Passion, Politics, & Tragedy: Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky’s Affair

Catherine A. Jones
 | January 19, 2024

In Frida Kahlo’s short, but colorful, life, one chapter still stands out: her love affair with the exiled Russian communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

Their intense affair only lasted two years, but her art remains, offering a glimpse of love and politics that defined an era.

Their connection unfolded against the backdrop of political turbulence, from Russia to Mexico .. and behind their spouse’s backs.

Kahlo and Trotsky’s Love Affair

The year was 1937, when Kahlo, then 29, met Trotsky, the 57-year-old Russian in exile. 

Both she and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, were his ardent supporters, even calling themselves  Trotskyites for a while. 

They also were fans of Marxism, aligning themselves with the Mexican Communist Party since 1927. 

In fact, Rivera’s mural, “The Arsenal,” painted in 1928, depicted Kahlo as an activist, symbolizing their shared commitment to Communism.

By the mid-1930s, both Kahlo and Rivera were followers of the exiled revolutionary hero who fell out of favor with Stalin and his faction within the Communist party. 

“Kahlo and Rivera offered the Trotskys their second home, the now famed Casa Azul, equipping it with guards, barricades, covered windows, and alarm systems to ensure their political hero’s safety,” Artsy writes.

Then the affair began.

“Kahlo and Trotsky’s relationship was a warm one, with the Kahlo affectionately nicknaming him ‘Piochitas’ (little goatee), and the revolutionary hiding love letters for her in books.” the outlet writes. “Even their breakup was amicable: As a gesture of goodwill, Kahlo painted ‘Self Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky’ (1937) with the inscription ‘with all my love.’”

‘The Pair’s Blatant Flirtations’ 

“The politician’s secretary, Jean van Heijenoort, remembered the pair’s blatant flirtations under the nose of Trotsky’s wife,” Artsy explains, adding: “Sedova didn’t understand English, the language in which the lovers communicated.”

The passion between Kahlo and Trotsky came to a tragic end in 1940 when Trotsky fell victim to Stalin’s orders. 

“Locals and tourists alike visit his home in Mexico City, a couple of blocks away from Frida’s famous Casa Azul, to see where the man lived during his exile and gawk at the bullet holes left on walls and doors as a result of an assassination attempt in 1940,” The Washington Post explains. 

Shortly after the shooting, Trotsky was brutally assassinated.

“In 1940, Trotsky was murdered with an ice-pick in Mexico on Stalin’s orders by Ramon Mercader, a Spanish-born agent for the Soviet secret police,” PBS writes.

Before finding Mercader though, the Mexico City police had considered Kahlo a possible accomplice in the murder and arrested her, along with her sister Cristina. Both were released from jail.

Trotsky’s Mexican Legacy

Today, in Mexico, Trotsky is often remembered as “the Russian communist who had an affair with Frida Kahlo.”

And, situated just a short distance from Casa Azul, Leon Trotsky’s former residence in Mexico City earned the status of a National Historic Monument in 1982. By 1990, the site underwent a transformation into the Museo Casa de León Trotsky, a museum dedicated to preserving his legacy.

This historical house also serves as the headquarters for a non-governmental organization (NGO) committed to aiding asylum seekers in Mexico and worldwide. In the backyard, visitors can explore a tomb that holds the ashes of both Trotsky and his wife.

The museum welcomes visitors from Tuesday to Sunday, operating from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is priced at $40 MEX (approximately $2.19 USD). Additionally, they offer complimentary guided tours in both Spanish and English.

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