Frida Kahlo welcomes Leon Trotsky to Mexico

Frida Kahlo welcomes Leon Trotsky to Mexico

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Title: Trotsky finds refuge in Mexico

Creation date : 1937 -

Date shown: January 9, 1937

Dimensions: Height 14.2 cm - Width 17.9 cm

Technique and other indications: Trotsky finds refuge in Mexico: the Bolshevik leader with Mrs. Trotsky (left) and Mrs. Rivera, wife of Diego Rivera

Contact copyright: © The Illustrated London News Picture Library, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

Picture reference: ILN138855

Trotsky finds refuge in Mexico

© The Illustrated London News Picture Library, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

Publication date: November 2016

Historical context

The end of political exile for Leon Trotsky and Natalia Sedova

This photograph of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) and his wife Natalia Sedova (1882-1962), hosted by Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and the American Marxist Max Shachtman (1904-1972), was taken in the small port from Tampico on January 9, 1937, when they had just disembarked from Ruth, Norwegian oil tanker. Leon Trotsky and Natalia Sedova left the port of Oslo on December 20, 1936. Norway decided to expel them, like all the other countries in which they had previously lived, since Stalin banished them from the USSR in 1929 and deprived them of Soviet citizenship.

It is in Mexico that the spouses finally find a refuge, after these long years of peregrinations. The country, where the memory of Zapata and Pancho Villa is still alive, appears to the exiled Russian couple as a promised land.

Convinced that the GPU agents are everywhere, Trotsky demands that reliable friends come to meet him on his arrival in Tampico. In the middle of the group, a very pretty woman comes forward; she explains to the couple that Diego Rivera, hospitalized in Mexico City, cannot come to meet them but that he entrusts her, Frida Kahlo, his wife, to represent him.

The Trotsky couple are then accompanied to Mexico City, where Diego finds them to bring them back to his home, to Casa Azul (the “Blue House”), where he lives with Frida. But, soon, a love story develops between the exile and his hostess.

Image Analysis

The first meeting of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky: the birth of a passion

The Trotsky couple arrived in Tampico smiling, visibly satisfied with this happy ending. They surround Frida Kahlo; although the subject of the photograph is the couple's arrival in Mexico, the central figure in this image is indeed Frida, then on the cusp of her 30s.

The particular beauty of the artist, of Indian, Spanish and German ancestry, reached its peak at this time. She wears the traditional headdress and dress of Indian women, the Tehuana costume. There is nothing to suggest the physical suffering she has endured since the age of 17, following a bus accident which left her with terrible consequences. She is an already recognized artist, less famous however than her husband Diego, but who has already painted a number of strong and personal canvases. She also suffers greatly from the unfaithful temper of her husband; Returning from a runaway to New York, she even considered killing herself after discovering Diego's affair with his younger sister Cristina.

For a few months, his meeting with Trotsky turns his life upside down. This photograph shows the birth of this passion. With his face turned to Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky seems already seduced. 58 years old, he is much older than Frida. This one, by her beauty and her youth, undoubtedly seems to him more attractive than Natalia, older and who seems tired of this long trip. Years later, the artist will confide that this meeting was one of the best things that happened to him in his life, and that it corresponded, moreover, to one of the most fruitful periods of his painting.

The affair is soon discovered by Diego and Natalia, which puts an end to this passionate romance which only lasted a few months. Soon the Russian couple is moving. Less than three years later, on August 20, 1940, Trotsky was assaulted in his house by a Stalin man, Ramón Mercader, with an ice ax. He died the next day.


Frida or the birth of the internationally famous modern Mexican woman

The central place that Frida Kahlo occupies in photography also highlights the strength of her personality. Indeed, at the time when this shot was taken, Mexico saw the emergence of women artists endowed with exceptional personalities, such as Tina Modotti, Lola Álvarez Bravo and Nahui Ollin. These women became known not only for their remarkable artistic skills, but also for their political stance. Frida is one of those women; She joined the Communist Party in 1928 and, moreover, throughout her life claimed the expression of her liberated sexuality.

Frida Kahlo symbolizes the evolution of this Mexican woman who finally frees herself from male tutelage to fulfill her own destiny. This press photograph announces its future international media notoriety. The artist is as famous today as Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky combined.

  • women
  • Mexico
  • Stalin (Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, said)
  • Russia
  • Kahlo (Frida)
  • Trotsky (Leon)


BURRUS Christina, Frida Kahlo: "I paint my reality", Paris, Gallimard, coll. “Gallimard discoveries: arts” (no 512), 2007.

CORNETTE Jean-Luc, BALTHAZAR Flore, Frida Kahlo: Why would I want feet since I have wings to fly?, Paris, Delcourt, coll. "Mirages", 2015.

CORTANZE Gérard from, The lovers of Coyoacán, Paris, Albin Michel, 2015.

KAHLO Frida, Frida Kahlo by Frida Kahlo: writings, choice, prologue and notes by TIBOL Raquel, Paris, Christian Bourgois, 2007.

To cite this article

Marie-Louise SCHEMBRI, "Frida Kahlo welcomes Leon Trotsky to Mexico"

Video: Frida Kahlo: A Documentary