Frida’s parents,” the outlet Bustle writes.

Besides their parents, Mexico’s political turmoil and a life-altering accident also irrevocably impacted the young lovers’ relationship.

The ‘Friend’ Who Saved Frida Kahlo’s Life

Arias, fondly called “Alex” by Kahlo, is often referred to as “the friend” who was with her when their bus was hit by a trolley. “Several passengers were killed instantly, and several later died from their injuries,” explains.

While this harrowing trolley accident in 1925 threatened Frida’s life, Arias received only minor injuries. 

“Frida was injured seriously and doctors at the Red Cross Hospital thought they wouldn’t be able to save her,” Biography writes. “Kahlo’s pelvic bone had been fractured and the rail had punctured her abdomen and uterus. Her spine had been broken in three places, her right leg in 11 places, her shoulder was dislocated, her collar bone was broken, and doctors later discovered that three additional vertebrae had been broken as well.”

And, much more than a friend at the time, Arias stood by his girlfriend’s, and lover’s, side during her painful recovery, even arguing with hospital staff to take better care of her.

“Alejandro tried his best and convinced the doctors to attend to Frida,” the tribute site explains. “Without his persistence Frida might not be able to survive.” 

They remained a couple during her month-long stay at the hospital and for two years after she returned home.

While Frida battled excruciating pain and bedridden days, she poured her heart into countless letters to Alejandro.

She echoed uncertainties about the future, questioning what lay ahead in 30 years.

The Mystery of Alejandro’s Portrait

To show her love for him, Kahlo painted Arias’ portrait in 1928 – a departure from her usual style. 

Art historians say the new style is a testament to a different chapter in her life. Unlike her vivid self-portraits, this piece, reminiscent of one of her father’s photographs, immortalizes Arias in a more conventional manner.

Etched in the upper right corner, the words echo Frida’s enduring affection for Alejandro: 

“Alex, with affection I painted your portrait, that he is one of my comrades forever, Frida Kahlo, 30 years later.”

Their union, however, met its end that year, and a vulnerable Frida turned her attention to Diego Rivera, marking a significant shift in her life’s trajectory.

As for her first love’s painting?

“This painting was lost for several years but was supposedly found again in 1994. It was on display at the 2005 Kahlo exhibit in London at the Tate Modern. 

“In 2007 it was displayed again at the Palace of Fine Arts Museum in Mexico City for the 100th anniversary exhibit. Rachel Tibol, a well known Mexican art critic and author of several Kahlo books, viewed the painting at the exhibit in Mexico City and declared it a fake. 

Its authenticity is currently being investigated,” writes a Kahlo fan site.

Debates about  the portrait’s authenticity persist to this day, still standing as a reminder of a lesser-known chapter in Kahlo’s life.

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