Frida Kahlo portrayed the significant and often tragic events of her life in her self-portraits as a form of catharsis.
Through her painting, Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, she revealed an insight into the physical and emotional pain she experienced as a result of what she described as the two great accidents of her life – the derailment of a street car she travelled on, and her marriage to Diego.
Self Portrait with Thorne Necklace and Hummingbird, like many of Frida Kahlo’s paintings, shows a head and shoulders view of the artist. In place of her often elaborate jewellery, she wears a necklace comprised of rows of thorns that pierce her neck in places creating rivulets of blood. Impaled on the thorns is a dead hummingbird. Surrounding Kahlo is bright green lush foliage. Over her right shoulder sits a monkey, on her left, a black cat.
The most striking symbol Kahlo uses in this painting is the thorn necklace, giving the image its title. The thorns choke her and pierce Kahlo’s skin and remind the audience of the crown of thorns worn by Christ. It is a symbol of suffering and Kahlo may be suggesting her pain is so deep, it is like that suffered by Christ. The necklace is also large, extending down onto her chest and shoulders. It seems like it traps her and stops her from moving. The thorn necklace reflects the physical pain of her accident as well as the pain she experienced in her relationship with Diego.
The hummingbird is another major symbol in this painting. In Mexico, the hummingbird is a love symbol. Here it is dead, tangled in the thorns. It is a direct reference to her relationship with Diego. Having divorced in 1939, this artwork painted in 1940 suggests that their love has died.
The monkey in this painting helps the audience recognise one of Kahlo’s recurring themes and what was a direct result of her traffic accident – her childlessness. Her broken body was unable to carry a child in pregnancy and in place of children, she surrounded herself with pets, particularly monkeys. The playful nature of the monkeys reminded her of the children she desired.
Like the monkey, the cat represents other pets owned by Kahlo. The audience often associates black cats with bad luck, and this interpretation applies well to the artist’s life story.
The luscious foliage surrounding Kahlo literally shows us her garden. The excess of plant life is often thought to be in contrast with Kahlo’s inability to create life. All around her is fertile ground, but she cannot have a baby.
By incorporating many symbols in her work, Kahlo provides her audience with insight into her personal experiences and the events of her life that helped shape her identity.
The opening POINT should link the artist and their artwork to the question. You can use the language of the question to do this, or you can challenge yourself to use other words.
EXPLAIN your point, offering a
greater insight into how you will address the question – in this case, that you will use Thorne Necklace, and briefly, what this artwork shows us about Kahlo.
DESCRIBE the artwork. Focus only on what the painting/artwork looks like.
Use the symbols and their meanings as your EVIDENCE to answer the question. This is the most important part of your response. Try to offer alternate interpretations where possible.
Two interpretations are offered for this symbol.
Links are made to her experiences. (there should be an earlier paragraph in your essay that outlines her life story)
Two interpretations are offered – a pet and a substitute for a child.
Two interpretations are offered – a pet and a symbol of bad luck.
Two interpretations offered – her garden, her “infertility”.
LINK the paragraph back to the question. Here, the language of the question has been used. Think of alternate ways to express this also.