A terrible day in 1925 would leave a mark on the life of Frida Kahlo and impact her life from then on. An unfortunate series of events led her being involved in a bus accident which damaged her physically and mentally.
The injuries suffered by Kahlo were highly serious, nearly taking her life entirely. Thankfully, she was saved and the difficulties she then experienced would help to inspire a whole body of work within her career. It is hard to imagine her becoming so successful were it not for this incident in her childhood. This article examines the bus accident in detail, explaining just what exactly happened on the day, which injuries she sustained, and how long the road to recovery took. There is also mention of the specific paintings which directly connect to this dramatic day which helps us to understand more about the ongoing legacy left behind by both her physical and mental scars. Many famous artists have suffered in this way, and used those deep and dark emotions to work in ways that the rest of us simply cannot manage. More on her life in full can be found in our Frida Kahlo biography.
Frida Kahlo went on to become one of the most famous female artists and has a reputation which goes far beyond the usual art community. Her trials and tribulations have helped her to become a true feminist icon and even younger generations who may not have a great interest in art history will be entirely familiar with her life. In actual fact, many will now be more aware of her bus accident and her turbulent love life than her list of paintings and drawings, which is relatively unusual. Some have turned her into a celebrity rather than painter, and her reputation is best served by the Blue House in which she once lived and has now been turned into a museum. In order to understand her art fully, once must understand her mind, and this would be heavily influenced by the bus accident as outlined below.
The artist was travelling home from school with her boyfriend of the time, Alejandro Gómez Arias. They took the bus together, as normal, but it collided with a car whilst overtaking. There was a large amount of people on the bus at the time and this perhaps contributed to the horrendous injuries that occurred as a result of the accident. Some died instantly, whilst others passed away in hospital in the days that followed as a result of the injuries that they suffered in the bus accident. The incident happened on September 17, 1925 and the weather that day made driving a little more tricky, perhaps explaining how the collision happened. Frida herself was particularly unfortunate because she had intended to take an earlier bus instead but delayed her travel after realising that she had mislaid her umbrella.
When and Where did the Accident Occur?
The accident happened on September 17, 1925. Frida Kahlo had been accepted into the National Preparatory School in Mexico City in 1922 and so had been studying here for several years by then. The crash would have therefore been on a road somewhere between this institution and where they were living elsewhere in Mexico City. At the time of her entry into this school, it was expected that she would go onto specialise in medicine, even though there were already signs of her ability within art. The accident, therefore, may well have been the catalyst needed to change the direction of her life and push her towards the incredible Surrealist paintings that she would go on to produce. She would have been approximately eighteen at the time of the accident, as she was born in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico on July 6, 1907.
What Injuries did Frida Sustain?
Shockingly, Frida Kahlo was impaled by a length of iron which makes it all the more extraordinary that she even survived at all. Her boyfriend avoided any serious injury himself but immediately realised that his beloved Frida had not been so fortunate. It would take doctors some time to discover all of the injuries that she had suffered, but it was clear immediately that she would be confined to a hospital bed for an extensive period of time. Others in the crash would die whilst in hospital, and so the initial ambition was simply to keep the young girl alive. The handrail which went straight through Frida was removed in an abrupt, unforgiving manner which gave her considerable pain. It was then discovered that she had broken her collarbone, as well as her back. Her right leg was also fractured many times over and her abdomen and uterus had also been punctured.
Considering that this incident occured in 1920s Mexico, the future was always going to look bleak once Kahlo became conscious. Hospital care was simply not what it is today and so some of the treatment given to her would not have been ideal for her long term recovery and quality of life. Ultimately, she would experience problems as a result of this accident for the rest of her life, though in a way she would turn the incident into a positive, learning how to talk about it openly and also to take this time in hospital to be constructive and positive. Ultimately she would have to undergo around thirty different operations in total in order to as best solve these issues as possible, meaning many days and months spent in the company of the local medical workers.
How Long was she in Hospital?
As mentioned elsewhere, she would undergo a total of thirty operations in order to recover from her injuries as best as possible. Kahlo stayed in the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City for a few weeks whilst the most immediate work was completed, after she was initially stabilised after the accident. She would then return home where she would continue to receive treatment as well as resting in her bed. In order to avoid underdoing any of the treatment already completed, she would have to wear a body brace for several months which played a crucial role in stabilising her back and allowing bones to start to re-fuse together. This was the most important period in her recovery, but the endless days in bed would leave her desperate to use her mind whilst her body rested. As a sign of the importance of art within her recovery, she would actually start to create small drawings on one of her body casts, as a means to expressing herself even whilst so heavily restricted.
When Did Frida Start Painting?
Once Kahlo had returned home to continue her recovery, she would immediately look for ways to fill her time, as for most of the time she would be confined to her bed for several months. It became clear that art could fill this void and provide a constructive pass time with which to focus her mind. A easel was then provided which was suited to her environment and then she set about producing a number of self portraits, with help from a small mirror. Her focus on self portraits made use of the only available subject, but also started a process of self-therapy as Frida began to explore her own mind for creative ideas. As her talent became clear, Kahlo would realise that despite her problems, there was still a possibility of a fruitful future, once her injuries had softened. She would be visited by Diego Rivera and he very much encouraged her to continue with art, expressing his respect that he had for what she had already achieved.
Did the Accident Inspire any Paintings?
Whilst her general career as a painter was certainly inspired by the bus accident, and the time that she spent in bed recovering, there were actually some specific artworks that feature content directly related to the incident. We do know that she sketched a scene from the accident itself, but did not actually paint anything. She produced The Bus which features a number of people waiting patiently for a bus by the side of a road and this is believed to have been related to the faithful day in 1925. Henry Ford Hospital relates to a miscarriage which can probably be traced back to the accident which made it hard for Kahlo to conceive. The Broken Column also famously pictures the artist after her surgery, struggling along in a brace which was inserted after she broke her back so tragically. Even after her time bedridden at home she would continue to produce self portraits and so stuck with this genre throughout te rest of her career even when other options were now available.
Why didn't Frida Kahlo have Childen?
Frida Kahlo would never have children, but it would be entirely wrong to think that this was by choice. There was never anything she wanted more, but sadly her attempts did not prove fruitful. Several pregnancies were abandoned on medical grounds, and she also experienced a miscarriage. Her injuries in the bus accident must have made her body particularly fragile and so it would have greatily reduced her chances of having children in later life. The horrors of miscarriages would take their toll on Frida's mind, forcing her to create visual displays of this pain in a number of paintings. Her surrealist work would often be a form of therapy, helping her to express, perhaps even process, some of these traumatic memories and emotions. It is hard to imagine her art being anything like how it turned out if it were not for the difficult times that she experienced across her lifetime.
What was Frida Kahlo's Second Accident?
Somewhat mischievously, Frida Kahlo would sometimes explain how she had been involved in two series accidents within her lifetime, the first of which was this bus/car collision, whilst the second was her marriage to Diego Rivera. This light hearted comment underlines a dark sense of humour as well as an acknowledgement of the issues she experienced within her turbulent relationship with her husband. One might suggest that these two creative and passionate individuals would always be a difficult combination, and their collective strength of character would make it hard for disagreements to be resolved smoothly. That said, there was also a huge amount of love and respect between the pair, and that proved enough to keep them together for an extended part of both of their lives.