In this disturbing work Kahlo paints herself lying on her back in a hospital bed after a miscarriage. The figure in the painting is unclothed, the sheets beneath her are bloody, and a large tear falls from her left eye. The bed frame bears the inscription "Henry Ford Hospital Detroit," but the bed and its sad inhabitant float in an abstract space circled by six images relating to the miscarriage, all tied to blood-red filaments the figure holds in her left hand. The main image is a perfectly-formed male fetus. The others refer to aspects of childbearing.


Many of Frida Kahlo's paintings address the effects of a life-long physical and medical trauma. At the age of eighteen Kahlo was in a near-fatal bus accident that left her with injuries to her pelvis, spine, and uterus. The life Kahlo survived to live was full of physical suffering and medical procedures--and, of course, emotional distress. Kahlo's chances of bearing a child after this accident were slim, but she desperately wanted one by her husband, the painter Diego Rivera, and she tried several times against the odds.

Kahlo painted "Henry Ford Hospital" immediately after she was released from the hospital following this second of her three miscarriages. It was the frankest work of this famous self-portraitist to date, although some of the significance of the painting's gore comes from its relation to the tradition of Mexican "retablos," votive paintings giving thanks to a (Christian) holy figure for being saved from situations that are typically depicted at their worst.

The painting's primitive perspective and self-portrayal also link it to that tradition. Nevertheless, "Henry Ford Hospital" directly addresses a number of universal themes like those suggested by the keywords above--perhaps most powerfully those of grief, loss, loneliness, and exposure, which Kahlo's primitive style serves to sharpen.


Painted in 1932.