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The broken column

Painting, 1944, 43×33 cm

Description of the artwork «The broken column»

The pain, which Frida Kahlo was forced to share her own body with all her life, seems to be reflected to an absolute degree in this picture. In 1944, the artist’s health deteriorated seriously. Due to her damaged spine (because of the bus crash that affected Frida’s entire life and work), she had to wear a steel corset for five months. It became a real torture, Frida was deprived of the opportunity to move around normally, to work and even breathe. But even in this state, she found the strength to paint.

The Broken Column is in stark contrast to most of Kahlo’s self-portraits. It contains no flowers in her high hair, nor rich vegetation in the background, nor monkeys and parrots that she adored. Only a figure standing in the middle of a bare desert under a stormy sky, almost naked, vulnerable and defenceless, the personification of loneliness and pain, the burden of which has become unbearable for one fragile person. Dark gaps in the ground follow the break line in Frida’s body, in which the crumbling Ionic column is visible. All this flimsy construction is held together only by the corset, which seems to be woven of weightless bandages, and not assembled of suffocating metal rims.

It’s hard to believe, but Frida reacted with her inherent humour even at this deeply tragic picture. The artist hid a secret message in it that gave hope: in each of her pupils is a tiny white dove, a symbol of peace.

The Broken Column was the inspiration for Jean-Paul Gaultier, who designed the costumes for The Fifth Element. The outfit of white fabric stripes is the first costume for Leelu, the heroine of Milla Jovovich. In 1998, Gaultier dedicated a whole fashion collection to Frida, combining two images of the artist — the folk Mexican and the Europeanized one belonging to the New World. In addition, The Broken Column was featured on a postage stamp in Côte d'Ivoire in 2013.

Written by Yevgheniia Sidelnikova

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About the artwork

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Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait

Style of art: Symbolism, Primitivism (Naїv art)

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1944

Size: 43×33 cm

Artwork in selections: 97 selections