Legend has it that at the cremation of Frida Kahlo, the corpse sat suddenly bolt upright as it was carried into the flames. Its hair caught alight to create a blazing wreath around the head. And whether this bizarre but triumphant image is true or apocryphal doesn’t seem to matter. What it more importantly reflects is a vivid sense of a life that, like some fantastical modern take on the Christian story of resurrection, would flare up and find its most gloriously imaginative version in a posthumous world.
Kahlo, born in 1907, the daughter of a German immigrant father and a mestiza mother and brought up in Coyoacán (a municipality now engulfed by the sprawl of Mexico City), found fame fairly late in her lifetime. Compared to the murals of her then far more celebrated husband, Diego Rivera, her small but eccentric pictures went largely unrecognized. However, in the wake of her death, aged 47 in 1954, her reputation soared. She has become, arguably, the most instantly recognizable female artist of all time.